Optional Practical Training (OPT)

A temporary employment benefit for F-1 students who wish to gain work experience directly related to their major field of study. Eligible students may be authorized for up to 12 months total OPT per degree level. OPT can be used during a student's studies (Pre-completion) or immediately after graduation (Post-completion).  

Pre-Completion

  • Work authorization for a period that will begin and end before the completion of the degree program.
  • May work part-time (20 hours a week or less) while school is in session or full-time (more than 20 hours a week) during summer or winter break.
  • If Pre-completion OPT is combined with on-campus employment, total hours worked while school is in session cannot exceed 20 (part time).
  • Pre-completion OPT time will deduct from Post-completion OPT eligibility, at a rate of half time, (e.g. If you work part-time 4 months, you use up 2 months of OPT).
  • May apply for Pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before desired employment/OPT start date.  

 

Post-Completion

  • Post-completion OPT permits you to work in your major field of study after the completion of your degree program. Many students use all 12 months of their OPT time during Post-completion OPT. 
  • You may apply for Post-completion OPT up to 90 days before graduation date through 60 days after your program completion date. It is strongly recommended to start the application as soon as you can before program completion.
  • Your program completion date is determined from the Completion of Academic Program e-form on iEagle. Your program completion date can be based on one of the following:
    • Graduation date (All Students - Fall and Spring)
    • Last day of classes(Summer Graduates only)
    • Date the student will be notified of the results of comprehensive exams. (Master’s and PhD)
    • Date the student will complete an SRP or thesis (Master’s only)
    • Date the student will defend or be notified that a dissertation will be complete(PhD only)

      Please discuss your program completion date with your academic advisor.
  • Your Post-completion OPT start date must be within 60 days after your program completion date.
  • Must work full time, more than 20 hours a week. 
    *For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working fewer than 20 hours a week will be considered maintaining valid OPT.   
  • Must have been enrolled in a full-time degree seeking program for one academic year (Fall and Spring/Spring and Fall)
  • Maintained good academic standing
  • Job offer not required for application
  • One 12-month OPT per degree level
  • Degree levels are:
    • Associates (AA)
    • Bachelors (BA/BS)
    • Masters (MA/MS, LLM, MBA)
    • Doctoral (PhD, JD, SJD)
  • All employment must be directly related to major field of study.
  1. Watch the OPT Information Video in iEagle > Optional Practical Training (OPT) and take the accompanying quiz. You will learn about: 
    • Documents and forms required for the OPT application and how to file them 
    • Rights and responsibilities of students engaged in OPT 
    • Deadlines and processing time of OPT applications 
    • Travelling abroad while on OPT 
  2. Review the OPT Summary and Application Procedure handouts for more information. 
  3. Know when to apply and select your OPT start date.
    • Students can apply for Pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before your desired employment start date. Your desired employment start date is up to you as long as you have been enrolled for one academic year.  
    • Students can apply for Post-completion OPT up to 90 days before and 60 days after your program completion date. Your Post-completion OPT start date must be within 60 days after your degree program completion.  
    • OPT start dates cannot be changed after filing your OPT application with USCIS. 
  4. Submit the required e-forms in iEagle to begin OPT processing with ISSS. Students must be physically in the U.S. to apply for OPT. 
    1. Completion of Academic Program e-form (reviewed and approved by your academic advisor) 
    2. OPT Application e-form. Upload the following: 
      • Most recent I-94 admission record retrieved from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 
      • Unexpired passport (valid for at least 6 months in the future at the time of filing) 
      • Previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card(s), if applicable 
      • Previous I-20s with authorized CPT(s) or OPT(s), if applicable   
  5. Within 3-5 business days after your OPT application e-forms are pending, ISSS will review the e-forms and issue a new I-20 with OPT recommended dates. 
    • You will download your new OPT I-20 from iEagle and receive a handout with tips on how to file your OPT online to your AU email address.
    • While ISSS is reviewing your OPT application e-forms, please prepare 1 color passport photo taken within the last 30 days. The online filing fee is $410 paid to USCIS by credit or debit card at the time of your online filling.   
  6. Create a myUSCIS account and file your OPT application online with USCIS.
    • USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of your new OPT I-20 issue date or before the end of your 60-day grace period, whichever comes first. If not received within those timelines, your OPT application will be denied and appeal is not possible.  
  7. OPT applications typically take 2-3 months to process. You may check case processing times with USCIS here.
    • For more information on OPT, please review the FAQs at the bottom of this page. 

