Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students to work off-campus in a field directly related to their major area of study. An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT. Please watch the OPT videos below under How to Apply to understand the OPT application process.

If you are currently on post-completion OPT and need to report a change in the name and/or address of an employer, please click here.

Eligibility and FAQs

  • Must be in active F-1 status for two consecutive semesters preceding the start date of OPT
  • Must be physically present in the United States and in active F-1 status at the time of application
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study

OPT FAQs

How much OPT time can I apply for?
You are allowed a total of 12 months of full-time OPT per degree level.

I don’t have a job yet. Can I still apply for OPT?
A job offer is not required to apply for OPT but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study.

How much does it cost to apply for OPT?
Pre-completion OPT: $410 application fee to USCIS
Post-completion OPT: $150 to Harvard University and $410 application fee to USCIS. Total cost of $560.

I want to use OPT time before completing my degree. When can I apply?
You may apply for periods of pre-completion OPT during school terms and summer vacation. You may apply for part-time (20 hours or less a week) pre-completion OPT while school is in session and full-time pre-completion OPT during annual summer vacation periods.

I’m graduating and will be applying for post-completion OPT. If I have used pre-completion OPT during my studies, how do I know how much OPT time I have remaining?
Any periods of OPT used before completion of studies will be deducted from the total twelve-month period available.  Example: Full-time employment for two months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only ten months of OPT available after graduation. Your HIO advisor can assist in determining how much remaining OPT time you have available.

I graduated and left the United States. Am I still eligible to apply for post-completion OPT?
If you depart the U.S. upon graduation without applying for OPT, you will lose your OPT eligibility.

My family is here on F-2 visas, is there anything additional I need to do for them?
Your dependents will receive updated I-20s from the HIO to reflect your requested OPT employment dates. There is no additional cost or paperwork needed for the OPT application for those students who have dependents.

Will I be eligible for OPT again if I begin another degree program in the U.S?
Students may become eligible for another twelve months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility.

When to Apply

Pre-completion OPT

  • Students may apply as early as 90 days before the proposed start date of the employment.

Post-completion OPT

  • Students completing a program of study can apply as early as 90 days before the date of completion and/or graduation. For May degree candidates, the date of the graduation ceremony is the program completion date.
  • Completed OPT applications must be received by USCIS no later than the 60th day after graduation/program completion.
  • You are advised to apply for OPT well in advance of your anticipated employment. A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.
  • For students completing their programs at other points in the academic year, their HIO advisor can assist in determining the program completion date for OPT purposes.
  • Students who have had a break in their F-1 student status (such as a leave of absence outside of the United States) should work closely with their HIO advisor to confirm their eligibility to apply for OPT.

How to Apply

All F-1 students who plan to apply for either pre-completion or post-completion OPT must follow the following procedure. There are three steps in an OPT application:

1.    Watch the OPT instructional video below to learn how to put an application packet together
2.    Submit the packet to the HIO to obtain an OPT recommendation
3.    Mail the OPT packet with the HIO recommendation to USCIS

OPT Application Information

  • Once you have watched the video you are expected to complete the required forms, put together the application, and submit the application to the HIO.
  • The HIO will provide the OPT recommendation in the form of a new I-20. Once the new I-20 is issued you will get an e-mail from the HIO to pick up your OPT packet. If you choose to have your OPT paperwork mailed back to you, please include a self-addressed large envelope with your application.
  • Your packet will include detailed written instructions on how to complete your application and instructions on how to mail the application to USCIS. 
  • In most cases, provided that you have obtained the required recommendation from your HIO advisor and submitted the required documents to USCIS, OPT is not denied by USCIS. However, problems occur when the application guidelines are not followed (e.g. incorrect mailing address, wrong photograph format, etc.).
  • Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their applications risk violating their student visa status and possibly forfeiting their OPT. Students who do not graduate as planned must contact their HIO advisors immediately.

Instructions to Complete Form I-765

Download the Form I-765

Download the Instructions to Complete Form I-765

Instructions to Complete OPT Date Verification Form

Download the OPT Date Verification Form

  • Employer information: You do not need to complete the employer name and address section unless you already have an employer at the time of the OPT application.
  • Requested dates of OPT:

Pre-completion OPT: you may choose any date you wish to start and end your employment, but you cannot apply more than 90 days in advance of the proposed start date.
Post-completion OPT: you may request a start date that is any date between the day after your graduation or program completion date and 60 days after that date. The end date of your OPT should be 12 months from the requested start date if you have not used OPT during your program. If you have used OPT during your program you must subtract the time you used. For example, if you used 2 months of full time OPT during your program, your end date will be 10 months from the requested start date. Please note that CPT time used does not get subtracted from OPT. However, 12 months of full-time CPT disqualifies you from applying for post completion OPT.

