Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment directly related to your major area of study.

You may apply for 12 months of OPT per degree level plus a possible 24 month extension for those who qualify. OPT authorization must be obtained from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Eligibility

You can use OPT before and after completion of your RIT degree in the following circumstances. 

Pre-completion

  • During the academic year while coursework is being taken, part-time, 20 hours per week or less only.
  • During the annual vacation period - full or part-time.

Post-completion

  • After completion of all degree requirements, excluding thesis or project - full or part-time.
  • After completion of all degree requirements - full time only.

Additional Post-completion Eligibility Requirements:

  • Maintained your F-1 status for at least one academic year
  • Completed all required coursework for their degree, excluding a thesis, dissertation, or equivalent requirement
  • Completed less than 365 days of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)
  • Applied within 60 days of completing their program. We recommend 90 days prior to your program end day.
  • No previous OPT authorization for the same degree level

Most students apply for Post-Completion OPT. It is very rare for students to apply for Pre-Completion OPT, since CPT is usually available. If you think you instead need to apply for Pre-Completion OPT, please speak with an ISS advisor.

Application Timeline

You may apply up to 90 days before your program end date (graduation date). Since OPT must be obtained from USCIS, and can take a full three months (or more) to secure, we encourage you to plan ahead. If an OPT application is received by USCIS more than 60 days after the program completion date, you will not be eligible for OPT.

Choosing your OPT Start Date

Your OPT start date must be within the 60-day window after your I-20 completion date.

Completion of OPT

If you change to another status, such as another non-immigrant status like H-1B, your OPT authorization ends. In addition, if you begin studies as a full-time student in another degree program, your OPT is terminated.

I-20 Program Extensions

Once you apply for post-completion OPT, you are no longer eligible for a program extension for your current degree program. This is important if you are a graduate student. After completing your OPT your I-20 may not be extended to complete a thesis at RIT.

Applying for OPT

We recommend that you apply for OPT from within the US. If you cannot, please discuss with an International Student Advisor. There are risks for OPT application denial if you apply while outside the US.

When applying, you must provide your US physical address. Please note that the address you list must match your address in SEVIS. Your address in the RIT SIS system is the address listed in SEVIS. If your SIS address is not correct, please correct it before applying for OPT.

Filing Fees

USCIS filing fees can change. Before submitting an application for OPT please be sure to check the USCIS website.

In addition, please note that the biometric fee is not required for OPT applications. If you include this fee with your application it will be returned to you for re-filing.

Applying Online

USCIS now accepts online applications for pre-completion, post-completion, and STEM OPT. While this process is still new and does not increase the speed in which OPT is granted, it offers the following benefits:

  • immediate receipt of your application
  • helpful instructions and tips from USCIS to avoid common mistakes
  • online fee payment.

These instructions are specific to applications for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training, which is I-765 eligibility code (c)(3)(B). Please use these instructions as a guide. This resource is not offered as legal advice. Your OPT application remains your own, and any errors in your application are your responsibility.

  1. Complete the Virtual OPT Workshop
  2. Review FAQs
  3. Request an OPT I-20* from our office.
    • Please submit this form no more than 90 days before your I-20 program end date.
    • Please allow one week for processing.
    • You receive an email from your ISS advisor when it's ready.
  4. Gather and scan the following documents:
    • Passport style photo. Photos must be taken within the last 30 days and cannot have previously been used for a passport, visa, or other US government-related application. Please follow these specifications.
    • Form I-94. Copy of most recent I-94 arrival/admission record from CBP's website. Do not include the travel history page, only the I-94 with your name and most recent admission details.
    • One of the following:
      • Previously-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD) including scans of both front and back. OR
      • Government-Issued ID (passport) if you have never been issued an EAD. Copy must clearly show your facial features and contain your biographical information.
      • Copies of all previous I-20s
    • I-20 Recommending OPT. Sign and date page 1.
    • Copies of any previously authorized CPT and OPT, from any degree level including any from previous schools.
      • As of 11/29/21, ISS is no longer recommending you submit copies of every single I-20, only those specifically requested on the USCIS online application pages (previous CPT/OPT, new OPT recommendation).
      • You must also include evidence documenting your previous CPT and/or OPT authorization. This could include previously issued EAD for OPT or the I-20 that lists CPT authorization.
    • Payment method for filing fee
  5. Create a USCIS Online Account
  6. Complete the online application.
  7. Review application, submit, and pay fee.
    • Review your application for errors or incomplete fields pop up. Submit. Confirm you can read and understand English, and then digitally sign your application. You will then be taken to pay.gov to pay the application fee. You can pay with credit card, debit card, or US checking or savings account. No biometrics fee is required, only the I-765 application fee.

USCIS must receive your application online within 30 days of the creation of the OPT I-20. We strongly recommend that you keep a copy of your complete OPT application for your records.