OPT Application Disclaimer:  The OPT information video and other ISSS-produced handouts are not comprehensive and are based on frequently made mistakes. They contain helpful tips and can be used as a tool to assist you with your online application. 

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to follow all instructions in the online application to ensure your online form is accurate and complete before submitting your OPT request to USCIS.  

Please review the Optional Practical Training Reporting page to find out your reporting responsibilites during OPT.

Report employment and any changes in personal information [U.S. address and contact information] promptly and accurately. Failure to comply with reporting requirements may lead to the termination of your immigration status. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The below Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) were designed to provide international students with up-to-date answers to help navigate their OPT applications. 

Students may also attend one of our optional OPT Q&A Drop-in Hours, hosted every other week for one hour. They are meant for students who have applied or are about to apply for OPT. An ISSS advisor will answer clarification questions about the OPT application process. Please register via iEagle through the Events menu.

  • When can I file my OPT application online?  
    Students may begin applying for OPT up to 90 days before their desired OPT start date [Pre-completion OPT] or their program completion date [Post-completion OPT]. Students applying for Post-completion OPT may also apply within the 60-day grace period after their program completion date but should keep in mind processing times both with ISSS and USCIS to ensure the application is received before the end of their grace period.  

    ISSS recommends that students apply as soon as possible within the regulatory window to ensure OPT approval is received prior to the recommended OPT start date. Please remember that the USCIS process for OPT approval typically takes 2-3 months. 
  • How do I choose my OPT start date? 
    For eligible Pre-completion OPT applicants, you may choose your desired OPT start date any time in the future. ISSS recommends applying 90 days before your desired employment start date.

    For Post-completion OPT applicants, you must choose an OPT start date within the 60-day grace period following your program completion date.

    OPT start dates cannot be changed after applying to USCIS for authorization.
  • May I check the status of my pending application with USCIS? 
    You will automatically receive an application receipt notice in your myUSCIS account. USCIS will also send you a paper copy of your receipt notice by mail within 2 to 3 weeks after filing. Please save these notices as it will include your USCIS receipt number, which you can use to periodically check your application process here. In addition, you may sign up for case status alerts through your myUSCIS account. 
  • When should I expect to receive OPT authorization from USCIS?  
    OPT applications are generally processed by USCIS in 2 -3 months. If 80 days have passed from the receipt date and you have not received your EAD card, please contact USCIS to request an update on your pending case. You may contact USCIS for an update at 1-800-375-5283 or via their online “Emma” bot. 
  • If I decide not to file my OPT application, should I notify ISSS?  
    Yes, you must notify ISSS immediately for a timely immigration action (cancel pending OPT request) to be taken on your SEVIS record and advise you on your immigration options immediately.  

    After your OPT application is received by USCIS, ISSS can no longer cancel your pending OPT recommendation in SEVIS. You will need to officially request to have your OPT application withdrawn. Please contact USCIS for further instructions on how to withdraw your OPT application. You must also contact ISSS to let us know you are withdrawing your application.
  • What do I do if I receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), Rejection Notice, or Denial Notice from USCIS?  
    Please contact ISSS immediately. Depending on the information in the notice, our advice may vary, but prompt action is crucial.   
  • How long after OPT approval will I receive my EAD Card?  
    You should receive your EAD Card within 2 weeks of your OPT approval by USCIS. Please check your case status here to know when your card was mailed and make note of the mail tracking number. The case status will update once delivered.  