  • Put an X in Full-Time or Part-Time since it is important for the HIO recommendation.
  • Sign the bottom of the form

Checklist for OPT Application

Download the OPT Application Checklist

Note: The USCIS does not accept double-sided copies

  • A completed Form I-765
  • A completed OPT Date Verification Form
  • A photocopy of all pages of the Forms I-20 issued to you, from all schools you have attended
  • A photocopy of the U.S. visa stamp in your passport (not applicable to Canadian citizens)
  • A photocopy of the biographical page(s) of your passport
  • A printout of I-94
  • A photocopy of USCIS approval notice from any change(s) of status (if applicable)
  • A photocopy of previous Employment Authorization Cards (if applicable)
  • For post-completion OPT only: a personal check or money order of $150 made payable to Harvard University; this is a one-time non-refundable fee.
  • GSAS STUDENTS ONLY: a letter from your department stating new completion of studies date if different from what is on your I-20

* Note: In addition to the items listed above, you will need to add the following to your application before mailing it to USCIS: 2 recent passport sized photographs and a check or money order made payable to the U.S Department of Homeland Security for $410.

 

Final Steps in the OPT Application Process

OPT Video Part II video

Now that you have picked up your OPT packet from the HIO, please watch the OPT Part II video.  This video provides instructions about completing your application and mailing to USCIS, as well as regulations and responsbilities once your OPT has been approved.

 

Post-Completion OPT rules and responsibilities

Reporting Address and Employer Information While on OPT

All students on post-completion OPT must report to the HIO their current residential addresses, and any future changes of address within 10 days of the change by using the online Change of Address Form. In addition, students are required to report their employer's name and address, and any interruption of employment or changes of employers by using the online OPT Employer and Address Form.

Limits on Periods of Unemployment on OPT

F-1 visa regulations allow students to apply for OPT without having an employer. For students who remain in the United States on post-completion OPT, their legal status depends on being employed. OPT employment may be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, and includes self-employment. Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment within the approved dates of OPT as listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

What Types of Employment Are Allowed for Post-Completion OPT?*

All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT employment, is required to be related to the student’s degree program. The following list describes acceptable forms of employment:

  • Paid employment Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
  • Multiple employers Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists) Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and the duration.
  • Work for hire This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing that they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Please note:  STEM OPT extension rules and responsibilities are more extensive than the list above. Please see the STEM information below.

Travel after Graduation While Waiting for OPT Approval

After graduation, OPT students are required to show the EAD along with other F-1 visa documents in order to reenter the United States. Printed on the EAD is the statement "Not valid for reentry." This statement means that students must have ALL documents listed below in order to travel and return to the United States after graduation. In many cases students will also need to apply for new F-1 visas before they may return to the United States. The following is a list of required documents for OPT students to reenter the United States using after graduation:

  • a valid Form I-20, signed on page 3 by an advisor in the HIO (the signature should not be more than six months old at the time of reentry to the United States)
  • a valid passport
  • a valid F-1 visa in the passport
  • the EAD issued by USCIS
  • evidence of a job offer or evidence of resumption of employment
  • SEVIS fee payment receipt (If you do not have the receipt and have paid the SEVIS fee before, please go to https://www.fmjfee.com to print one out. If you have not paid the SEVIS fee, you may pay now via the same web site and print out the receipt.)

* This information is adapted from SEVP Policy Guidance: 0801-02 Updates to Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT Extension for H-1B Cap-Gap

Cap-Gap Extension Frequently Asked Questions

What is an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension?

A Cap-Gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student's OPT employment authorization based on an appropriately filed “change of status” H-1B petition with an October 1 start date.

Am I eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension?

You are eligible for a Cap-Gap extension if your employer submits a timely filed H-1B petition to USCIS on your behalf. You may be eligible for one of two Cap-Gap extensions:

  1.  If your employer filed your H-1B petition and it is received by USCIS prior to your post-completion OPT expiration date, you qualify for an extension of your OPT employment authorization.
  2.  If your employer filed your H-1B petition and it is received by USCIS after your post-completion OPT expires but during your 60 day grace period following OPT, your F-1 status and permission to remain in the U.S. are extended but the OPT employment authorization is not.

Which Cap-Gap Extension am I eligible for?

  • You are eligible for an automatic Cap-Gap OPT extension through September 30 if your H-1B petition has been filed by your employer and receipted by USCIS.
  • You are eligible for a Cap-Gap extension through June 1 if your H-1B petition was delivered to the USCIS but you have not yet received a receipt.

How do I apply for an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension I-20?

To request the Cap-Gap I-20, please complete and send to your HIO advisor an HIO H-1B Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form and supporting documentation by email with “Cap-Gap Extension” in the subject line.

How long will the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension request take?

The HIO will issue the Cap-Gap I-20 within 10 business days of the receipt of your request, provided you include all required information.

Can I travel during an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension?

Generally speaking, an F-1 student may travel abroad and seek readmission to the U.S. in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:

  1. The student’s H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved;
  2. The student seeks readmission before his or her H-1B employment begins (normally at the beginning of the fiscal year, i.e., October 1); and
  3. The student is otherwise admissible.

Please note, traveling outside the U.S. may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. HIO strongly advises that you consult with your employer and their legal counsel processing the H-1B regarding all travel plans before departing the U.S. Click here to access the latest travel information from the USCIS.

