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Optional Practical Training

If you are an F-1 student who will be completing a program of study, you may be eligible for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is employment related to your major field of study prior to or shortly after graduating.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for granting authorization for OPT. You are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level you complete. For example, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor's degree, and then for another 12 months of OPT after completing a master's degree. If your major field of study is in a science, technology, engineering, or a mathematics (STEM) field, you may be eligible for an extension of OPT.  

Never work without first receiving authorization. It is a serious violation of your status to work without authorization.

AM I ELIGIBLE FOR OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING AUTHORIZATION?

All F-1 students nearing graduation who have been enrolled full time for at least two consecutive semesters (excludes summer terms) are eligible to apply for OPT authorization.

When Should I Apply for Optional Practical Training Authorization?

Applications for OPT can be submitted up to 90 days before your expected program completion date. The applications for OPT need to be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of the academic program requirements.

USCIS will need three to four months to process an OPT application. USCIS lists expected processing times for applications on its website. Visit USCIS »

The application needs to be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20 is printed during the OPT intake appointment.

As an F-1 student, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and those 12 months must be taken within the 14 months following the completion of program requirements. If it will take three to four months for USCIS to process a request for OPT authorization, and if the application is filed one month after completing the program of study, the OPT authorization will likely not be processed for three months from the date that USCIS receives it, which will result in the loss of approximately two months of OPT. For that reason, OISS recommends that OPT applications be submitted as early as possible.

Wait until you have received the OPT card and the start date on the card is current before beginning any employment.

How Do I Apply For Authorization?
Please make an appointment with OISS to learn more about the OPT application.  We will guide you through the process step by step.  Additionally, please visit OPT self-service guide to look at the items that you will prepare for your OPT application.
What Do I Need To Do To Maintain Status While On OPT?
  • You may not begin employment until you receive the OPT card (employment authorization document) and may only work during the dates listed on the card, unless your employer has submitted an H-1B petition.
  • After you complete your degree, you may not work on campus until you have received your OPT card and the start date on your card is current, even if you were previously authorized to work on campus. At that time, you can resume working on campus only if the work is in your field of study.
  • You are required to work at least 21 hours per week. There is no maximum number of hours you can work.

As an F-1 student authorized for OPT, you are required to report any of the following to OISS within 10 days of the occurrence:

  • If your name or address has changed, report this through iStart. Visit iStart »
  • If your immigration status has changed, submit the "Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed" e-form in iStart.
  • If you have an interruption of employment, submit the "Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed" e-form in iStart.
  • If your employment has changed, report this through the "Report OPT Employment" e-form in iStart.
Other OPT Information
  • You are permitted to work in more than one job if you wish, provided that all jobs are in your major field of study.
  • You may also accept volunteer opportunities in your field of study. See the FAQ below.

You must continue to check your IU email account while on OPT. OISS will continue to email you at your IU email address during your OPT authorization. Learn more in the FAQ below.

OPT Extension

Cap-Gap Extension

At the end of the OPT authorization, you have a 60-day grace period to remain in the United States and prepare for departure, to begin a new program of study, or to submit an application for a change of status, unless your employer has submitted an H-1B petition.

The cap-gap extension applies to all F-1 students on OPT whose non-college or university employers filed a timely H-1B petition for the following fiscal year, regardless of your field of study.

If your employer files a timely H-1B petition (requesting a change of status within the United States and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year) before your current OPT authorization expires, you are permitted to continue working and may remain legally in the United States in F-1 status until the H-1B petition is approved, rejected, denied, or revoked. The allowance of extra time while the petition is being reviewed is known as "cap-gap authorization."

This permission to remain in the United States in F-1 status and continue working under OPT in this particular situation is automatic. There is no new application for an EAD.

If the H-1B petition is approved, your immigration status change will occur on October 1. If the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked, your OPT cap-gap authorization will end 10 days after its rejection, and you will have a 60-day grace period to depart the country, change status, or begin a new program (at the same school or by transferring to a new school).

The cap-gap work authorization continuation only applies in cases where the H-1B petition is filed before the EAD expires. If the EAD expires before the H-1B petition can be filed, but you are still within the 60-day grace period, you may remain in the United States in F-1 status until a decision on the H-1B petition is reached, but may not be employed.

F-2 dependents (spouses and unmarried minor children) are eligible to remain in F-2 status during this time as well.

If your employer's attorney, your local DMV, or a similar party requests that you provide an updated I-20 that reflects your cap-gap OPT, please email us at IUKoiss@iuk.edu to request access to the "Cap-Gap I-20 Request" e-form in iStart.

OPT Extension - STEM Extension

If you are an F-1 student whose OPT is based on a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM field, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may be eligible for a one-time, 17-month extension of OPT.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) provides a list of qualifying STEM majors on its website. Download the list »

Am I Eligible?

In order to be eligible for this extension, you should:

  • Already be on post-completion OPT and hold an appropriate degree in one of the DHS-approved STEM fields.
  • Be employed by, or have a job offer from, an employer who is registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration.
  • Have fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT.
  • Not have been approved previously for a 17-month extension of OPT.
  • Submit the OPT application to USCIS prior to the expiration of the current post-completion OPT. USCIS needs to receive the application before the expiration date on the current EAD.

When Should I Apply, and How Do I Apply?

OISS recommends that you begin the application process for the extension three to four months before your current OPT expires. Your application should be submitted no later than 45 days before your current OPT expires.

If you file a timely application for an extension, you will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending with USCIS, until it is approved or denied, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

To apply for the STEM extension:

  • Submit the online "OPT STEM Extension Online Information Session" e-form on iStart to view an online OPT STEM information session. Visit iStart »
  • After viewing the online OPT STEM information session, submit the "17-Month OPT STEM Extension" e-form on iStart.
  • Gather the required application materials, listed below.

Your application should include:

  • The completed "17-Month OPT STEM Extension" e-form
  • Two color, passport-style photographs
  • A copy of your passport identity page and any extension pages
  • A copy of the front and back of your current OPT card
  • A check or money order for $380, payable to "US Department of Homeland Security"
  • A copy of the new I-20 from OISS, with a recommendation for OPT extension
  • Evidence that your degree meets the STEM degree/major requirements. Only one of the following need to be submitted with your application:
  • An official transcript
  • An unofficial transcript
  • A copy of the diploma that shows your degree level and program of study
  • A completed and signed Form I-765
  • A copy of your I-94 card/printout

When filling out Form I-765, refer to the following tips:

  • Item #3: You may use your address or OISS address (please notify us if you do)
  • Item #9: Use your U.S. Social Security number.
  • Item #10: This is the 11-digit number on your most recent I-94 card.
  • Item #11: Include your current OPT information.
  • Item #14: USCIS wants to know what your status was the last time you entered the United States. For most students applying for OPT, it is "F-1 Student."
  • Item #15: This has to be "F-1 Student."
  • Item #16: (c)(3)(C).
  • Item #17: Degree = your degree level and major; employer's name as listed in E-Verify; employer's E-Verify identification number.

You will submit the application on your own to the appropriate USCIS Service Center, but if you would first like to submit your materials to OISS, we can put the application together for you and return it to you to file with the appropriate USCIS Service Center. Please be sure to keep a copy of everything that you submit. The application should be filed with the USCIS Service Center that has geographic jurisdiction over the address you list on the I-765. More information is available on the USCIS website. Visit USCIS »

Last updated: 12/04/2015