    If you do not receive your card after the case status shows it was delivered, you may need to re-submit a new OPT application. Please contact ISSS immediately.  
  • Does Curricular Practical Training (CPT) affect my OPT? 
    If you are authorized for an aggregate of 12- month full-time CPT during your degree, you will lose your eligibility for OPT at that degree level. 

    Part-time CPT does not affect your OPT eligibility, although multiple CPT record may still raise red flag for your future employment applications to USCIS.  
  • I applied for a Social Security Number (SSN) as part of the OPT application. When will I receive my SSN card? 
    Applicants who receive their approved EAD card from USCIS should receive their Social Security card from the Social Security Administration within the following 2 weeks. Please contact your local Social Security office if you do not receive it in a timely manner or see any error on it.  
  • I received my EAD Card but there was an error. What do I do? 
    Please contact ISSS immediately so we can advise accordingly as some EAD card errors result in a delay in employment start dates. 
  • I received my EAD Card, and it shows “None” under “Terms and Conditions”. Is this considered an error?
    If you filed your OPT application online with USCIS (receipt numbers starting with IOE), then this is not considered an error. No further action is needed.

  • May I continue with my job search while my OPT application is pending?  
    Yes, you may continue applying to jobs while your OPT application is pending, but you cannot begin employment of any kind without OPT approval and before your OPT start date.  
  • When am I legally permitted to work under OPT? 
    You may begin employment if all the conditions below are met. Otherwise, you are considered to be in serious violation of your F-1 status, which may lead to deportation and ineligibility for reinstatement of your status:  
    1. The OPT application has been approved 
    2. Employment Authorization Document (or EAD Card) has been received 
    3. The OPT start date shown on the EAD Card has been reached 
  • What kind of employment options are permitted under OPT? 
    Students with approved OPT may be employed in the following circumstances: 
    1. Paid or unpaid work in the major field of study anywhere in the U.S. 
    2. Work for hire [1099 contract employment] or self-employment
    3. Multiple employers  

    Post Completion OPT requires more than 20 hours a week and may be a combination of work with multiple employers. However, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working fewer than 20 hours a week will be considered maintaining valid OPT.  You may review DHS provided examples for direct relationship between the field of study and employment here. 

    ISSS recommends keeping detailed employment evidence for your records.  
  • How many days of unemployment do I have under Post-completion OPT? 
    Students on Post-completion OPT are allowed only 90 days of unemployment during their OPT period. It is the student’s responsibility to keep track of unemployment days and take the necessary action in a timely manner if you anticipate reaching the unemployment limit while on Post-completion OPT. Students who are unemployed for more than 90 days are considered out of status by the U.S. government. Therefore, ISSS recommends students either leave the U.S., start another academic program, or change status before reaching the 90th day of unemployment.

    If leaving the U.S., please notify ISSSS immediately through iEagle > Optional Practical Training (OPT) > Ending OPT Early e-form.

    If starting another academic program, please request a Change of Level I-20 or transfer immigration status.

    If changing status, please email proof to isssemployment@american.edu.

    Students on Pre-completion OPT are not subject to an unemployment limit. However, please remember that if you have no employment after applying for Pre-completion OPT, you cannot request to save your unused OPT time. 
  •  May I use a recruiter or staffing agency to find a job on OPT? 
    Yes.  

    When you report your employment with a staffing agency, the address you report must be the location where you are physically working. Be mindful that some recruiters and placement agencies may engage in fraudulent activity. You should ensure the agencies you are using are trustworthy and reputable. Reputable recruiters will not modify your resume or academic background to secure OPT placement.  

    If you witness a fraudulent activity by an OPT recruiter or company, please contact the ICE Homeland Security Investigations tip line.   
  • May I change employers during OPT?  
    Yes, as long as the employment is directly related to your major field of study. Please review our OPT Reporting Requirements page for more information on how to report employment changes to ISSS via iEagle and to DHS via your SEVP Portal. 
  • May I keep my AU health insurance while on Post-completion OPT? 
    You may be eligible to extend your AU health insurance during your Post-completion OPT. For more details, please contact your current health insurance provider at least one month before the end of your current coverage. 

