(Note: Every effort has been made to update the information below, however things are subject to change without notice.)
International degree-seeking students with F-1 visas who have completed one academic year in the U.S. have the opportunity to apply for temporary employment authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT). Most students choose to use their full OPT after they graduate.
Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before graduation or no later than 60 days after graduation. Students are still encouraged to apply for OPT before graduation so that you can start work as soon as your Employment Authorization Card (EAD) is approved. Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be extended from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.
Through OPT, students are permitted to work in a field directly related to their studies for 12 months. However, the employment must be completed within 14 months after graduation (which includes the permission of F-1 students to stay in the U.S. for 2 months after the completion of studies).
F-1 students can apply for 12 months of OPT for every level of a degree program. As long as you make progress to another higher level, e.g., bachelor’s to master’s, you are eligible to apply for another OPT.
You apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to work. If you are graduating in May, the earliest you can submit your application is in the beginning of March.
A job offer is not required before the student can apply for OPT, and a student may change jobs during the authorized period of employment provided the new employment continues to be directly related to the student’s field of study and commensurate with his or her educational level.
As you begin the process of applying for work after graduation in a position that will give you experience in a field related to your studies, please review the following questions:
- Is my passport valid at least six months after graduation?
- Am I maintaining my F-1 student status?
- Does the date on line 5 of my I-20 indicate that I am to complete my studies in May (or December) of this year or a later date?
- Have I been enrolled as a full-time student for the past nine months?
- Have I been offered or am I looking for a job directly related to my field of studies? (Keep in mind that you do not have to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT.)
- Do I have a Social Security number? (If not, you can apply for one after you have obtained OPT.)
If you answered yes to ALL of the above questions, you may be eligible to apply for OPT. Contact the International Student Coordinator if you have any questions.
- BASIC INFORMATION
- Apply BEFORE you graduate, but no earlier than 90 days before graduation. It can take the USCIS 30 to 90 days to process an OPT application.
- You do not need to have a job offer before you apply.
- The application costs $340, plus $70 biometrics services fee (subject to rise) if you have not already been fingerprinted for another immigration benefits and is non-refundable.
- COMPLETE AND PREPARE
- Complete Form I-765, which may be downloaded from here. It is strongly recommended that you complete the paper application rather than electronically submit I-765, as the latter is taking longer to process. Instructions are available here.
- On Line 3 of I-765, enter in the address of the ISC: c/o Intl Student Coordinator, 1520 St Olaf Ave, Northfield, Minnesota 55057. (The Employment Authorization Document will be sent to the ISC, copied, and then sent to you.)
- On Line 16 of I-765, decide on the START and END DATE. You cannot change your START or extend your END DATE after the EAD is issued.
NOTE: Eligibility codes are: (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT, (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT, and (c)(3)(C) for a 17-month extension for an F-1 student who has received a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM), that appears on the STEM designated Degree Program List published on the SEVP website available through the Related Links on this page.
If you are a STEM student requesting 17-month extension of your currently authorized optional practical training, you must also submit a copy of your degree reflecting the conferred degree as well as your major field of study. In addition, the employer with whom you are seeking the 17-month OPT extension must be registered in E-Verify. Accordingly, you must list the employer’s E-Verify Company Identification Number or a valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number in Item 17 of the Form I-765. Please refer to the section on Foreign Students in the form instructions.
- Make photocopies of passport ID page, F-1 visa page(s), and all previous I-20’s, I-94 (both sides).
- Two (2) color, passport style photos (Walgreens, (507) 645-9523, is reasonable and fast.). You might also be asked to take the photos at the biometrics services appointment.
- Write personal, bank or cashier’s check for $340 payable to USCIS. (Check website for fee changes!)
- OPT submission checklist can be found here:OPT Application Checklist April 2013.
MEET WITH ISA
- Bring above items so the ISC can verify your eligibility for OPT
- ISC will update your SEVIS record with OPT recommendation and employment START and END DATE
- ISC will print and sign the new I-20 with OPT recommendation
MAIL COMPLETED APPLICATION
Completed application should be mailed to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center address below with following:
- Completed Form I-765
- Check payable to USCIS for $340
- 2 color, passport style photos
- Copies of NEW I-20 with OPT endorsement and previous I-20s
- Copy of both sides of I-94
- Copy of Passport ID and F-1 visa page
USCIS Service Center – Phoenix Lockbox
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
You are advised to send your application by registered or express mail so a postal receipt and tracking number can be generated in case there are any problems. DO NOT SUBMIT IT ELECTRONICALLY. You can do this at the campus’ post office.
After you have submitted your application, USCIS will send you a Form I-797 Receipt Notice. The notice will include a receipt number that begins with the letters LIN. To verify your application status, use your LIN number and call the telephone number provided in the receipt. You can check the status of your application by clicking on https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do. For general USCIS questions, please call 1-800-375-5283.
- Authorization: If the USCIS approves your application, you will be issued an EAD card. You may begin work no earlier than the date indicated on the EAD. (Keep in mind that you have two months to look for a job after graduation before the 12 months begin to tick away.) A student must be in possession of the EAD before beginning employment; not doing so will cancel your student status.
Complying with SEVIS Requirements:
- Graduate by the date specified in your OPT application since failure to do so may result in the cancellation of your OPT authorization.
- Continued enrollment at St. Olaf College after the date specified for completion of your EAD would result in the automatic cancellation of post-completion OPT.
- Update your current mailing address through the ISC. This information is required by USCIS and must be reported through SEVIS.
- Notify the ISC if you decide to permanently depart the U.S. during your authorized OPT.
- Notify the ISC if you change your visa status during your authorized OPT.
- The ISC is required to have a copy of your EAD, you may send or fax a copy to ISC at 1-507-786-6000.
Change of Employer
Employers may be changed after authorized employment has begun, provided the new job is directly related to the major field of study and appropriate for someone with that level of education.
Travel Outside the United States
You are strongly advised to not travel outside the U.S. during the time the application for OPT is pending with USCIS. If you do travel before your EAD is approved and/or employment has been found, you are advised to carry documents of your OPT application and your employment search when you re-enter. However, there are no guarantees that you will be permitted to reenter the U.S.
Once you have been issued the EAD, reentry provisions require:
- That the SEVIS I-20 be endorsed and updated on the SEVIS screen by the ISC.
- Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
- A valid F-1 Visa
- A letter from your employer
Students who do not meet these requirements may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. Please consult with the ISC if planning to temporarily depart the U.S. during the authorized practical training period.