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OPT - Optional Practical Training

What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional practical training is a benefit of the F-1 status. It allows eligible students to get real-world work (paid or unpaid) experience related to their field of study. 
While a Designated School Official (DSO) recommends OPT in SEVIS, it is the student who must apply for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the OPT is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The student must not begin working before the start date on the EAD. 
OPT Types
There are three general types of OPT.  Twelve months of Regular OPT is available for each higher level of study. (For example a student may have 12 months for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months for a master’s degree).

Pre-Completion OPT (c) (3) (A) : Any portion of OPT used before the student’s Program End Date. It may be part-time or full-time.

Post-Completion OPT (c) (3) (B) : Any portion of OPT used after the student’s Program End Date. It must be full-time. Graduate students who have completed all required course work may be eligible to apply for post-completion OPT during the research only phase.

17-month (STEM) OPT Extension (c) (3) (C) : For students who majored in designated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees approved by DHS. This type of OPT is a 17-month extension of OPT.

Note:  The 12-month period may be divided between pre-completion and post-completion; however, separate filings and separate fee payments are required. 
OPT Eligibility
A student is eligible for OPT if:

  • The student has been a full-time student for one academic year (two semesters).
  • The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s major area of study.
  • The student has not used all of the practical training available at the current level of study (including at a previous school).
  • The student has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Note: Full-time CPT at a previous school at the same program level counts toward the 12-month total. CPT at another program level does not count toward the 12-month total.
OPT Process at a Glance
Step 1: Student submits request using the OPT e-form in iCAT
Step 2: DSO recommends OPT and issues new I-20 to student
Step 3: Student mails completed OPT application to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.  A complete application will include the following items:

  • Completed Form I-765 -
  • Application Fee – Personal check, cashier’s check, or money order payable to “Department of Homeland Security” (
  • Two Passport Photos with name and I-94 number written on the back of the photos
  • Photocopy of your OPT I-20 - Sign and keep the original as your current I-20
  • Photocopy of your passport bio page
  • Photocopy of your F-1 visa (Canadians do not have F-1 visa stamps)
  • Print out of your I-94 Arrival/Departure Number ( or photocopy of your I-94 card
  • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
  • Photocopies of any previously issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

Where do I mail my application?  Please check

Step 4:  USCIS will send an application receipt in the mail within 2-3 weeks of receiving your application.
Step 5:  If approved, USCIS will send Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card) by mail after approximately 90 days.
Step 6:  Report your employment information and address to UKIC using the iCAT OPT reporting form

Form I-765 Filing Deadlines Once DSO Requests OPT in SEVIS

Day 1 Day 30 After Day 30
DSO requests OPT in SEVIS
30-day countdown begins
30-day countdown ends
USCIS must receive the application
Applications received by USCIS after day 30 will be denied

Note: Students maintaining status and who have filed a timely application continue in F-1 status while application with USCIS is pending.  If the student does not file a Form I-765, he/she should notify the DSO to cancel the OPT request in SEVIS. 

Address changes:  USCIS communication regarding the application will be sent to the address on the I-765.  The USPS will not forward mail from the USCIS.  Changing address while an OPT application is pending can cause significant delays.   If your mailing address may change during the application period, you can use the UKIC address: UKIC, 216 Bradley Hall, Lexington, KY 40506-0058
Choosing an OPT Start Date

  • OPT applications take the USCIS anywhere from 1 to 3 months to process. It is best to plan for the approval process to take at least 3 months.
  • You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date.
  • Your program end date is determined by the day you complete all degree requirements

    • Depending on your program this may be the last day of your final semester, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar or the day that you submit your thesis/dissertation to The Graduate School.

Report OPT Participation
While on OPT, a student is required to report the following to their DSO:

  • Change in student’s address while on OPT.
  • Changes in employment or interruption of employment.
  • Brief description of how employment is related to student’s major.
  • Change in student’s legal name.

    NOTE:  Updates must be reported within 10 days of the start of your OPT work authorization and within 10 days of any subsequent change.

   Post-completion OPT and Employment

  • Students must wait to begin employment until the EAD start date.
  • On-campus employment must end with the program end date.
  • While students are not required to have an employer when OPT is requested in SEVIS, students authorized for post-completion OPT are expected to be employed. A student on post-completion OPT can be unemployed for a total of 90 days.
  • A student whose record lacks employer information is considered unemployed.
  • SEVIS will auto-terminate students who accrue 90 consecutive days of unemployment. SEVIS will allow for student and P/DSO reporting deadlines before terminating the record. This functionality is new so students should be aware of the consequences of exceeding the unemployment limit or not reporting employment.
  • Students presently on Optional Practical Training are eligible to have their SEVIS record transferred to another school in order to begin a new program.  The transfer must occur prior to the end of the 60-day grace period at the completion of the OPT.  The OPT ends as of the transfer release date.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of OPT
SEVIS will automatically extend post-completion OPT or 17-month extension of OPT if:

  • On or after April 1, an employer files an eligible H-1B petition to change the student’s status.
  • The requested start date for the H-1B is October 1.
  • The student’s OPT or 17-month OPT extension ends on or after April 1.