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.

OPT Application

You are eligible to apply for OPT if:

  • You have enrolled full-time in F-1 status for at least one academic year. Some students who were enrolled full-time before changing their status to F-1 may be eligible for OPT. Please consult your ISSS advisor.
  • You are completing your program of study (for Post-completion OPT only)
    • Some graduate students may be eligible to apply for Post-Completion OPT if they have completed all credits and course requirements and only have a thesis, dissertation, or equivalent requirement to complete.
  • You have not exceeded 364 days of full-time CPT at your current degree level 
    • Part-time CPT and on-campus employment do not affect your OPT eligibility
  • You have not been approved of 12 months of full-time OPT at your current degree level or a higher degree level.
  • You are physically in the US when you are submitting your OPT application to USCIS

Attend the MANDATORY OPT workshop:

Documents that will be submitted to ISSS:

Other Documents to Prepare:

  • Photos - View the photo specifications here.
  • Filing Fee - 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
  • 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 your 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 or 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).


  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.
  2. 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.
    • screenshot of USCIS website
  3. Complete I-765
Pre-Completion OPT
Post-Completion OPT
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) ✔︎ ✔︎  

Previously authorized CPT or OPT

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 ($470)

  • Premium processing option is available by filing form I-907 in your USCIS account, and the cost is $1,685. 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 $520 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


Track your case status with USCIS: 

After submitting your online OPT application to USCIS, you can track your case status and delivery of your EAD card by checking the case status and case history tabs in your online USCIS account. You can also view an electronic copy of your notices in the documents tab of your USCIS account. Review the information below for what documents to expect after submitting your OPT application:

  • I-797 Receipt Notice - a receipt notice confirming that your OPT application was received by USCIS will be issued to you electronically and can be viewed on your online USCIS account. A physical copy of this notice will be mailed to the address indicated on your I-765 typically 4-6 weeks from your OPT application submission date. Keep this notice and record your receipt number so you can track your case status using your online USCIS account or here.
  • I-797 Approval or Denial Notice- a notice stating whether your OPT application has been approved or denied will be issued to you electronically and can be viewed on your online USCIS account. A physical copy of this notice will be mailed to the address indicated on your I-765. 
  • I-797 Request for Further Evidence - This type of notice indicates that USCIS is processing your case but is seeking additional information or evidence before they can proceed.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - after your OPT application has been approved, your EAD card will be mailed to the physical address entered on your I-765. You can find the USPS tracking number in your case status tab after your EAD card has been mailed. Use this number to track the delivery of your EAD card. EAD cards are typically delivered within a week of mailing. 
  • Social Security Number (SSN) Card (if applicable) - you will receive a SSN card from the Social Security Administration (SSA) if you had requested a SSN within your I-765 application. The SSN card is sent separately from your EAD card and typically arrives seven business days after you receive the EAD card from USCIS.

Remember to carefully read and check the information on all notices. If any information is incorrect on your notice, then you may need to correct or update it with USCIS. Review the “Updating Mailing Address with USCIS” information for instructions to change your mailing address. For other corrections, contact your ISSS advisor for advice. 

You may refer to this USCIS resource for tips on using your online USCIS account.

Special cases

  • If you receive a denial notice or Request for Further Evidence from USCIS, please notify and share a copy of the notice with your ISSS advisor immediately. Failure to take action in a timely manner may result in the loss of your OPT benefit. 
  • If you had requested a SSN as part of your OPT application but did not receive the SSN card within two weeks of receiving your EAD card, contact your local SSA office to inquire about your card. Reach out to your ISSS advisor if you need further assistance.
  • If you need a SSN but did not request a SSN with your OPT application, you will need to wait until you have received the EAD card before applying for the SSN with your local SSA office.

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 possession of your EAD card to start working. Since the processing time for OPT can vary, you will need to communicate with your employer about your expected start date. 

What if my OPT application takes a long time?
The average USCIS processing time for OPT can be 3-4 months. You can find the most up-to-date processing times on the USCIS website. It is better to prepare and submit your OPT application early and plan accordingly, keeping in mind your requested OPT EAD card start date. You cannot start working until you receive your EAD card.

EAD Delays
You cannot begin working until you have the EAD card in your possession, even if USCIS has approved your OPT application. Please note you will accrue unemployment days if you do not receive your EAD card after your approved OPT start date. 

