Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an off-campus work benefit of F-1 visa holders. The OPT application process is detailed and for this reason, ISSS requires that students attend an OPT Workshop before applying via MyISSS. It is important to know that the process for applying for OPT can take 3-4 months, and students should plan ahead to use this work authorization benefit. Please refer to OPT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information.
Attend an OPT workshop:
Documents that will be submitted to ISSS:
- Passport biographical page
- I-94 online record
Other Documents to Prepare:
- Photos - View the photo specifications here.
- Filing Fee - Online: $410.00 filing fee will be submitted online.
- Previous I-20s - Scan copies of all past I-20s that have CPT/OPT work authorization from your studies at USF and any prior schools.
- Missing I-20 letter (If applicable) - If you are missing any previous I-20s, use the Sample missing I-20 letter to write a letter explaining your F1 student history.
- Previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - Prepare a digital copy of the front and back of any previous EAD.
3 Digital storage information:
Please prepare copies of your documents in a digital format and store them electronically. Use these guidelines when preparing your documents (See Preparing your Documents" for digital file requirements)
- Photos: JPG, JPEG, PNG
- Docs: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, TIFF
- Clear and readable
- No encrypted or password protected files
- Documents in a foreign language must have English translation with translator’s certification for each original document
- Document Name: Must only use english letters, numbers, spaces, periods, hyphens, underscores, or parentheses. No special characters or foreign characters in the document name.
- Max: 6MB per file
Once you have gathered your OPT documents you can submit a request for ISSS to recommend you for OPT and make you a new OPT I-20.
Submit through MyISSS: Read the instructions and upload the required documents.
Required documents to be uploaded:
- Passport Biographical page
- Most recent I-94 record
Recommendation from Advisor: Enter your academic advisor or department chair’s contact information so they can confirm you academic standing and expected degree completion date.
Complete the Questionnaire: When you complete the questionnaire you will need to enter your selected OPT start and end dates. For post-completion OPT your start date can be as early as 1 day after your program end date, and as late as 60 days after your program end date. Your OPT end-date depends on how many months of OPT you have used. If you have not used any OPT, your OPT end date can be 1 full year after the start date. For example: If you choose a start date of 5/30/2019, your latest end date will be 5/29/2020. Once you submit your MyISSS OPT request you will not be able to change your start and end dates.
When you receive your USF I-20 review the OPT information on the second page. Then print, date and sign it in black ink. Scan the signed version of the I-20 and save it with your other documents. Your OPT application needs to be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of the I-20 issuance date (the date next to the ISSS staff members signature on page 1).
- Create your USCIS account: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/.
- You may use any email address to create your account. USF recommends that you use your USF email address (without the “dons”) to create your USCIS account to match your email address already listed in SEVIS. ISSS and SEVP/SEVIS will continue to use your USF email address to communicate with you during your OPT and STEM OPT.
- Once you have created your account
- Log back into https://myaccount.uscis.gov/ and select: myUSCIS (see image).
- Select Account Type: “I am an applicant, petitioner, or requestor” and click submit to enter your account and start your I-765 application.
- Complete I-765
- Review the online I-765 content
- Upload other required documents
Where to upload in the I-765 Online Application
|2x2 Photo of you||✔︎||✔︎||✔︎||EVIDENCE: 2x2 Photo of you|
|Form I-94||✔︎||✔︎||✔︎||EVIDENCE: Form I-94|
|Employment Authorization Document (passport or other gov. issued ID if no previous EAD)||✔︎||✔︎||✔︎||EVIDENCE: Employment Authorization Document|
|Proof of Enrollment||✔︎||EVIDENCE: Proof of enrollment|
|Previously Issued I-20s with Authorized CPT or OPT (if applicable)||✔︎||✔︎||
|Most recent Form I-20 with OPT recommendation||✔︎||✔︎||✔︎||EVIDENCE: Form I-20|
|College Diploma||✔︎||EVIDENCE: College degree|
|Institutional Accreditation (if applicable)||✔︎||EVIDENCE: Institutional accreditation|
|List previous periods of authorized CPT or OPT (if applicable)||✔︎||ADDITIONAL INFORMATION|
*For a description of the required documents, please refer to the I-765 content PowerPoint linked above.
4. Paying and Submitting your Application to USCIS:
When you pay your fee, your application will be submitted and cannot be reversed/cancelled/withdrawn. This will be your OPT filing date.
Click Pay and submit. You will be redirected to Pay.gov to make your filing fee payment ($410)
Premium processing option is available by filing form I-907 in your USCIS account, and the cost is $1,500. It guarantees adjudicative action will be taken on your case within 30 calendar days.
Mailing your OPT instead of using the USCIS Online account
Based on the success of the USCIS online OPT submission, ISSS is now instructing students to use this option. If you decide to mail in your application, please prepare all documents and use the correct USCIS address to mail your application to USCIS. The mail-in application requires you to submit a $410.00 check or money order payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, original photos, hardcopies of all the other supporting materials, and the original I-765 signed with black ink.
*See the "OPT Application Materials" section for information on the USCIS digital file requirements
Look up your case status
When you apply for OPT to USCIS a paper receipt notice (Form I-797) will be mailed to the address you identified on I-765 in a few weeks. You can check your case status online using the receipt number listed on your Form I-797. After submitting your OPT application online, you will also receive a receipt notice message immediately. You can track your case by checking the Case Status tab in your MyUSCIS account.
Update your address if you move
You need to update your physical address through your SEVP account within 10 days of your move. You can find how to access your SEVP account by visiting the “Reporting your OPT employment” section below.
When can I start working?
