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, but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study.
• To qualify for OPT, you must be in active F-1 status for two consecutive semesters preceding the start date of OPT.
• You also must be physically present in the U.S. and in active F-1 status at the time of application.
Please watch the OPT videos under How to Apply to understand and complete 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.
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: $410 application fee to USCIS. $150 to Harvard University*. Total combined cost is $560.
How do I pay the OPT fees?
- USCIS: Personal Check or Money Order Only – No cash or credit card
- Harvard: Personal Check, Money Order, or Credit Card via Touchnet
* The Harvard University OPT fee is a one-time non-refundable fee to maintain your SEVIS record after you are no longer a fee-paying student. You also maintain full access to your HIO advising and resources. This HIO SEVIS maintenance fee is wholly separate from the USCIS application filing fee.
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 official vacation periods such as summer or winter vacation.
Is there a way to expedite my OPT application with USCIS?
USCIS may take 5 months or more to process an OPT application. Although USCIS does have an expedite system, our experience is that they rarely grant expedites for OPT applications. It is therefore essential that you apply for OPT as early as possible to avoid any delays of your start date.
Can I track my OPT application status with USCIS?
Yes only after you get a receipt from USCIS. You may check the status of your case either by creating an account with USICS (USCIS Account) or by simply checking your Case Status online using the case number on your receipt. You may also submit a Case Inquiry if your case has been pending for more than 5 months.
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 12 month period available. For example: full-time employment for two months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only 10 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 U.S. 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 when I apply for OPT?
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 from you.
Will I be eligible for OPT again if I begin another degree program in the U.S?
Students may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility. For example, if you have already used 12 months of OPT following a master’s degree, you would only become eligible for another 12 months following a doctoral program.
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.
OPT Application Checklist and Forms
Your OPT Application must include two forms: the governmental Form I-765, and HIO OPT Date Verification Form, both linked below. Please consult the OPT Application Checklist on page two of the Date Verification Form for a full list of documents needed to include in your OPT application.
Form I-765 and Instructions:
You must follow these HIO line-by-line instructions carefully while completing the Form I-765.
HIO OPT Date Verification Form and OPT Application Checklist:
Instructions to complete the HIO OPT Date Verification Form:
- Please complete all fields with your personal information
- 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. If you are applying for OPT to use after graduation, you will select "Full-Time Post-Completion OPT".
- Carefully read the attestation and sign the bottom of the form.
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 on the next steps to complete your OPT application as well as regulations that affect you and your responsibilities once your OPT has been approved.
Post-Completion OPT Rules and Reporting Requirements
While on post-completion OPT, you 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).
SEVIS calculates and tracks unemployment days. Reporting employment to the HIO is essential to keeping your F-1 status active and accurate. Reporting employment stops the automatic accrual of unemployment days in your F-1 SEVIS record.
Failure to comply with the OPT rules and reporting requirements may constitute a status violation; such violations may have negative consequences for your current immigration status or result in delays and denials of future immigration benefits. It is important that you do not begin any employment until you have received your OPT EAD card and the start date is current.
Reporting Residential Address Information
You must report to the HIO your current residential addresses, and any future changes of address within 10 days of the change by using the online OPT Employer and Address Reporting Form.
Reporting Employer Information While on OPT
You are required to report your employer's name and address using the online OPT Employer and Address Reporting Form.
When reporting employer information, you must describe the direct relationship between your major field of study/degree program at Harvard and your employment. You must also report any interruption of employment or changes of employers by using the online OPT Employer and Address Reporting Form.
Please review the “Acceptable Types OPT Employment” section of this site for additional information.
Reporting Changes to your Visa Status or Plans in the U.S.
You must notify the HIO if you have changed to a different visa status (i.e. H-1B, TN, E-3, Green Card, etc.) OR if you have permanently departed the U.S. and will no longer use OPT or F-1 status. Please email your HIO advisor directly about these changes.
Limits on Periods of Unemployment on OPT
- 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).
- F-1 visa regulations allow you to apply for OPT without having an employer. For students who remain in the U.S. on post-completion OPT, their legal status depends on being employed.
- Travel abroad while employed in the U.S. does not count as unemployment time. Unemployment time accrues for all who are not employed whether in the U.S. or abroad.
- You must maintain precise records of employment and unemployment time by keeping job offer letters, contracts, pay stubs, tax return documents, airline tickets, etc.