    If you change your health insurance through your OPT employer, you cannot re-claim AU health insurance after.  
  • May I take classes while on Post-completion OPT? 
    Only recreational and avocational classes are permissible during your Post-completion OPT.   
  • Do I have a grace period after the end of my Post-completion OPT? 
    Yes, students who successfully complete their Post-completion OPT have 60 days to:  
    1. Leave the U.S. 
    2. Change visa status 
    3. Start a new education program   

    Successful completion of Post-completion OPT includes meeting all reporting requirements and not reaching the 90-day unemployment limit.  
  • What type of visa am I on during Post-completion OPT?  
    You maintain your F-1 immigration status while on OPT. 
  • May I travel outside the U.S. while on OPT? 
    Students on pre-completion OPT should follow the regular travel protocol for full-time degree seeking students. 

    It is not recommended to travel until after your OPT has been approved and you have started employment. Travel before receiving your EAD Card and anytime during Post-completion OPT without a job or EAD Card is very risky and not recommended. It is also not recommended to travel close to the end date of your OPT period.

    During your OPT, you should never try to re-enter the U.S. on any other visa status (e.g., B-1/B-2, Visa Waiver, etc) as this would cancel your OPT. If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, you will need the following documents to re-enter the U.S.: 
    • Your valid OPT I-20 signed for travel within the last 6 months 
    • An unexpired F-1 visa (if your F-1 visa has expired, you must apply for renewal while outside the U.S.) 
    • An unexpired passport with at least 6 months left on the expiration date 
    • Your unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card 
    • A signed letter of employment on company letterhead (If you do not have proof of employment, you may be denied re-entry to the U.S.) 
      • If your work is unpaid, ISSS recommends travelling with a current bank statement with proof of funds for living in the U.S. 
  • May I travel outside the U.S. if I have a pending Change of Status (COS) application?
    You should not travel outside the U.S. while a Change of Status case is pending. USCIS may consider you as abandoning your application if you leave. Please consult with an immigration attorney before planning any travel abroad.
  • Who should I notify if I end my Post-completion OPT early?   
    You must inform ISSS if you decide to leave the U.S. permanently before your Post-completion OPT end date. ISSS will close your F-1 status in the immigration system (SEVIS) so you will stop accruing unemployment days. To report to ISSS, log into iEagle > Optional Practical Training (OPT) > Ending OPT Early. 

    Informing ISSS of your intentions immediately is an important part of your legal OPT reporting requirements and will ensure that your F-1 immigration status is closed by ISSS in a timely manner. 
  •  What happens if I want to start a new academic program during my Post-completion OPT? 
    Your Post-completion OPT will automatically end if you begin another academic program. You cannot save the unused portion of your OPT or continue employment while attending school for a new program.

    If you will start a new academic program at American University, follow the instructions here to receive your new Change of Education Level I-20.

    If you will start a new academic program at another U.S. institution, follow the instructions here to request a transfer of your immigration status.
  • Who should I notify if I change my immigration status during Post-completion OPT?
    Please inform ISSS via email at isssemployment@american.edu if you change your immigration status before your Post-completion OPT end date. Please email proof of your new immigration status, so we may close your F-1 immigration status in a timely manner. 
  • May I extend my OPT?
     Only Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) majors have an option for a 24-month extension of OPT. A minor in a STEM field does not make you eligible for the STEM extension. For more information, see our webpage on the STEM OPT Extension. 
  • May I have a second OPT for the same degree level?
    OPT is an immigration benefit and may be granted by USCIS per degree level.

    Example: A student completes a Bachelor's degree is eligible for 12 months of OPT. If the same student completes a master's degree, then they become eligible for another 12 months of OPT because it is a higher degree level. If the same student also completes one more master’s degree, they will not be eligible for another OPT for the same degree level
  • What is the H-1B Cap-Gap for OPT? 
    The "Cap-Gap" refers to the period of time where F-1 students on OPT have a gap in their visa status.Find out if you are eligible for the Cap-Gap extension. 

    Students should consult an immigration attorney for more information on H-1B visas.