Pre-Completion OPT FAQs

General Questions

1. What is F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Practical training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your program of study to off-campus work in your major field. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The authorization process can take up to 3 months. The maximum amount of time granted to work on F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level. F-1 students may apply to use some or all of the available 12 months of practical training during the course of study or may save some or all of the full twelve months to use after graduation. Students MUST file the application within 25 days of getting the new I-20 from OGS.

2. Who is Eligible for OPT?

To be eligible for OPT, you must: (1) have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, and (2) be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and(3) have not used OPT at the same degree level previously.

3. If I complete one degree program, use 12 months of practical training, and then begin a second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training?

Yes, but only at a higher degree level.

4. What type of status do I have during OPT?

OPT is not a different visa status. A person with OPT authorization is still an F-1 student holding an EAD for OPT.

5. When can I start working under OPT?

When you possess the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS, and the effective start date listed on the employment document has been reached.

6. How can I use OPT while I am still in my program?

You may use OPT while you are still in your degree program as follows: (1) part-time while school is in session, (2) full-time during annual vacation periods, and/or (3) full-time after a doctoral student completes all course requirements for the degree and has only the dissertation remaining.

These periods of OPT used before graduation will be deducted from the total allowable period of 12 months. Part-time OPT will be deducted at one-half the full-time rate.

7. If I use pre-completion OPT from January 5 to May 5, how many months of my 12 month bank are deducted?

January 5 to May 5 is four full months. However, since students are only permitted to work part time (no more than 20 hours per week) during the semester, you would only lose 2 full months of OPT.

 

Application Process

1. How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?

Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and processing can take up to 3 months. Therefore it is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working. You may apply up to 120 days before the start date that you choose. You MUST send your application within 25 days of getting your new I-20 from OGS.

2. Do I need to have a job or job offer to apply for OPT?

No.

3. Frequently asked questions concerning OPT application forms:

Form I-765: 

  • Question 3: Address
    • This is where USCIS will send correspondence and the EAD card. 
  • Question 11
    • Indicate whether you have or have not applied for an EAD card before. If you have applied before, indicate where the application was filed. Hint: check the old receipt/approval notice. 
      • EAC = Vermont Service Center
      • WAC = California Service Center
      • LIN = Nebraska Service Center
      • SRC = Texas Service Center
  • Question 16
    • Indicate reason: (c) (3) (a)

4. What can I do if I’ve been waiting more than 90 days for my OPT authorization?

After 90 days, OGS can contact the USCIS Service Center processing your application to request information about your case. Speak with an IS Advisor.

5. May I cancel my OPT application once I have applied?

Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn and the recommendation in SEVIS be cancelled, but only if you have recently mailed it to the USCIS. Contact your advisor as soon as possible if you need to cancel the OPT application. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be cancelled or revoked.

 

While on OPT

1. What if I have pre-completion authorization but don’t ever find a job?

You will lose the time requested but there are no other consequences.

2. Does the job I have during on OPT have to be paid employment or can it be unpaid?

Pre-completion OPT does not have any restrictions on paid or unpaid employment. However, if the position is genuinely charitable volunteer work, you may not need work authorization and should speak with an IS Advisor.

3. Can I begin working before I receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

No! Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the United States.

4. What should I do once I receive my EAD card in the mail?

You can now start your OPT employment and apply for a Social Security Number if needed. Keep your EAD in a safe place and send OGS a scanned copy to keep in your student file.

5. Do I have to do anything special with OGS while I have pre-completion OPT?

No.

6. What if I lose my EAD?

If you lose your EAD, you will need to submit a new application with a new application fee to USCIS and wait until you have a new EAD before you can change employers during the approved OPT period.

7. Can I change employers during OPT?

Yes. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any and all employers.

 

Travel

1. Now that I’ve submitted my application, can I travel outside the United States while I wait for the EAD card?

There are no additional travel requirements for pre-completion OPT. 

2. Can I leave the United States while my application is pending?

YES! The primary reason for your stay in the United States is still your full-time study. You can travel as you did before applying for OPT.