F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity for F-1 international students to participate in professional, temporary employment that is directly related to their major area of study, but not a part of the academic curriculum.
Important OPT Topics
To be eligible for OPT, you:
- Do NOT need a job offer to apply
- Must be in legal F-1 status
- Must have completed two full time semesters* (Fall & Spring; Summer does not count)
- *Approved Study Abroad counts if completed one full time semester in US prior to studying abroad
- Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of Full-Time CPT at the same degree level
- Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of OPT at the same level, or any OPT at a higher degree level
Note: Intensive English / AEC only students are NOT eligible for OPT.
- Eligible for 12 months of full time authorization with each higher level degree:
- Bachelors – 12mo
- Masters – 12mo
- PhD – 12mo
- Unused periods of eligibility from lower level degrees cannot be accumulated for use with later degrees at a higher level.
- The 12 months may either be used entirely within one period of eligibility or split between any of the periods for which the student is eligible; however, each segment will require a separate application. ex: 12 months (1 app); split 5 months & 7 months (2 separate apps)
- If pursuing another degree at the same level the 12 months can be divided between the two degrees.
- Part-time OPT (available for pre-completion only) is deducted from the total amount of available full-time OPT at one-half the full-time rate (e.g. 4 months part time = 2 months full time).
*See the separate section on a possible 24-Month STEM OPT extension for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees.
Definitions (in immigration terms):
- Pre-completion OPT = before completion of degree
- Post-completion OPT = after completion of degree (some exceptions: see below for thesis/dissertation/final project graduate students)
- Part Time (PT) OPT = employment of 20 hours or less per week
- Full Time (FT) OPT = employment of more than 20 hours per week
Pre-completion OPT during Fall and Spring semester you may only work part-time. The student must be enrolled in a full course of study during the academic year while in pre-completion OPT. During the annual vacation period or official break periods you may engage in both part-time and full-time employment.
Post completion OPT is full-time only.
Thesis / dissertation or equivalent students
you will have the same requirements before your required coursework is complete. Once your required coursework is complete, then if you will work part-time you should engage in pre-completion OPT and full-time employment will be done as post-completion OPT. Please note that post degree completion, you may only engage in full-time employment.
The job/training must be directly related to major
Employment options include paid and unpaid options:
Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.
- Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program
- Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
If your current I-20 end date is in a future semester, the end date will be shortened to reflect the expected date of your graduation as indicated on your academic advisor recommendation form:
- Spring graduate: 5/31/20YY
- Summer graduate: 8/1/20YY
- Fall graduate: 12/31/20YY
For graduate students completing all degree requirements within the first two weeks of a term, the I-20 end date will reflect the date established by Graduate Studies by which no enrollment is required that term. (i.e. 06/11/2019 for Summer 2019).
Important: If you do not complete your degree by your new I-20 end date, you must apply for a program extension prior to the expiration of your new OPT I-20. Failure to extend is a violation of status. There is an exception (see below) for students working on a thesis, dissertation or equivalent.
In all cases, you cannot work on campus past your I-20 end date unless you have seamless OPT approved and the work is directly related to your degree.
Choosing Pre-Completion or Post-Completion
Students who have completed all of their required course work excluding their thesis, dissertation or equivalent have the option of applying for either Pre-Completion or Post-Completion OPT.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
- Unemployment rule does not apply
- May receive an I-20 extension
- May request Part Time or Full Time
- Can continue on-campus employment until end of program
- Not eligible for STEM extension
- Not eligible for H-1B cap-gap extension
- Eligible for the H-1B cap-gap extension if applicable.
- Can apply for the STEM extension if eligible.
- 90-day unemployment rule applies
- Only granted Full Time (must work at least 20 hrs/wk)
- On-campus work permission ends with new I-20 end date (unless seamless OPT is approved)
- Cannot extend I-20 if degree not completed before end of OPT
If applying for POST- completion OPT while continuing with thesis/dissertation or equivalent:
- I-20 end date will be shortened to the day before the requested OPT start date
- On-campus work permission ends with new I-20 end date
- Must continue to enroll in a full course of study until you complete your degree
- Must complete degree before the end of OPT (i.e. cannot extend I-20)
When To Apply for OPT
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can take 2-3 months to process your I-765 petition. Apply as soon as you are eligible, which is generally 90 days before your I-20 end date.
Must be received by USCIS no earlier than 90 days prior to your requested start date, while also starting after completing one full academic year.
Must be RECEIPTED BY USCIS no earlier than 90 days prior to and no later than 60 days from the program completion date (i.e. I-20 end date). See exceptions for students working on thesis/dissertation/final project equivalent.
