Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined as temporary employment to gain practical experience in your field of study. OPT is most frequently undertaken immediately following graduation (Post-completion), but in some circumstances may also be conducted prior to the completion of a degree program (Pre-completion).
As the vast majority of students apply for Post-completion OPT, this information sheet emphasizes eligibility requirements and application procedures for that option. Guidelines specific to Pre-completion OPT are indicated in italics.
F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT PER EDUCATION LEVEL (BA/BS, MS/MA, PhD). You are eligible to apply for Post-completion OPT if you meet the following criteria:
- You have been in F-1 status for at least two complete semesters
- You are completing a degree program (post-completion)
- Total period of previously authorized OPT within the current educational level is less than 12 months
- You have not been authorized for 12 months or more of FULL-TIME Curricular Practical Training
IMPORTANT NOTE: OPT is automatically terminated when a student transfers OR begins a new program at another institution.
You may not apply for Curricular Practical Training once you have applied for OPT. NO exceptions!
Pre-completion OPT note: For part-time work, you may apply for, and participate in OPT at anytime after you’ve completed two semesters in F-1 status. For full-time work, you may only participate in OPT after you have completed ALL coursework required for your degree program and are in your thesis/dissertation research phase.
APPLICATION TIME FRAME
You should file your Post-Completion OPT up to 90 days PRIOR to your program completion date, and up to 60 days AFTER graduation/program end date. Waiting to apply until the very end is strongly discouraged, as it may jeopardize your eligibility for OPT. Program completion is defined as the day that you complete all requirements for your degree. This is normally the graduation day, but in some cases may be earlier if, for example, a graduate student defends his/her thesis/dissertation early in the semester. Consult with one of the foreign student advisors if you have questions.
APPLICATION PROCEDURE (Application needs to be received by the USCIS within 30 days of OPT I-20 issue date)
- Complete the attached forms:
- Obtain (2) photographs, per specifications on M-603. You can have your photographs taken on-campus at the UCard Office (545-0197) in Room 168 Whitmore Building ($10 for 2 photos). On the back of each photo, write your full name and I-94 #. Use a felt-tip pen if necessary not to damage your photos
- Write a personal check for $380 payable to Department of Homeland Security.
- Make a photocopy of the identification and visa stamp pages of your passport (pages with your picture and expiration date).
- Make a photocopy of both sides of your I-94 card (the white card stapled to your passport.
- Make a photocopy of both sides of ALL previously issued I-20 forms (page 1 & 3 of SEVIS forms or page 3 & 4 of any pre-SEVIS I-20 form), including those issued by UMass and other school.
- Bring all of the above to the IPO along with your valid passport and current Form I-20.
- An advisor will review your documents and provided you meet the eligibility requirements, will issue a new I-20 with OPT recommendation. Additional instructions for you to submit your application to the USCIS will be provided.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How long does it take for USCIS to approve my OPT application?
Estimate 2-3 months as an average and take this into consideration when applying. For example, a student graduating in May who wishes to commence employment immediately following graduation should apply in February. You may not begin working legally until you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession. You can check the status of your application online by clicking here: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/jsps/index.jsp
What if I move while my OPT is pending at USCIS?
The U.S. Postal Service WILL NOT forward mail from the USCIS. It is extremely important that the address you put on the I-765 be valid for the next several months. If you plan on moving during the application, either use your new address or a reliable friend whose address you can use. Make sure the friend puts your name on their mailbox (mail carriers will only deliver to a box that has the addressee’s name). If the address on the I-765 becomes invalid during the application, please contact IPO ASAP. Change of address may delay the arrival of the card. You can also use our office address: International Programs Office, c/o Advisor’s Name here, 111 Thatcher Road, IPO, UMass, Amherst MA 01003
Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my application is pending at USCIS?
- Travel during the application process and/or before you have found a job can complicate matters – Speak to an international student advisor if you are thinking about traveling outside of the U.S. Briefly, the regulations state that a person with approved OPT would be eligible to re-enter the U.S. to “resume authorized employment,” and authorities seem to be following this rather strict, limited interpretation, which means that once your OPT has been approved, you need to verify employment (AND valid visa, I-20 form, and EAD) in order to re-enter the U.S.
- Travel after you have applied for OPT but before it has been approved? This is considered risky, but the regulations are not clear! The Dept. of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is saying that it is possible to return to the U.S. to await approval of the OPT application and look for a job. Unfortunately, governmental regulations are not always clear, and how an immigration official at the airport interprets the rules may not be consistent with the government’s interpretation.
- Once your OPT has been approved and you have a job, international travel and re-entry to the U.S. should be routine with the following: your EAD, valid passport with valid F-1 visa, valid I-20 form with approved OPT and employment information (with a signature from a UMass International Student Advisor on page 3, obtained within the last 6 months), and a letter from your employer and/or pay statement/stub.
What happens if I don’t finish my program before my OPT begins?
Since USCIS allows you to apply 3 months before your program completion, you may not complete your program before the OPT start date. An example of this is when your thesis defense date is unexpectedly postponed for a couple of months. Should this occur, you will still able to commence your training and finish your degree during your OPT period. However, the dates of the EAD will remain the same and cannot be adjusted.
After I apply for OPT, and then decide that I want to cancel the application or change the dates that I requested? Changes are very difficult, if not impossible, after an application is submitted to the USCIS!
My employer wants me to start working in two weeks. I’m afraid to tell my employer that I can’t start working for 3 months, as they may hire someone else. Can I do Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 3 months until my OPT is approved? No.
If I do another degree after my OPT, will I be eligible for another 12 months of OPT after that degree?
Yes – IF that degree is at a higher educational level. Completion of a second degree within the same educational level does not entitle you to OPT, unless you were granted less than 12 months after the first degree (assuming you never had pre-completion OPT). For example, if you applied for/were granted only 4 months of OPT upon completion of your first Master’s, you would have 8 months remaining for use after completion of the 2nd Masters.
What visa status will I have during my OPT period?
You will maintain your F-1 visa. Once the EAD expires, you have 60 days to leave the U.S. or apply for a change of visa status (you may not work during this 60-day grace period). If your company is considering changing your visa status to H-1B, it is strongly recommended that you begin this process at the beginning of your OPT period.
Can I work as a volunteer or an unpaid intern while on OPT?
Yes, but the work must be at least 20 hr/wk and does not violate any labor laws. Student must be able to provide evidence from the employer that they have worked the 20 hour minimum.