Degree/Employment Relationship on OPT
Federal regulations require that F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) be directly related to your major area of study, which is meant to ensure that any employment experience you undertake while on OPT supplements your educational pursuits.
When reporting employment, you must provide a written explanation for how the proposed employment relates to the degree upon which your OPT eligibility is based. Specifically, the written explanation should include your job title, employer name, major area of study, whether the employment is full-time or part-time, and a brief explanation of how the job is directly related to your studies. The regular duties should be explained, as well as the connection between those duties and your degree.
For example, you may cite specific coursework; dissertation or thesis research; or lab work that has provided the student with fundamental knowledge used in the job duties.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has provided examples of appropriate employment situations:
- Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering: l work full time as an Electrical Engineer at ABC Corp., a government contractor. In my job, I analyze client requirements for electrical systems and provide them with cost estimates of such systems. My work requires understanding of electrical circuit theory, which I studied in-depth at the University of ABC.
- Bachelor's degree in Business: I work full time as a Loan Officer at a mortgage company, Happy Homes, where I meet with clients and evaluate, authorize and recommend approval of loan applications. On a daily basis, I use the knowledge I gained in my credit analysis, sales and marketing classes that I took as part of my major program of study.
- Master's degree in Music: I am working at a hospital playing the harp in patient rooms. I also conduct hands-on harp beginner workshops for long-term patients. On average, I work at the hospital 35 hours a week. My duties directly utilize the skills and knowledge I acquired from my coursework and degree in music therapy.
- PhD in Computer Science: I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute. I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning, which I studied as part of my dissertation.
- Master's degree in Kinesiology: I am working 25 hours a week in a health food store as a consultant for Self-Made Inc., designing and teaching exercise classes that are incorporated into a customer's overall nutrition and exercise plan. My designs and customer instruction draw upon my studies and classwork in exercise therapy and physical reconditioning.
Helpful Websites to review job and education information
These sites are widely used by U.S. government agencies when assessing degree relatedness for immigration benefits. When using these resources, it is best to look up a job and then review the educational and typical job duties to determine if your educational background is sufficient for a job of that type.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Handbook
- College Board
- National Center for Education Statistics
Discrepancies in job duties and educational background can be questioned by government agencies when applying for H-1B sponsorship or permanent residency.
Acceptable Types of OPT Employment
While on OPT, you are required to work at least 20 hours per week in the U.S. to maintain valid F-1 OPT status and all employment must be directly related to your major area of study and degree program. It is also important that you do not begin any employment until you have received your OPT EAD card and the start date is current.
Types of Employment Allowed for Post-Completion OPT
The following list describes other acceptable forms of employment under OPT:
- Multiple employers -- You may work for more than one employer, but ALL employment must be related to your major field of study and degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists) -- Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). You must 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 employer-employee relationship. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, you 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 -- You may start a business and be self-employed on OPT. You must be able to prove that you the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to your major field of study and degree program.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm -- You must be able to provide evidence showing that you worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while being employed by the agency.
- Unpaid employment -- You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week. You also must be able to provide evidence, acquired from employer, to verify that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
- Remote employment – Provided all other requirements are met (i.e. U.S. employment, related to degree, at least 20 hours per week, etc.), you may work remotely.
Please note: STEM OPT extension rules and responsibilities are more extensive than the list above. Please see the STEM information.
Travel on Post-Completion OPT
For information on traveling after graduation while on Post-Completion OPT, please click here.
OPT Extension for H-1B Cap-Gap
Cap-Gap Extension FAQs
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 a change of status to H-1B petition to USCIS on your behalf. You may be eligible for one of two Cap-Gap extensions:
- If your employer filed your H-1B petition and it is received by USCIS prior to your post-completion OPT expiration date, you are eligible for an extension of your OPT employment authorization.
- 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. In other words, you will not have work permission.
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 an HIO H-1B Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form and send to your HIO advisor along with supporting documentation by email with “Cap-Gap Extension” in the subject line.
How long will the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension I-20 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, you may travel abroad and seek readmission to the U.S. in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:
- your H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved;
- you seek readmission before your H-1B employment begins (normally at the beginning of the fiscal year, i.e., October 1); and
- you 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
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 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
When you are on STEM OPT EXTENSION MUST you must contact your 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 Dofirstname.lastname@example.org 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 Doemail@example.com 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 must 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.