Maintaining Status While on OPT

While you are on OPT, you will be responsible for maintaining your F-1 status by working in your I-20 major field of study, at least 20 hours/week, and not exceeding 90 days of unemployment. You are also responsible for OPT reporting-- keeping your employment, legal name, and US residential address information up to date in your SEVP Portal account. You will create a SEVP Portal account once your OPT is approved and active, your start date is not in the future. Please see this guide for further information and instructions.

Insurance

Once you stop enrolling at RIT, you are no longer automatically enrolled in the Student Accident and Sickness Insurance Program. Unless you have an employer who will enroll you in their plan, we recommend that you purchase coverage.

While we do not endorse any particular health insurance plan, we know that these providers that have F-1 OPT health insurance options. These companies are members of our professional organization, NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Travel Outside the US

We do not recommend travel outside the US while your OPT application is pending. After you graduate you will not be allowed to re-enter the US without your OPT card in addition to your valid passport, current F-1 visa stamp, I-20 signed within the past six months, and a proof of employment.

Before you graduate, you will be able to return to the US without your OPT card, but ISS recommends carrying proof of your registration. You can request an Enrollment Verification from the Office of the Registrar. If you need to travel before receiving your EAD card, please talk with an ISS advisor before leaving the US.

Once USCIS approves your OPT, that authorization extends your eligibility for valid F-1 status and ability to travel. In order to document your status while traveling, you must show an unexpired EAD card. Travel at any time during approved F-1 OPT requires the following documents:

  • Valid passport
  • Current I-20, signed for travel by an ISS advisor within the past six months.
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Unexpired EAD card
  • Proof of employment, such as a job offer letter, an offer letter plus recent pay stubs, or a letter from your employer

Extensions

24-Month STEM OPT Extension

If you earned a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. degree at RIT in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math), you may be eligible for an extension. Your employer must also be enrolled in the E-Verify program. The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension adds an additional 2 years of work authorization to your year of initial OPT. This allows you to participate in up to 3 years of OPT.

See if you qualify and learn how to apply

H-1B Cap Gap Extension of OPT

H-1B is a visa status that allows nonimmigrants to work fulltime. If your employer files for an H-1B and is approved, you will change your status from F-1 to H-1B on October 1. If you’re an F-1 student whose OPT expires before October 1 (of any year) and has an H-1B application pending with USCIS, you may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension. If the H-1B petition is pending and your OPT expires prior to June 1, you should contact ISS to request a temporary extension. ISS will require a copy of the pending H-1B receipt notice or proof of timely filing. If documentation is accurate, ISS can extend OPT until June 1.

If the H-1B petition has been approved and the OPT expires prior to October 1, you should contact ISS to request a new I-20 with a Cap-Gap Extension. ISS will require a copy of the H-1B approval notice. Cap-Gap Extensions that are not automatically added by USCIS and can be manually added by an ISS Advisor.

For more general information about H-1B or Cap-Gap Extensions, please consult an ISS advisor. For more extensive information, we recommend contacting your employer’s immigration attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Paid employment
    Full time or part time (at least 20 hours per week).
  • Multiple employers
    Work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the degree program.
  • Short-term multiple employers
    Often photographers and other types of artists work for multiple short term employers. Maintain a list of all employers and the dates of their employment.
  • Work for hire
    Be prepared to provide evidence showing the length of the contract and the name and address of the contracting company. Please note this type of employment is NOT allowed on STEM.
  • Self-employed business owner
    You may start a business on OPT, but the work must be full time. Your must have the proper business licenses and the business must be directly related to your degree program. Please note this type of employment is NOT allowed on STEM.
  • Unpaid employment
    You may work as an intern or volunteer as long as you work at least 20 hours per week. Please note this type of employment is NOT allowed on STEM.

Yes, provided that each position is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your educational level.

You are allowed to pick a start date any time within the 60 days following the completion of all of your degree requirements. When choosing your start date, the most important things to think about are:

  • What is the earliest date you might want to start working? What if you are offered a position with a company that wants you to start as soon as you complete your degree?
  • The latest start date is 60 days after you complete your degree.
  • You may not change your OPT dates after your application is sent to USCIS.

We recommend filing your OPT application online. If you choose to file by mail, the following documents are required:

1. Check, Photos, Form G-1145
2. Form I-765
3. OPT I-20*
4. All previous I-20s*
5. I-94 number*
6. Photo page of passport*
7. Visa page of passport*

* Black and white copies are acceptable

Please remember that your OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date your OPT I-20 was created.

If you completed a Form G-1145, you’ll get an email and/or text message to the contact information you provided. This e-notification will confirm that USCIS received your application. It can take 2-3 weeks before you get this notification.