**If your current I-20 end date is in a future semester, the end date will be shortened to reflect the anticipated completion at the time your OPT recommendation I-20 is issued.
- If you graduate in Spring, then your I-20 is shortened to May 31
- If you graduate in Fall, then your I-20 is shortened to December 31
- if you graduate in Summer, then your I-20 is shortened to August 1
- Possible driver’s license renewal problems (in most cases, cannot renew until OPT is approved)
- May not get the OPT dates you requested. If the application is pending past your requested start date, USCIS should still give the entire period you are eligible from the date the application is approved.
- However, depending on how late you apply, you may not get the full 12 months that you were initially eligible for due to the 3~5 month processing time. By law, post-completion OPT must end by the 14th month after your program end date, so if the OPT period goes beyond that mark due to late adjudication, the OPT end date will be cut short to the 14th month mark.
- Possible late rejection of application. By the time you find out that it was rejected and try to reapply, you may be ineligible due to being past 60-days from I-20 end date.
How to Apply for OPT
It is really important you understand what OPT is and when to apply.
- Understand what OPT is! Are you eligible? When can you apply?
- For various OPT topics, videos, samples, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that answer eligibility questions above.
Save the following documents as separate digital documents
(if multiple pages within the same category, create as a single multipage digital document)
- Passport page(s) showing your name, photo, and expiration
- Most recent Electronic I-94 record; or paper I-94 card (front and back)
- Recent passport-style photo (jpeg, jpg or png) (US passport photo guidelines)
- Previously issued Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), if any (front and back)
- If you had ANY previously authorized CPT or OPT, CPT/OPT authorization I-20 pages 1 & 2 (including any schools other than KU), which shows the academic level at which it was authorized.
- POST-completion OPT only: Signed ISS form “Responsibilities While on Post-Comp OPT (.pdf)”
- PRE-completion OPT only: Transcript or Degree Progress Report printout
- Start the USCIS I-765 online form – do NOT pay yet!
- Go to US Citizenship and Immigration Services and create account
- After creating account, go to Form I-765 and click “File Online”
- Begin the I-765 form (required)
- Refer to the Online OPT Filing Tips (PDF) as you work on your I-765 draft.
- You can upload the following evidence prior to meeting with ISS
- Passport-style photo
- I-94 record
- Passport (upload this under “Employment Authorization Document” section)
- DO NOT upload an I-20 until you have the OPT recommendation I-20 from ISS
- DO NOT complete the "Your Statement" section yet
- DO NOT complete the "Your Signature" section yet
- Do NOT pay the $410 filing fee until you have received your NEW OPT recommendation I-20 from your ISS advisor during your OPT appointment (filing fee is NON-REFUNDABLE)
- Go to US Citizenship and Immigration Services and create account
- Create PDF of draft I-765
- Once the I-765 is drafted (other than a few final uploads), but before you "sign" or make a payment, download the “view draft snapshot” PDF from the “review and submit - your application summary” section of the online application;
- Save a digital image to upload to iHawk
Go to the ISS webstore to pay the ISS OPT fee.
- Pay the non-refundable $170 "ISS Fee for Recommending OPT (F-1)"
- Check email for receipt as proof of payment to upload in iHawk
- This is separate from the USCIS application fee
- Login to iHawk
- Click on "F-1 Practical Training" and then "OPT I-20 Request" and complete all associated e-forms
- Forms 1 - 4 may be submitted in any order.
- You will need to upload the following digital images:
- I-94 (record of arrival)
- Previously issued EADs (Employment Authorization Documents), if any
- I-765 (government application)
- Proof of ISS OPT Fee Payment (starting February 1, 2022)
- Responsibilities While on Post-Comp OPT (ISS handout)
- You will need to upload the following digital images:
- Form 2 asks for your academic/graduation advisor’s email address, as it requires that they verify your anticipated degree/program completion.
- The final form 5 becomes available only once the first four forms are in “complete” status. If form 2 shows “awaiting answer” this means that your academic/graduation advisor has not yet completed their verification.
- You will need to upload the ISS fee receipt
- ISS advisor verifies your F-1 status and creates a new OPT recommendation I-20
- If applicable, the advisor shortens your program end date in SEVIS and on your new I-20.
- Log back into your I-765 application through the USCIS government website
- Make edits to I-765 as recommended by ISS advisor
- Upload Additional Evidence (given to you during the ISS appointment):
- Upload new I-20 with OPT recommendation (under “Evidence” --> “Form I-20”)
- Upload SEVIS Employment screenshot (under “Previously Authorized CPT or OPT”), if applicable
- Complete the "Your Statement" section
- Complete the "Your Signature" section to confirm and SIGN the application
- Pay attention to any Alerts or Warnings!
