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.
Steps to apply for OPT
Step 1 – Attend a mandatory OPT Workshop hosted by OIS
During this two hour workshop, OIS Advisors explain post-completion OPT in detail, including:
- Eligibility requirements
- How to identify your “program end date”
- Timeline for applying for post-completion OPT
- Application documents
- Next steps
We recommend that you attend an OPT Workshop sometime during your final two semesters of study. You must attend the whole workshop in order to receive the application materials and move forward in the process. If after attending a workshop you have questions about your situation, feel free to make an appointment with an OIS Advisor.
Time: OPT Workshops are offered approximately twice per month. Check the workshop calendar early to find a time that works best for you.
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.
Receiving the I-797C Receipt Notice
If you submitted your USCIS OPT Application online, you will automatically receive your I-797C Receipt Notice electronically and then a paper copy via mail four to six weeks later. If you submitted a paper application (including Form G-1145) by mail to a USCIS lockbox, you will receive an email or text notification from USCIS one to two weeks from the date your application is received and the paper I-797C Receipt Notice will follow two to four weeks later. Your I-797C will contact a 13 character receipt number that will allow you to track your case status with USCIS online.
Review your I-797C Receipt Notice carefully and maintain it for your records. If you find any errors on the document, contact OIS immediately for instructions on how to request corrections.
If you do not receive the paper I-797C by mail within four to six weeks, it could indicate that there is a problem with your mailing address. Please contact OIS for guidance.
Requests for Evidence
In rare cases, USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) in response to an OPT application. Typically this means that they have a question about your application or need more information; it does not constitute a denial. The RFE document will contain details on what information is needed and a date by which you must reply. RFEs require a response and are time-sensitive. If you receive an RFE in response to your OPT application, please notify an OIS advisor immediately for guidance.
Travel while OPT is pending
International travel while the OPT application is pending can carry more risk than when you were simply an enrolled student. You will need to balance those risks against your personal need for travel and make the best decision for your situation. Generally speaking, there are fewer risks when traveling within the U.S.
Travel before your I-20 program completion date
If your OPT application is pending but you plan to leave and return to the U.S. before the program completion date listed on your I-20, there is little concern as you are still considered a student upon your return. Carry your valid passport, valid F-1 visa, and I-20 with travel signature less than six months old on the date of your return.
Travel after your I-20 program completion date
If your OPT application is pending and you plan to leave and return to the U.S. after the program completion date listed on your I-20 it is strongly advised that you only do so if you have the approved EAD in hand. If you are outside the U.S while the EAD is pending, you cannot respond quickly to an RFE and will have no basis to re-enter the U.S. should the application be denied.
Updating a pending application
If you find that you need to update your OPT application, contact an OIS advisor as soon as possible. It is very difficult to withdraw an OPT application after it is submitted to USCIS, and impossible after it is approved.
Mailing issues are one of the biggest causes for OPT EAD delivery delays. For this reason, when applying for OPT, we strongly encourage you to identify a reliable mailing address that will not change for at least six months after the date you submit your application to USCIS. If you absolutely must change your mailing address, you can update your contact information with USCIS online.
After receiving your EAD
Congratulations! Your EAD has arrived. Review the card carefully to ensure that all information is correct, including your name, personal information, and employment authorization start and end date. Contact an OIS advisor immediately if you find any errors.
Next, log into myOIS and submit the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) E-Form. You can also utilize the corresponding e-forms to submit any changes in your name, address, or employment status.
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.
The OPT work requirement
During your OPT authorization period (dates listed on your OPT EAD), there is a regulatory requirement for you to participate in training. This is also referred to as the OPT work requirement. It is important to know what conditions need to be met in order for you to be considered employed as there is a limit to the number of days you can be unemployed.
Determining appropriate employment for OPT
To be considered employed while on OPT, your employment status must meet the following three requirements:
- Job type – Your job type must be appropriate for OPT.
- Regular paid employment.
- Multiple short-term employers (gigs).
- Work for hire / Staffing Agency (1099 contractor).
- Self-employment with the appropriate license.
- Volunteer or unpaid employment that does not violate labor laws.
- Job duties – Your job duties must be related to your major.
- Job duties must be directly related to the major area of study listed on the I-20 used to apply for OPT.
- There is no list of approved jobs for each major; you will need to use your best judgment.
- Request documentation from your employer if the connection between job and major is not evident from the job title.
- Work hours – Your work hours must exceed the minimum of 20 hours per week.
- One job at 20 or more hours per week.
- Multiple jobs adding up to at least 20 hours per week.
- Jobs with a variable schedule must add up to an average of 20 hours per week within the month.
- Working fewer than 20 hours per week is considered unemployed.
Please note that while cannabis is legal in Illinois it is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level. Working in the cannabis industry while on OPT could jeopardize your immigration status or ability to remain in or re-enter the U.S.