Then, USCIS will mail a printed I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice) to the address on your OPT application (Form I765). The receipt is typically delivered within 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application. If USCIS has any questions about your case or needs more information, they will mail an RFE (request for further evidence). This is very rare and an ISS advisor will help you respond to this request.

If you want to check the status of your case, you can visit the USCIS Case Status page and enter your case number (found on your I-797 receipt number). You may sign up for an account on that page to request email updates.

USCIS case processing times vary. Check current processing time estimates at the USCIS Check Case Processing Times page.

  • Enter form I-765 then Potomac Service Center (all OPT applications are processed by this service center).
  • Click "Get Processing Time", then scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the specific estimated processing time for F-1 applicants.
  • You may submit a case inquiry to USCIS only if your receipt date is before the "Receipt date for a case inquiry" listed on that page.

Most cases are processed within normal processing times. We know the hardest part is waiting for your EAD, but please be patient! Most OPT applications are approved without issue, but they just take time.

You may NOT begin working before you receive your EAD from USCIS and are within the authorized dates on the card. Working before your OPT has been authorized constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the US. You must be patient, and you must wait until you have your EAD in hand to begin your work. If USCIS is not able to approve your case by your requested OPT start date, they will push out your approved start date. Typically we see the date of approval as the new approved OPT start date. 

No. Most OPT applicants are not eligible to request this. Those requests require very specific and strict criteria.

Please report your information on the SEVP portal within ten days of your employment start date. The portal allows you to view and update certain information found in your SEVIS records. This includes your address, telephone number, and OPT employment information. Within two weeks of your approved OPT start date you will receive an email from Do-Not-Reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov with instructions on how to create a portal account.

You must report using the SEVP portal within 10 days of any change. Submit a new report each time for the following:

  • unemployment
  • change in employment information
  • residential address change
  • change in your name
  • If you notice any errors in your name (spelling, order, missing name) on your I-797 receipt notice
  • If you submitted a G-1145 and you have not received an e-notification (text message and/or email) within 3-4 weeks since your application was mailed.
  • If you receive an e-notification but have not received your mailed I797 receipt notice and it’s been more than a month since your application was mailed.
  • If your plans about OPT change:
    • you want to leave the US instead of working on OPT
    • you want to pursue another degree
    • you want to change your status from F-1 to something else
    • you need to return to RIT to take more credits (i.e. you will not be course-complete by your OPT start date)
  • If your application is still pending and you have truly unavoidable travel plans outside the US.
  • If you find out that you are no longer eligible for OPT

Please contact ISS immediately for assistance.

If your OPT application is being resubmitted it is critical that it be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date ISS issued your OPT I-20.

You do not need to have a job offer before applying for OPT. Many students apply for OPT without a job offer in hand. ISS does not necessarily recommend you wait until you have a job offer to apply for OPT, since USCIS processing times vary and your employer may not prefer to wait for the full processing time.

While current regulations allow work as an unpaid volunteer or intern while on OPT, it is not an option to volunteer at RIT.

You are eligible for another year of OPT if you begin a higher level degree. This means you could have a year of OPT after a bachelor’s degree and another year after a Master’s degree. You may not apply for another year of OPT if you do a second Bachelor’s degree.

In general, F-1 students who have been in the US for fewer than five calendar years are exempt from social security (FICA) and Medicare taxes. This is something you should discuss with your employer because many employers are not familiar with this provision of the tax law. You will need to pay all other taxes that may apply: federal, state, and local. You should also check to see if your country has a tax treaty with the US. A treaty may allow you to exclude a limited amount of earned income from federal taxation.

If your EAD card was lost, stolen, or destroyed you may request a replacement EAD. You'll need to file a new USCIS application, along with the filing fee and documents required for a new OPT application. If you did not receive an EAD that USCIS mailed, you can submit an inquiry on non-delivery of a card.

If your EAD contains incorrect information that is not due to a USCIS error, you must submit:

  • New online OPT application with the USCIS
  • Filing fee
  • Any documents specified in the form instructions
  • Card containing the error(s)

If your EAD contains incorrect information because of a USCIS error, the Service Center will make the appropriate correction at no cost to you. In this case, you will do not need to submit a new Form I-765 and filing fee. Instead, you will submit:

  • Original card containing the error
  • Detailed explanation of the error
  • Supporting documentation on the correct information

An ISS advisor will be able to help you in submitting a request for a corrected EAD that is required due to a USCIS error.

Requests for corrected EADs must be submitted to the Service Center that approved your OPT.

You may be unemployed for a total of 90 days during your 12 months of OPT. Each day (including weekends) during the period of your OPT authorization that you are not employed counts as a day of unemployment. Students who are reaching the limit of their unemployment time should prepare to take action to maintain their status in the US. This may be securing admission to another college or university in the US. for further study, applying for a change of status, or preparing to leave the US.