- Pay $410 application fee via bank account, debit card, or credit card
- Your receipt notice will be automatically generated and available (under “Documents” --> “USCIS Notices”)
After you Submit
DO NOT continue working in an on-campus student position past your new I-20 end date.
DO NOT begin working before receiving the actual EAD (even if the online application status says it has been approved), before the start date on the EAD, or after the EAD expires.
DO NOT promise an employer you can start on a specific date or sign an employment contract with a specific start date unless you already have your EAD.
Maintain evidence of each job, internship, or training you engage in and report while on OPT (ex. job title, job description, number of hours per week, start/end dates, how it is directly related to your major, etc.)
Post-Completion OPT Reporting Requirements
To maintain your F-1 status, WITHIN 10 DAYS of any change, you must comply with the reporting requirements listed below.
SEVP will send you an email once your OPT is approved to set up an account for an SEVP Portal for reporting. The SEVP Portal is OPTIONAL. ISS recommends that you report all changes through iHawk.
iHawk login > F-1 Practical Training > OPT Reporting
OPT Report eforms
- Upload OPT EAD card
- Email update (changes SEVP Portal Username)
- Phone Number Update
- U.S. Address Update (residential and mailing)
- Employer Updates
- Add new Employer Info
- Edit Previously Reported Employer Info
- Report Job Ended
- Leaving U.S. and Forfeit Remainder of OPT
- Change of Status and Forfeit Remainder of OPT
- Passport Name Change
If you are a performing artist reporting multiple gigs, or a self-employed business owner/contract worker, here are some reporting TIPS for special categories.
ADDRESS CHANGES: If your OPT application is still pending, you must report address changes in 2 places (even if you request the post office to forward all your mail):
- iHawk and
Maintaining Legal F-1 Status once on Post-Completion OPT
- Only look for and accept employment that is directly related to your field of study.
- Comply with OPT reporting requirements.
- Since F-1 status is dependent on employment, you must not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT.
- OPT employment does not have to be paid, but volunteer or unpaid opportunities do need to be reported in order to avoid accrual of unemployment. Unpaid internships must not violate any labor laws, must be directly related to your field of study and the work must be at least 20 hours per week.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (not ISS) will be responsible for determining if your status has been violated by exceeding the permissible period of unemployment. They may deny future immigration benefits and/or they may terminate your SEVIS record if you fail to maintain the proper period of employment.
- You are allowed 60 days after the expiration of the EAD (if properly maintained status) to remain in the U.S. for the purpose of preparing for departure, to change education levels at the same school, to transfer out, or to apply for a change of status.
- Your duration of status and possibly also work authorization may automatically be extended if you are a beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition and change of status request. See more details on H-1B Cap-Gap OPT Extension.
- If you work and complete the full twelve months of OPT you will have your grace period to depart the United States (60 days), change your immigration status, begin a new degree program at KU, or transfer your SEVIS record to another university.
- If you transfer your SEVIS record to another university while on OPT, then your OPT will end on the transfer release date.
- If you accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment, OPT will end. We recommend departing the United States before accumulating 90 days of unemployment. Please submit the Depart the United State and Forfeit OPT eform in your iHawk account. In the situation where you have not worked while on OPT and are leaving, please reach out to ISS to talk about how to receive a partial refund for the ISS OPT fee.
Travel Concerns While on OPT
Travel out of the U.S. while waiting for OPT approval is not advised unless you have a job offer and you have a way of getting the EAD should the OPT be approved while you are overseas.
OPT is Pending
- OPT Receipt
- F-1 visa
- I-20 with a recent travel signature
STEM OPT Pending
Do not travel outside the United States if your EAD is expired and the STEM OPT extension request is pending. Wait until you receive the new EAD.
OPT is Approved
- OPT EAD (Employment Authorization Document)
- Proof of Employment (i.e. job offer or recent paycheck stub)
- F-1 Visa
- I-20 with a travel signature within the last six months
- If your F-1 visa has expired you will need to apply for a new one while abroad if you plan to return to the U.S. to continue with OPT. It is sometimes more difficult to obtain an F-1 student visa while on OPT since you have already completed your degree and you are only returning to work. In addition, all new visas require a security check that could take time. Please carefully consider these risks before traveling outside the U.S.
- If traveling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent (Caribbean) islands for less than 30-days, automatic revalidation may be a possibility and a need for a new visa may not apply.