F-1 Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is one type of work permission available to eligible F-1 students. It allows students to enhance their academic experience in the U.S. by engaging in job training that is directly related to their field of study. It is important for students interested in OPT to understand the eligibility requirements, application process, and reporting requirements of the program in order to take full advantage of the benefit and properly maintain status.
The basics Heading link
Types of OPT
There are three types of OPT available to F-1 students. While this page addresses post-completion OPT only, you can learn a bit about the other two types below.
Pre-completion OPT is work authorization available to F-1 students while actively enrolled in a program of study. Work is limited to 20 hours per week while class is in session and approved time for pre-completion OPT subtracts from the 12-month allotment for post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT requires an OPT recommendation from OIS and application to USCIS. While most students decide against pursuing pre-completion OPT due to the lengthy application process, work hour limitations, and impact on post-completion OPT, interested students are invited to attend a Pre-Completion OPT Workshop to learn more.
Post-completion OPT is a 12-month work authorization available to F-1 students after successfully completing an academic program. Post-completion OPT requires an OPT recommendation from OIS and an application to USCIS. Students typically apply for post-completion OPT three to four months prior to program completion. If you are interested in post-completion OPT, carefully review the information on this webpage and attend a mandatory OPT Workshop hosted by OIS. Most students attend a Post-Completion OPT Workshop sometime during their final two semesters of study.
STEM OPT is a 24 month extension of post-completion OPT and is available to F-1 students who have completed programs within science, technology, engineering or math and are currently on an approved period of post-completion OPT.
Basic eligibility requirements for post-completion OPT
- You are in valid F-1 status at the time of application.
- You have completed at minimum one academic year of full-time study in F-1 status.
- You intend to complete practical training (i.e. work) in a position directly related to the program of study listed on your I-20.
- You are physically present in the U.S. at the time of the application.
- You have not utilized one calendar year of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
- You are applying no more than 90 days before and no later than 60 days after your program completion date.
- You do not need a job offer in order to apply for post-completion OPT. Most students apply for post-completion OPT prior to receiving a job offer.
Applying for OPT Heading link
Applying for post-completion OPT involves you, OIS, and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) in addition to others. The process can take anywhere from three to five months and the ultimate goal is to have USCIS issue you an employment authorization document (EAD) valid for work in the U.S. which you can then use for training in a job directly related to your field of study.
Step 2 – Submit the OPT Application E-Form and supporting documents in myOIS
During the OPT Workshop, you will receive detailed instructions on how to correctly complete the Optional Practical Training E-Form and supporting documents such as the USCIS Form I-765.
An important part of completing e-form involves meeting with your academic advisor or thesis/dissertation advisor to determine your personal program completion date. This academic milestone is the date by which you will complete all the requirements for your degree. You will receive additional guidance on how to determine your program completion date during the OPT Workshop.
Time: Since completing the OPT Application E-Form involves a meeting with your academic advisor, plan for at least five days to complete this step.
Step 3 – Receive your updated Form I-20 from OIS
After you submit your OPT Application E-Form through myOIS, an advisor will confirm that your records are up to date and process the request. This includes adjusting your I-20 program end date to reflect the program completion date confirmed by your academic advisor, adding a recommendation for post-completion OPT, and listing the name and address of your employer (if available). Note that your new I-20 program end date becomes your last day of on-campus employment eligibility.
Once your new Form I-20 has been issued, an OIS advisor will email you with options to collect it, along with suggestions for your draft USCIS Form I-765. You must physically sign the Form I-20 for it to be valid.
Time: Please allow five business days for processing. Additional time may be required if your OPT Application E-Form is incomplete or if additional updates are needed on your OIS or SEVIS records. Delivery of the Form I-20 varies from 1-3 business days for express courier and approximately 2 weeks via regular mail.
Step 4 – Prepare your USCIS OPT Application
USCIS accepts OPT Applications online or by mail. The documents you must include in your application will depend on which submission method you choose. You will receive detailed instructions on how to prepare your USCIS OPT Application in the materials you receive after participating in an OPT Workshop. If you like, you can make an appointment with an OIS advisor to review your USCIS OPT Application prior to submitting it.
Time: It typically takes around five business days for students to collect and prepare all documents needed for the USCIS OPT Application. You may gather these documents while OIS processes your OPT Application E-Form.
Step 5 – Submit your USCIS OPT Application
Again, you can submit your USCIS OPT Application online via the USCIS website or by mail to one of their lockbox facilities. The submission method you choose will depend on your personal situation and the pros and cons of each are discussed during the OPT Workshop.
Whichever method you choose, make sure your application is complete, you have signed all documents, paid the USCIS filing fee in full, and retained a copy of the application for your records.
Lastly, your OPT Application must be received by USCIS within your application window which is no earlier than 90 days before the I-20 program end date and no later than 60 days after the I-20 program end date. In addition, the application must arrive no more than 30 days past the OPT I-20 recommendation date.
Time: The time it takes for your OPT application to reach USCIS depends largely on the submission method you choose. Online submission is the fastest with mailed submission taking one to three days for express shipping (e.g. FedEx or UPS) and approximately two weeks for regular mail via the U.S. Postal Services.
FAQs about applying for OPT
Do I have to attend an OPT Workshop in order to apply?
Yes, you must attend an OPT Workshop in order to apply for post-completion OPT.
Can I join an OPT Workshop late or leave early?
