Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment authorization most students use after graduation to gain work experience in their field of study.

OPT is granted for a duration of 12 months (extensions are available for STEM majors) per educational level.

Steps for Gaining and Maintaining OPT Authorization

Step 1: Complete the OPT Request Form and Submit to International Student Programs (ISP)

  1. With your academic advisor, complete the ISP OPT request form (PDF).
  2. Bring the completed form to ISP and allow 7 days for ISP to issue a new I-20 that will include the OPT recommendation.

Step 2: Gather all OPT Application Materials

To be completed while ISP is preparing your updated OPT I-20.

Prepare the below items, which are required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as part of the OPT application:

  • Form I-765. 
    • Filing by mail: Access the most recent version of Form I-765 available through USCIS. An ISP team member can offer guidance on completing the paper-version of the I-765.
    • Filing electronically: As of April 2021, USCIS has added the option of filing online by creating a USCIS account
      • If you choose to file online, first make sure that you contact ISP for your OPT I-20 and upload this document within your online application. 
      • DO NOT file both the electronic and the paper version of the I-765 as duplicate applications may be denied.
      • Learn the benefits of online filing. Since the online option is new, ISP may not be able to anticipate some of the potential drawbacks of filing online.
  • Form G-1145. Used by students filing by mail who wish to receive electronic notification that their application has been received at USCIS
  • Check or money order for $410 payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” attached to the first page of your I-765
  • Two passport photos (2″x2″). Write your name and SEVIS number on the back of the photos and paper clip them to the top of the Form I-765. Make sure the photos meet the specifications on page 13 of USCIS Instructions for Form I-765.
  • Printout of your most recent I-94 Admission/Departure Record. The Department of Homeland Security can offer your most recent I-94 record.
  • Photocopy of your most recent F-1 visa
  • Photocopy of your passport (biographical page and/or expiration page). If your visa was stamped in your old, expired passport, send a copy of the biographical and/or expiration page of that passport as well.
  • Copies of all previous I-20s

Step 3: Schedule to Have your Complete OPT Application Reviewed by ISP

After you are informed that your OPT I-20 is ready, make an appointment with Thomas Greene to review the completed OPT application. When you come for the appointment you are expected to have all of the above items (review Step 2) so that ISP can review the material that is otherwise ready to be submitted to USCIS.

Step 4: Send the complete OPT application to USCIS so that it arrives at USCIS within 30 days of ISP recommending you for OPT.

Mail copies of everything, along with a $410 application fee and two passport-sized photos. If using an NC mailing address on the I-765:

  • For U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
    PO Box 805373
    Chicago, IL 60680
  • For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
    Attn: I-765 C03
    131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
    Chicago, IL 60603-5517

Step 5: Wait!

It will generally take USCIS at least 90 days to process the OPT application and there is no way to expedite the process. For this reason, it is important that you apply for OPT at least three months before you hope to have the work authorization and begin your employment. You may not begin working until your OPT is approved, you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS and the dates are current.

Step 6: Maintain your Legal F-1 Status During OPT

Remember that throughout the entirety of your OPT, your legal immigration status is F-1. If you need to renew your visa, it would be an F-1 visa for which you apply; you must maintain a valid travel signature on your I-20 if you are traveling internationally.

Within 2-3 days of OPT approval, you will receive an e-mail instructing you to set up your SEVP Portal. You are required to report employment and address updates through the portal. While on OPT, students are required to report any of the following within 10 days:

  • A change in name or residential address
  • The name and address of your employer. If you have more than one employer, you must provide each employer's name and address.
  • The name and address of any new employer(s)
  • Any change to any employer's name or address
  • Any period(s) of unemployment, including those days between the end of one job and the beginning of the new job
  • If you decide to cease OPT and depart the U.S. (also report to ISP)
  • If you change to another immigration status in the U.S. (also report to ISP)