Optional Practical Training (12 Months)

Definition

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization granted by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to students in F-1 status. The purpose of OPT is to allow F-1 students to gain experience in their major field of study after completion of program requirements. F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level completed.

Eligibility

Students who are in F-1 status and have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year are eligible for Optional Practical Training. OPT is typically used after completion of a course of study or after completion of all required coursework if you are a graduate student engaged in required thesis or dissertation research. Students must have completed all program requirements by the time the OPT start date arrives (excluding thesis/dissertation requirements for graduate students). No job offer is required at the time of application.

Note: Students who have used 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or who were previously approved for Optional Practical Training at the same or higher degree level are ineligible for OPT.

When should you apply for OPT?

USCIS will accept applications for OPT up to 90 days before completion of your degree requirements, and as late as 60 days following program completion. USCIS must receive your OPT application before the 60 day period is over.

Note: A student's completion date refers to the date the student completes the requirements for his or her degree program; i.e., it is the date the student finishes the last class, turns in a required thesis or dissertation, or otherwise meets the requirements for the degree. It is not necessarily the date of graduation which may be later than your completion date.

It can take USCIS up to 3 months to process applications. Please keep in mind that filing later will NOT give you additional OPT time. Expect that USCIS will need 3 months to process your application. You are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and those 12 months must be used within the 14 months after you finish your program requirements. If it will take 3 months for USCIS to process your request for OPT authorization and if you file your application one month after completing your program, you will end up with only about 10 months of OPT authorization.

Choosing your OPT Start Date

Your OPT start date is a date that you will choose. It must be within the 60 days following completion of your degree/coursework requirements. The earliest day you may choose is the day after program completion. The last date you may choose is the 60th day after program completion. Consider your job search process and future plans when picking a start date. Your end date will be one calendar year from your start date.

Example: Student completes degree program on Dec. 14th. The 60 day start date window is December 15 through February 12.

Master’s and Ph.D. students who have completed their required coursework and are working on a thesis/dissertation may apply for OPT to begin from the day after completion of coursework until the 60th day after completion of the final degree requirement. Please consult with ISSS.

Changing OPT starting and ending dates: Once your OPT application is mailed to USCIS, it is very difficult to change your requested start date. Before you mail your application you should be certain that you have the requested start date you want.

OPT Application Process

  1. Login to your InterLink account using your unique ID and password. Go to “F-1 Practical Training” and complete the e-form request “Optional Practical Training (OPT) 12 Month Request.” Please note your academic advisor will also need to comment on your e-form request.
  2. After you receive an e-mail from ISSS notifying you your e-form request is complete, please schedule an “OPT Intake Appointment” with an ISSS advisor. Please be careful to bring all documentation in the list below to your appointment. At the appointment, your advisor will review your application materials, create a new I-20 recommending OPT, and submit the complete OPT application to USCIS on your behalf. USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the creation of your I-20 reflecting your OPT request.

Required Documentation for OPT Intake Appointment

  • Form I-765 (See sample I-765 with instructions and link).
  • Non-Refundable Application Fee of $410. Only personal checks or money orders are accepted and should be made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Note: If you choose personal check, be prepared to ensure your account has sufficient funds for several weeks. If the check has an old address on it, cross it out and write your current address.
  • Copy of your passport including the name and photo page as well as expiration date.
  • Copy of entry stamp in passport (make sure the immigration stamp is visible on copy) and electronic I-94 number information. Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website to retrieve your electronic I-94 card number.
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents if you have ever had one. If the EAD was for OPT, please also include a copy of the I-20 for that authorization with your application.
  • Two color passport-style photos.
    • Photos should be taken within the last 30 days. Photos used for obtaining a non-U.S. passport or visa are generally not acceptable as they may not be the correct size and rarely were taken within last 30 days.
    • On the back of the photos, print your name and I-94 number in pencil or pen; press lightly so you don’t dent or smear the picture.
  • Optional but recommended: Form G-1145. If you complete this form, USCIS will send you a text message and/or e-mail when your application is received.

What happens after my application is mailed?