No, you must attend the entire OPT Workshop in order to move forward with the application process. Late arrivals and early departures are not allowed. If something comes up and you can no longer attend a workshop in full, please register for the next available workshop.
Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
No, you do not need a job offer in hand to apply for post-completion OPT. Most students will apply for post-completion OPT well before landing a job.
Can OIS help me prepare my OPT application?
The first step is to attend an OPT Workshop. Many of your questions will be answered there and you will receive a packet via email with detailed instructions and tips. If after attending the workshop and reading through all the application support materials you still have questions, feel free to schedule an appointment with an OIS advisor.
How do I determine my program completion date? Is it the date of my graduation ceremony?
No, your program completion date is not the date of your graduation ceremony. The program completion date marks the end of your academic activity at UIC and how it is determined can vary by student and program. Some students will mark the end of their academic activity by coursework completion such as the date of a final exam, last class, or submission of a final project or presentation. Other students need to complete a thesis or dissertation and the program completion date could be the date of defense or the date the committee approves all edits. In all cases, determining your program completion date will necessitate a conversation with your academic advisor.
Can I keep working on-campus or in my CPT-authorized internship after my program completion date?
No, your program completion date also represents the last day of your on-campus work eligibility. All CPT-authorized internships must be completed by this date as well. While your program completion date must be driven by your academic timeline and not employment factors, it is a good idea to discuss your program completion date with any current employers so that they are aware of when your work eligibility will end.
I have applied for OPT but now may not complete my program as planned. What should I do?
Connect with an OIS advisor as soon as possible. Your options will depend on where your application is in the processing timeline. The earlier you notify OIS, the more options you will likely have.
Can I apply for OPT from outside the U.S.?
Currently, USCIS instructions for the post-completion OPT application require that the applicant be in the U.S. in active F-1 status at the time of application.
While you wait for your EAD Heading link
It can take two to five months for USCIS to process your OPT application and issue your employment authorization document (EAD). During this time you remain in F-1 status but your eligibility to study, work, and travel internationally may change depending on where you are in the processing timeline.
FAQs about waiting for your EAD
Can OIS update me on the status of my OPT application with USCIS?
Unfortunately no, OIS does not have any additional access or control over your OPT application now that is processing with USCIS. At this point, you are the primary advocate for your application’s success. OIS advisors can help you interpret the information you have but cannot contact USCIS on your behalf. You can check the status of your application with USCIS online.
Can I work while my EAD is pending? What about unpaid work or training?
No, you are not authorized to work, paid or unpaid, until you receive your EAD and reach the start date listed on the card. Even unpaid training could be viewed by immigration authorities as unauthorized employment if it occurs before you are officially authorized to work.
What is my immigration status while my OPT application is pending?
You continue in F-1 student status while USCIS reviews and processes your OPT application.
Maintaining status while on OPT Heading link
You continue in F-1 status sponsored by UIC throughout the 12 months of post-completion OPT. While many of the basics of maintaining your F-1 status will remain the same, there are a few additional requirements to keep in mind.
FAQs about maintaining status on OPT
What is my immigration status while on post-completion OPT?
You will remain in F-1 student status sponsored by UIC throughout the duration of your post-completion OPT. Continue to use your I-20, F-1 visa, and other related documents to demonstrate your valid status in the U.S. and during international travel.
Can OIS verify that my job is related to my major?
Unfortunately, there is no official list of jobs that are OPT-approved for a specific major. You will need to use your best judgment when determining if the job is directly related and provide a two to three-sentence description of the connection when submitting your employment e-forms in myOIS.
What documentation should I keep to prove my employment status?
You must always report employment to OIS through myOIS. In addition, it is recommended that you retain personal documentation of each job. This should include employer name, job title, duration of employment, address of employment, supervisor contact information, job duties, and some record of the hours worked. There is no official template or sample for what this documentation should look like, but much of this information could be included in job offer and resignation/termination letters.
Can I take classes while on OPT?
You are allowed to take incidental classes while on post-completion OPT provided that you continue to maintain status and practical training remains your primary goal. If you wish to enroll in a full-time degree program, you must end your OPT by updating your UIC I-20 or transferring your I-20 to a new school.
Do I need to pay taxes and file a U.S. tax return while on OPT?
Yes, if you earn an incoming while on OPT you are subject to all the local, state, and federal tax laws applicable to your location of employment. You must also file a U.S. tax return for each year present in the U.S. See U.S. Taxes for more information and support resources.
Do I need health insurance while on OPT?
While health insurance is not a requirement to maintain F-1 status, it is strongly encouraged that each person residing in the U.S. maintain adequate coverage due to the high cost of medical care in this country. Students enrolled for the spring semester are eligible to extend CampusCare coverage through the summer, even after graduation. Please visit CampusCare for information on how to submit the required summer continuation of coverage form by the appropriate deadline. After your CampusCare coverage (if applicable) runs out, you will need to obtain your own health insurance. Many people obtain health insurance through their employers. Discuss your options during the hiring and onboarding process.
When OPT ends Heading link
There are a few options to consider when you near the end of your 12-month period of post-completion OPT.
FAQs about ending OPT
Can OIS check the status of my H-1B application?
Unfortunately, no, OIS advisors do not have the ability or authority to access information about your pending H-1B application. If you have confirmation that your case has been receipted or approved, you may be eligible for an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of OPT (if needed). Please contact OIS for guidance.
I have already departed the U.S. or received approval on my change of status. Do I still need to notify OIS?
Yes, please submit a status update e-form so that we may accurately close out your F-1 record.