After your EAD card has been mailed, it should take at least a week for your EAD card to be delivered to the mailing address indicated on your I-765. If your EAD is taking longer than expected:

  • Check your case status on your USCIS account and EAD tracking history on the USPS website
  • Determine whether your EAD card was actually delivered and picked up by someone else. Ask your roommates, neighbors, property manager, etc. if they received it
  • Contact your local USPS office to see if they received your card, or sent your card back to USCIS
  • Check the address on your I-765 to make sure it was listed correctly

Contact your ISSS advisor with a summary of your situation if you have determined that your EAD card was lost or sent back to USCIS. You may need to submit the I-765 and pay the fee again to apply for a replacement card. Keep in mind your EAD delivery will be delayed and you should communicate this delay with your employer. While you are waiting for your EAD card, you may use your replacement EAD receipt notice to verify your employment eligibility but you will need to show your EAD card within 90 days from your date of hire.  

EAD Errors
It is important for you to check the information on your EAD card once you receive it. If there is a typographical error e.g., incorrect name, data of birth, or gender, you should request a corrected EAD. Review the information below to determine if the error was made by USCIS and then contact your ISSS advisor and share a copy of your EAD.

To determine if the error was made by USCIS, you will first want to review your I-765 and OPT I-20 to ensure that you had entered the correct information. If your information was entered correctly then the error was likely made by USCIS. There is no fee for the correction if the error was made by USCIS.

If the error was due to incorrect information submitted on your I-765, you will need to submit a new I-765 with USCIS and pay the application fee again for a replacement EAD. 

If the error was made by USCIS, you will need to submit a Typographic Error form online. USCIS will review your request and email you instructions on mailing back your incorrect EAD. Before mailing your EAD back to USCIS, show the EAD to your employer for I-9 verification purposes and make a copy of the front and back of your EAD for your records. You should receive your corrected EAD within 4-6 weeks of USCIS receiving your incorrect EAD. 

You need to update your mailing address through your USCIS online account immediately upon changing your address to ensure that you receive mail about your OPT application and EAD card. Please update your information with both USCIS and USPS as mail from USCIS is not forwarded by USPS. For instructions on changing your address during your OPT authorization, visit the “Reporting your OPT employment” section below.

Report Your OPT Employment + Address

Students on Post-Completion 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, volunteer work, or self employment. 

Related to the Field of Study: All jobs on OPT need to be related to your major field of study. Students should make sure that they are able to show that all their jobs are directly related to their field of study. Students can do this by showing a direct connection of their job duties to their course curriculum. If students are not sure if a job is in their field of study, they should ask their academic department for their opinion. While opinions of faculty, departments, and professionals in the field are helpful, ultimately it is up to the student to demonstrate this connection. 

Students do not need to submit proof of how the job is related to their field of study to ISSS or the government. They simply need to report employment through the SEVP portal and write a statement about the relevance to their field of study. This is self-reported. However, it is possible that in the future, when applying for a visa or applying for STEM OPT or an employer sponsored to work visa, the government will ask for additional proof to show you were maintaining status during OPT. Students should maintain records of their employment so they can demonstrate that they were working full-time in their field of study.

Employment Location: Students working on OPT can work in-person, in a hybrid format or remotely from within the US. The employment address reported on OPT needs to be the primary location where the student is physically working. If a student is working primarily remotely, then the address should be the remote location. Whether the student is working in-person or remotely, the employer address needs to be within the US.

Students on OPT can work anywhere in the United States, with multiple employers at one time, and can change employers as many times as they wish as long as their employment is related to their program of study. It is not possible to work fully remotely from outside of the US during CPT, OPT or STEM OPT. Students are required to report a US address as the site of employment for these types of work authorization. Temporary travel abroad is allowed, but a physical US address is still required as the primary site of employment.  

IMPORTANT: SEVP can 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: do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov. 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 isss@usfca.edu.

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 (isss@usfca.edu) 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.
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 with current OPT and travel signature endorsement on the second page
  • Valid passport
  • OPT application receipt
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 with current OPT and travel signature endorsement on the second page
  • Valid passport
  • EAD card
  • Letter from employer

*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

Students on OPT or STEM OPT should remain primarily in the US for their employment. There is not a clearly defined amount of time that you can be abroad, but here are some considerations when making travel plans:

  1. Remaining outside of the US for more than 5 months can result in the loss of your F1 status.
  2. Students on OPT and STEM OPT can be seen as gaining days of unemployment if they are outside of the US for extended periods of time.
  3. Students on OPT and STEM OPT may be seen as not needing to be in the US for their employment if they are outside of the US for extended periods of time.
  4. Students on OPT/STEM OPT taking trips abroad for more than 1 month should consult their ISSS advisor.

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

Students can request a Cap Gap I-20 by submitting a Gap Gap Extension request through MyISSS. ISSS requires students to submit their H-1B petition receipt or approval notice to process this request. 

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.