90 day limit on unemployment
You are limited to 90 total days of unemployment throughout your 12 months of post-completion OPT.
- If your employment status does not meet the above requirements, you are considered to be unemployed.
- You must begin counting days of unemployment on the start date listed on your EAD.
- Unemployment days are cumulative and counted as calendar days, not business days.
- Vacation days or time off approved by your employer do not count as unemployment.
- Working below 20 hours per week counts as unemployment.
- You are considered to be unemployed until you have directly reported your employment to OIS.
If you are nearing 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT, contact an OIS advisor for guidance as you must leave the U.S., transfer your SEVIS record to another school, or change your immigration status before the 90th day.
- Job type – Your job type must be appropriate for OPT.
Throughout your 12 months of post-completion OPT, you are required to keep your SEVIS record up-to-date and report significant changes in personal and employment information to OIS. Report changes in myOIS within ten days.
Changes to report while on OPT
Log into myOIS and utilize the appropriate e-form to report the following:
- Receipt of an employment authorization document (EAD) from USCIS.
- Change of name.
- Change of address, phone, or email.
- Change in employment status or information.
Defining a change in employment status
Changes in employment status can include:
- Starting a new job.
- Leaving a job.
- Starting a second, third, or fourth job.
- Change in employer name, supervisor, or address of employment.
- Change in work hours that results in unemployment (i.e. fewer than 20 hours per week).
Using myOIS as alumni
How you access the myOIS immigration portal will change after you graduate from UIC.
- Full Client Services – Utilize this link to log into myOIS as long as your UIC NetID and password are active.
- Limited Client Services – Utilize this link to log into myOIS after your UIC NetID and password are deactivated. You will need your UIN, date of birth, and PIN.
The SEVP Portal
The Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) launched the SEVP Portal in 2018 to serve and gather information from F-1 students on OPT. You will receive an email from SEVP on the first day of your approved period of post-completion OPT that includes a link and instructions on creating your SEVP Portal account.
You may utilize the SEVP Portal to review your OPT employment and contact information but do not edit the portal. You should only use myOIS to report changes in your personal and employment information. An OIS advisor will then update your SEVIS record and those changes will be reflected in your SEVP Portal within two to three business days.
Travel while on OPT
The decision to travel internationally while on OPT can be complicated and each situation is unique. As a reminder, international travel after your I-20 program completion date but before receiving your EAD can carry significant risk (see above) and is generally not advised. International travel with your OPT EAD in hand can be more straightforward. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Carry appropriate documents – Carry your passport (valid for six months beyond your date of re-entry to the U.S.), valid F-1 visa, Form I-20 with travel signature less than six months old, OPT EAD, and job offer/confirmation letter (if available).
- Know your employment status – Attempting to re-enter the U.S. on F-1 OPT without a job or a strong job prospect can carry risk. Additionally, you should know how many days of unemployment you have used and be able to document that number. The CBP officer may question your eligibility to enter the U.S. if your intention or ability to engage in F-1 OPT is not clear.
- Only enter using an F-1 visa – You must enter the U.S. in F-1 status to continue participating in OPT. If you enter the U.S. using a different visa, such as a tourist visa, your F-1 status and OPT ends.
- Research a visa renewal in advance – If your F-1 visa has expired and you will need to renew it before returning to the U.S. to resume OPT, research your options and consult with an OIS advisor prior to departure.
- Use caution with a pending change of status case – OIS can only advise you on your F-1 status. If you have filed an H-1B application or are pending any other change of status, consult with your employer or the attorney who assisted you in filing the case to confirm how international travel may impact the outcome.
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.
If you completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math, you may be eligible to extend your OPT for an additional 24 months through the STEM OPT Extension. You must apply for the STEM OPT Extension with USCIS before the end date of your 12-month period of post-completion OPT, and it is advisable to begin the process four months before your current EAD expires.
H-1 Cap Gap Extension
If you have a receipted or approved H-1B application, you may be eligible to extend your current period of post-completion OPT to cover any gaps in employment authorization. Please contact OIS for guidance.
Please note that OIS advisors cannot check the status of your H-1B application. Check your case status with USCIS or consult the employer or attorney that helped file your case.
Beginning a new academic program in the U.S.
If your plan is to begin a new academic program in the U.S., you must update your SEVIS record and Form I-20 accordingly. Please note that pursuing a full-time academic program during your approved period of post-completion OPT effectively ends your work authorization. If you choose to begin studies after your OPT ends, you must update your I-20 before the end of your 60-day grace period following your OPT end date.
Change your education level at UIC
If you will pursue a new program at UIC, please submit a Change of Education Level request to OIS.
Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school
If you have been admitted to an academic program at a new school, you must Request an F-1 SEVIS Transfer Out.
Departing the U.S. or Changing Status
If you will depart the U.S. or change to a different immigration status, please notify OIS by submitting a status update e-form so that we may appropriately end your F-1 status.
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.