Approximately 2-4 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the address you used on your I-765. There is a tracking number on the notice that you can use to track the progress of your OPT application online.

Your card should arrive to the address listed on your I-765 approximately 3 months after USCIS receives your application.

If you used ISSS’s address on the I-765 form, your documents will be sent to ISSS and you will be notified by e-mail when they are available for pick-up. If you have moved, mailing arrangements will be made.

Employment on OPT

Between the time you complete your degree requirements and the start of your OPT you cannot work. This includes on-campus employment. The OPT card (known as an EAD – Employment Authorization Document) will have a start and end date listed on it. You may only begin working when you have the OPT card, and you may only work during the dates listed on the card. After your OPT starts:

  • Work must be directly related to your major field of study of your current degree program. At this time, work cannot be done based on prior degrees earned in the U.S. or abroad.
  • Must work a minimum of 20 hours per week
  • Can work for multiple employers or change employers
  • Volunteer or unpaid internships okay as long as position does not violate labor laws and meets requirements listed above
  • Cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment!

What happens if I cannot find a job and do accrue 90 days of unemployment?

Students on OPT cannot accrue more than 90 cumulative calendar days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT. If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment, your legal F-1 status will be automatically terminated and you will be without legal status. The government will be tracking your days of unemployment, and your record will be terminated when 90 days of unemployment are accumulated. Before the 91st day, you will need to make arrangements to leave the U.S., start a new degree program, or change to a different status. If you are still in the U.S. after 90 days of unemployment, you are in violation of your legal status.

OPT Reporting Requirement

While on OPT you are still legally required to report certain information to ISSS including employment. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event. Information to report:

  • Any change in your residential address
  • Any change in your employment or unemployment status; if employed, you will need to provide:
    • Your job title
    • How your job relates to your major
    • Employment Identification Number (recommended - Obtain from Human Resources)
  • Any change to another immigration status
  • Any plans to depart the U.S. permanently and end your OPT before your OPT end date

To report, login to your InterLink account and click the blue login button for "Client Services." You will need your unique and password. After you have logged into your InterLink account, please select "F-1 Practical Training" and complete the "Optional Practical Training (OPT) 12 Month Report" e-form.

The government will now be tracking your days of unemployment, and your record will be terminated when 90 days of unemployment are accumulated. This means even if you are employed, but you fail to report your employment, your record could be automatically terminated. Thus it is extremely important you report your employment to ISSS.

If you experience any difficulty, please contact the Office of International Student and Scholar Services at international@MiamiOH.edu

Travel and OPT

It is a common misconception that students can never travel while on OPT. However, if you have the proper documentation that is pertinent to your particular situation, you should be eligible to depart from and re-enter the US after a brief absence. If you are:

1. If traveling outside of the US while your OPT is pending approval but before your degree completion, you must have the following documents to re-enter the United States:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months from the date of your re-entry)
  • Signed I-20 (signature given within the past six months)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp when you return to the US

2. Traveling outside of the US while your OPT is pending approval and after your degree completion is somewhat riskier. You must have the following documents to re-enter the United States:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months from the date of your re-entry) 
  • Signed I-20 (travel signature given within the past six months)
  • Valid F-1 visa when you travel
  • It is also recommended that you bring your I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS)

ISSS recommends particular caution in this situation. If USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and if it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application can be denied. According to DHS, traveling back to the US while your OPT is pending is permitted in order to search for employment. If your OPT is approved while you are abroad, you must have your OPT card and job offer letter to re-enter the US! Please remember that anytime you leave the U.S. there is never a guarantee that the immigration official at the port of entry will allow you to reenter.

3. If traveling outside of the US after your OPT has been approved and after the completion date on your I-20, you must have the following documents to re-enter the United States: Passport (valid for at least six months from the date of your re-entry)

  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Your OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature (given within the last six months)
  • Your OPT card
  • Proof of employment

Immigration regulations state that you can re-enter the US to resume employment while on OPT.