Can I switch employers while I am on Cap-Gap Extension?

Generally speaking, you cannot switch employers during you Cap-Gap extension. Please consult with the legal counsel of your employer.

Please consult your HIO Advisor for questions related to Cap-Gap related issues.

H-1B Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form

Download the H-1B Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form

Ending Post-Completion OPT

While on OPT, you continue to hold F-1 status sponsored by Harvard and your F-1 record remains active in the government database SEVIS. It is extremely important that you notify your HIO advisor of any changes to your immigration status:

  • If you leave the U.S. permanently before your EAD expires, or decide not to use OPT, you must notify your HIO advisor before you leave the U.S.
  • If you change to another visa status in the U.S., such as H-1B, E-3, G-4, TN, etc. or obtain Permanent Resident status, you must notify your HIO advisor. To report this change, you will need to send your advisor evidence of your new status (e.g. new I-94 arrival/departure record, I-797, or green card).

SEVP Portal FAQ

What is the SEVP Portal?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The SEVP Portal is a tool for F-1 students who have been approved by the USCIS for post-completion OPT/STEM OPT to update the following:

For students on Post-completion OPT

• Employment Information

  • Employment start date and end date
  • Employer name and address
  • Brief description on how employment relates to studies
  • Indicate full-time or part-time employment

• Personal Information

  • Current physical address in the U.S.
  • Current mailing address in the U.S. (if different from physical address)
  • Current telephone number

For students on STEM OPT Extension

• Personal Information

  • Current physical address in the U.S.
  • Current mailing address in the U.S.
  • Current telephone number
  • Employment information cannot be updated through the SEVP Portal

Students on STEM OPT EXTENSION MUST contact their HIO advisor to make any changes to employment and comply with all STEM OPT reporting requirements, including the completion of the final evaluation and the new Form I-983.  You can find all reporting requirements on the HIO web site.

How can I access the SEVP Portal?
You can only access the SEVP Portal once you receive your EAD and your OPT start date has been reached. On the first day of your approved OPT (start date on your EAD) you will receive an email from Do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov containing an access link to the SEVP Portal. Click on the link and set up a unique password. In advance, you should add the email listed above to your Trusted Sender List (non-spam list). Please also check your spam/junk mail if you do not see an email in your inbox as of the start date of your EAD.

Is there help for creating an SEVP Portal Account?
You may access videos for step by step instructions on how to set up and use your account.

To which email account will the SEVP Portal access information be sent?
The email will be sent to the email address listed on your HIO OPT Date Verification Form that you completed when you applied for OPT.

What if I do not receive the initial email on my first day of approved OPT?
If you have already checked your spam/junk mail folder and the email from Do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov is not there, please contact your HIO advisor to confirm what email is on file. Your HIO advisor will submit a request on your behalf to have the link re-sent to you.

How can I log in to the Portal?
You can log in by clicking here.

How often do I need to access the SEVP Portal throughout my OPT period?
You must access the Portal every 90 days, even if you do not have any updates to make. The SEVP Portal will lock after 90 days of inactivity and you will have to contact your HIO advisor to reset your account.

Can I use the same SEVP Portal password for the duration of my OPT?
You must change your password every 90 days and you should not share your password with anyone under any circumstances.  When your password is close to expiring you will be prompted by the SEVP Portal to change your password upon logging in.

I have been locked out of my account.  How do I unlock it?
Please contact your HIO advisor to reset your account.

I have already been working on post-completion OPT and have reported my employment to HIO. Do I still need to use the SEVP Portal?
The SEVP Portal is an optional functionality. You do not need to create a Portal account if you continue to update your address and employment status directly through the HIO. You must still update the HIO directly on the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form even if you use the Portal. Using the Portal does not automatically update any Harvard data systems.  At this time our recommendation is for you to continue to submit your updates via the HIO rather than the SEVP Portal.

What do I do after I update my employment information in the SEVP Portal?
If you choose to update your information in the SEVP Portal, each time you send updates via the SEVP Portal, you must also submit the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form to the HIO.

I am working for two different employers on post-completion OPT. Can I list both in the SEVP Portal?
Yes, you will want to add one employer and then click “Add New Employer” to add the second.

I switched jobs on OPT. What do I do in the SEVP Portal to reflect my job change?
Be sure to enter your last date of employment for your previous position. Then click “Add Employment” and enter your new employment information. Do not delete your previous employer’s information.

I am self-employed, working remotely or working for a staffing agency. What address should I list for the employer address in the SEVP Portal?
Please complete as much information as you can in the SEVP Portal and submit to the HIO the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form including what you believe to be your employer address.  An HIO advisor will contact you if there are any issues regarding the address you submitted.  If you are self-employed working out of your home, use your home address as your employer address.

My name has changed. Can I update this information in the SEVP Portal?
Please contact your HIO advisor to update this information.

My email address has changed. Can I update this information in the SEVP Portal?
It is not possible for you to update your email address.  Please contact your HIO advisor to update this information.