It is very important to remember, you cannot start working before the start date listed on the EAD card AND you must physically have your EAD card in hand to start working. Please communicate this to your employer during the interview process so you can work together and come up with a reasonable start date.
What if my OPT application takes a long time?
The average processing time for OPT is between three to four months. It is better to prepare and submit your OPT application early and plan accordingly to request your OPT EAD card start date. You cannot start working until you receive your EAD card.
Report Your OPT Employment + Address
Students in their 12 month OPT period can have a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. To prevent days of unemployment you need to report your employment. Students on regular 12 month OPT are considered employed if they are working over 20 hours per week in their field of study. This employment can be paid, unpaid, an internship, or volunteer work. You can work as many jobs as you want in your field of study.
IMPORTANT: SEVP will terminate your SEVIS record if you have not reported an employer or have exceeded the maximum days of unemployment.
All F-1 students who are on an approved period of OPT or STEM OPT will be contacted on their OPT start date to report their information. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will email you instructions on creating an account from this email address: email@example.com. The email will be sent to your USF email address. If you do not see the email, check your spam or junk mail folder. Once you receive the email you can create your account and begin reporting your employment. If your Portal account is locked, you can reset your password from the portal. If your OPT start date has passed and you have not received the SEVP Portal email, first check your spam mail, and then contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Verify that your Job is within your Field of Study in the SEVP Portal:
When you access the SEVP Portal there is a required field for you to indicate how your employment is related to your field of study. You need to complete this field with information that is specific to your job and your degree. Here are examples of acceptable responses provided by SEVP:
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 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."
Further instructions on using the SEVP Portal:
Employer start date: Your OPT employer start date needs to be within the last 10 days. If you started your employment more than 10 days ago and you are late to report your employment, first add your employer information and enter today as your start date. Then email ISSS (email@example.com) and confirm your start date and we will adjust the date for you.
If you would like more assistance in using the Portal visit the SEVP website with step-by-step videos and instructions.
Students on OPT are required to report any changes in the "Local Residence" address type (the address in the United States where you are currently living) and the "Permanent Residence" address type (the address that is outside of the United States). By logging into the SEVP Portal, students are able to update these addresses in their profile information. If you'd like to update your address for other USF offices, students can go into their myUSF account. Note the address information in myUSF will not appear in SEVIS or be used by the ISSS office.
Travel while you are on opt
It is possible to travel while on OPT, but it is important to make sure that you know what documents you will need to return to the United States before you depart. Until you complete your program of study, you will continue to travel as an enrolled student. Once you have graduated the documents that you need will vary depending on the status of your OPT application.
Please refer to the chart below to determine which documents you will need.
|OPT Status||Completed program but have not mailed OPT application||Mailed OPT application but have not been approved*||Approved for OPT|
|Documents needed for travel||You cannot travel and re-enter the United States if you have completed your program of study and have not applied for OPT.||
*Please note that if you leave the United States while your OPT is pending and it is approved when you are outside of the country, you will need your EAD card and letter from your employer to return.
When traveling on OPT it is required to have a letter from your employer to show that you are utilizing your OPT benefit and are not accruing excess days of unemployment. You can also get a letter from your supervisor when you are taking part in an unpaid internship or volunteer position to keep for your records. If questioned about your employment at a visa interview or another situation, you will have this letter to show you were maintaining your status, even though you do not have a history of payment for the employment. This letter will differ depending on your work situation, but it should include as much of the following as possible:
- Be on company letterhead with company name and address
- Contain a brief description of job duties (related to the field of study)
- State the dates of employment or at least a start date
- Verify the number of hours you are working
- If you are traveling, the letter should confirm that you will continue your employment when you return
- Letter should be signed by supervisor
Cap Gap Extension
Current F1 students with a pending or approved cap-subject H-1B petition and requested Change of Status to H-1B are allowed to remain in F-1 status during the cap-gap period. Students are able to remain, and in certain cases work, in the U.S. with the Cap Gap filling that bridges the period between their post-completion OPT/STEM OPT end date to the beginning of their H-1B status start (Oct 1). Both your F-1 status and work authorization are only extended if your H-1B petition was filed before your OPT/STEM OPT end date. If your H-1B petition was filed during your 60-day grace period, only your F-1 status will be extended and you will not be authorized to work. Students who requested Consular Processing are not eligible for the Cap Gap extension. For more Cap Gap information, please refer to the USCIS website.
Applying for STEM OPT allows students to extend their F-1 status in the case that their H-1B petition is not approved. It is possible to apply for STEM OPT before receiving the cap gap extension. However, filing a STEM OPT application when you already have the Cap Gap extension may cause complications in your SEVIS record. ISSS recommends students consult with immigration lawyers to determine if a STEM OPT extension is needed. The STEM OPT extension application should still be filed before the end date listed on the student's current post-completion OPT EAD card. Filing for the STEM OPT Extension after the end of the OPT EAD and during the cap gap extension period is not recommended due to high rates of H1B denial. For more STEM OPT information, please refer to the ISSS STEM OPT website.
If an H-1B petition filed for an F-1 student with a cap-gap extension is denied, rejected, revoked, or withdrawn, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period (from the date of the notification of the denial, rejection, revocation, or withdrawal of the petition) to depart the United States. If the H1B petition is denied due to fraud or misrepresentation, then there is no grace period.
If a student has additional time left on their OPT or STEM OPT (not Cap Gap) when the H1B is denied, it is possible to return to the F1 OPT status. However, this requires a correction request for the government and, depending on timing, it may not always be possible. Please contact your ISSS advisor if you are in this situation.