Note: ISSS has learned that most individuals re-entering the U.S. on OPT are being taken to a space known as “secondary” so that the officer may further scrutinize documents. This practice is occurring due to issues with the officer’s system recognizing the OPT. Do not be alarmed. The officer just needs extra time to verify documentation but if you have all of the listed materials, your re-entry should still go smoothly.

Renewing Visa while on OPT

It can be very risky to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT due to greater difficulty in demonstrating nonimmigrant intent. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind. You should not attempt to renew your visa if you are unemployed as proof of employment would be required. Renewing a visa is never a guarantee. Please speak with ISSS if you have questions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do I renew my U.S. Driver’s License?

Your driver’s license will likely expire on your I-20 end date. If your driver’s license is expiring, please keep in mind that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles will most likely not allow you to renew your license without evidence that you are on Optional Practical Training. Generally the only accepted evidence is your actual OPT card, which can take three months to be issued.

What is my status while I am on OPT?

OPT is part of F-1 status. Though you may no longer be a student, you are still in F-1 status.

Can I extend my OPT like I could extend my I-20?

A one-time, 24-month extension of OPT is only possible for students who are completing a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in DHS-designated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. If your degree is in a non-STEM field, the maximum amount of time for which you are eligible for OPT is 12 months for each higher degree level.

If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back?

If USCIS has not yet issued your EAD at the time you decide you do not want OPT, you may request to withdraw your application. This is not always successful, so please talk to an ISSS advisor. If the EAD card has been issued, it is not possible to cancel and the USCIS will consider you to have used your OPT even if you really did not work.

What's the difference between OPT and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)? If I had CPT, can I still have OPT?

CPT permits employment before completion of degree requirements. CPT requires the offer of a specific job and must be tied to your curriculum. You are still eligible for OPT as long as you did not have full-time CPT for a total of 12 months or more.

I’ve already applied for OPT for my current degree program and sent my application to USCIS. I now have an internship or job offer and they want me to start working before I finish my studies. Can I apply for CPT authorization?

No, once you apply for OPT and send in your application to USCIS, ISSS cannot issue CPT work authorization for you for your current degree program.

Will I still be covered by my Miami health insurance?

Not necessarily. Although for immigration purposes you will continue to be in F-1 status while engaging in OPT, your status as an actual Miami University student will end with graduation. If you have purchased University insurance coverage, the policy will expire on July 31st regardless of whether you a December or May graduate.

If you do not find a job immediately, or cannot be covered by your OPT employer’s insurance program right away, you are strongly advised to consider an alternate means of providing some degree of medical coverage during any interim between the expiration of your university insurance and the start of coverage at your new OPT job

Do I need a new Social Security card?

You may apply for a social security card after you receive your OPT card and the date on the card is reached. To apply for a social security card, please take your I-20, passport, visa, I-94 card, and OPT card with you to your local Social Security Administration. If you already have a Social Security card, it remains valid.

What documents do I need to show my employer when filling out an I-9?

Your employer will ask you to fill out a Form I-9 verifying employment eligibility. Show the employer your EAD (OPT card), passport, I-20, and I-94 record. Use the end date on the card for the expiration date of your employment authorization.

Do I have to pay taxes while working on OPT?

Yes. You must pay state and federal income taxes. Taxes are due in April each year. Most large cities will have tax assistance services to help you with this process. VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is an example of such assistance. When dealing with a tax service center, ensure that the tax consultant classifies you properly as a resident or non-resident for tax filing purposes (different from immigration status). NOTE: If you have been in the U.S. for less than 5 years, you may be exempt from Social Security taxes. Look at the IRS publication 519 (www.irs.gov), pages 5 and 42 for more information.

Can I take classes while on OPT?

If you begin study at another education level, your OPT authorization is terminated with the notification of a new degree program in SEVIS or with a transfer of your SEVIS record to another institution. You are meant to be working full-time while on OPT. If you are pursuing work in your major field of study and wish to take a class or two, there should not be a problem with this, provided that you do not begin a new degree level.

How long can I remain in the US after my OPT expires?

You may only work until the expiration date on your OPT card, but you may remain in the US for 60 days after your OPT ends. This is known as a “grace period”, and will permit you to prepare to depart the US, or to apply for a change of status.