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
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
• Students may apply as early as 90 days before the proposed start date of the employment.
• 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
• I am applying for: Check “Permission to Accept Employment”
• Items 1-2: List your name as it appears on your Form I-20 or any other legal names used.
• Item 3: Use an address that will be valid 3-5 months into the future. If you will move out of your place in less than 3 months, consider using the address of a reliable friend or relative in the Northeastern part of the U.S. who can receive the card for you. EADs are considered government documents and cannot be forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service. If you use the address of a friend, the first line of your address in item 3 should read “C/O” (“in care of”) followed by the last name of your friend. Then you can list the street number, etc.
• Item 4: List your country of citizenship as it appears on your Form I-20.
• Items 5-8: These items are self-explanatory. Please fill in the correct information.
• Item 9: Enter your SSN. Leave this box blank if you do not have an SSN. (You do not need an SSN to apply for OPT. If you do not have one, you can apply for a Social Security Number after you receive your EAD.)
• Item 10: Enter the eleven (11) digit number from your I-94 printout.
• Item 11: If you have ever submitted the Form I-765 to USCIS for a previous OPT, place an “X” in the box for “Yes”. Then indicate to which USCIS office you sent the application and the dates of approval or denial. Remember to include a copy of your previous EAD in your supporting documents.
• Item 12: This number refers to the most recent date on which you entered the U.S. in F-1 status. It is usually stamped in your passport in your last trip back to the U.S.
• Item 13: This section refers to the U.S. city where you most recently entered the U.S.
• Item 14: This item refers to the status you were given by USCIS the last time you entered the U.S. If you entered as F-1 you should enter “student” in this space. If you entered in some other status, please discuss it with the advisor.
• Item 15: This item refers to your current immigration status which should be "F-1". In most cases, this will be the same as the status that was entered in item number 14.
• Item 16: Enter the following in this section: For pre-completion OPT enter (C) (3) (A); for post-completion OPT enter (C) (3) (B).
• Items 17-19: You do not need to complete these items. Just leave them blank. Under "certification", please sign and date the form using blue ink. Give the telephone number where you can be reached easily if USCIS has questions about your application.
Instructions to Complete OPT Date Verification Form
Note: The USCIS does not accept double-sided copies
• 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
• 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
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)
STEM OPT extension rules and requirements
Students who hold degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for a total of 36 months of post-completion OPT. Only students who have completed degrees in a STEM designated field qualify for this extension. You can locate your field of study as listed on your Form I-20. If your field of study does not appear on this list, you are not eligible for a STEM extension. It might be possible to apply for the STEM extension based on a prior U.S. degree in a STEM field. That degree must have been issued in within the past 10 years from an SEVP-certificed school that is currently accredited.
Your HIO advisor can help you determine if your degree or concentration is eligible for the STEM extension. In addition to having completed a degree in a STEM field of study, you must have a job offer or be working for an employer registered with "E-Verify," a federal employment verification system and you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT students. A guide to completing the I-983 can be found at http://hio.harvard.edu/administrator-guide under Employer Responsibilities and Obligations for STEM OPT.
WHEN TO APPLY:
You may submit the STEM application up to 90 days before your initial OPT period ends.
HOW TO APPLY:
Harvard Students – download the STEM Extension Request Form. Non-Harvard students should contact their home instititution for guidance
STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES WHILE ON STEM EXTENSION
Students who are granted a STEM OPT Extension have additional federal reporting requirements. Failure to satisfy these requirements will automatically invalidate the student’s F-1 status:
A student pursuing the STEM extension must:
- Work in a paid position for an E-Verify employer at least 20 hours per week
- Work in a position related to the STEM program major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20
- Not work for any employer that is not an E-Verify employer
- Not have more than 150 days of unemployment time during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and 24-month extension combined)
- Cannot be self-employed
STEM OPT Training plan
- Students must report within 10 days any changes to the Training Plan on file. Students are also required to report to their International Student Advisor if their employer is not abiding by the terms of the the Training Plan
- Students must submit a fully completed Training Plan evaluation at the end for the first and second twelve month periods of STEM OPT
STEM OPT students must provide the following information to their International Student Advisor every six months AND within 10 days of any change
- Legal name;
- Residential and mailing address;
- E-mail address;
- Telephone Number;
- Employer name;
- Employer address;
- Employer EIN;
- Job title or position;
- Number of hours worked per week (must be at least 20 hours);
- Supervisor's name;
- Supervisor's telephone number;
- Supervisor's email;
- Employment start-date; and
- Employment end-date
OPT extension for H-1B cap gap
For the most up-to-date information, visit the USCIS website.