OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)
If you are an F-1 student completing a program of study, you may be eligible for 12 months of employment authorization called Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is employment related to your major field of study prior to or shortly after graduating.
OPT employment authorization is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level you complete. For example, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree, and then you are eligible for another 12 months of OPT after completing a master’s degree.
If your major field of study is in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field, you may be eligible for an extension of OPT. Learn about the STEM extension »
You should never work before receiving employment authorization as this is a serious violation of your F-1 status.
In addition to the information provided on this page, you may also download the OPT Packet for more detailed information and instructions.
Things to Know About OPT
Am I eligible for OPT?
All F-1 students completing a program of study who have been enrolled full-time for at least 2 consecutive semesters are eligible for OPT authorization.
When should I apply for OPT?
You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before your expected program completion date but no later than 60 days after the program end date. Your OPT application must also be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20 is printed.
It will take USCIS approximately 3 months to process the OPT application. Expected processing times for applications can be viewed on USCIS’s website.
Do not use the USCIS ELIS system to apply for OPT online
Waiting to apply for OPT may result in loss of OPT employment time. The ISO recommends that you apply 90 days before your expected program completion date.
How do I apply for authorization?
1. You may initiate your OPT request by submitting the OPT Request e-form on iStart. You will enter your academic advisor’s information and an email will be sent to him/her requesting verification on your program completion date.
2. Once your academic advisor completes the advisor form, your request will be reviewed by ISO advisors.
3. If approved, you will receive an email to set up an appointment with an ISO advisor who will help you complete the OPT application and form I-765. The email will ask you to bring the documents listed below.
4. Once you meet with the ISO advisor who will print your OPT I-20 and assist you in completing the application, ISO will send out your application to USCIS.
5. You will be notified via email whenever a receipt notice is received by our office and when your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) arrives.
What documents do I need to apply for OPT?
- Form I-765
- 2 passport style photographs that have not been used in your passport or visa before, preferably taken within the last 30 days
- Check, money order, or cashier’s check in the amount of $410 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Copy of your I-94 record: If you have a paper card, we need a copy of the front and back. If you have an electronic I-94 record, please print a screen shot
- Copy of your passport ID page (and any renewal pages)
- Copy of your visa
- Copy of your passport page with the most recent entry stamp on it
- Copy of any previously issued EAD cards
- If you entered the U.S. in a visa status other than F-1, a copy of your I-797 approval notice
How do I maintain my legal F-1 status while on OPT?
You may not begin employment until you receive the OPT card (employment authorization document) and may only work the duration of the dates listed on the card.
After you complete your degree, you may not work on campus until you have received your OPT card and the start date on your card is current, even if you were previously authorized to work on campus.
You must work at least 21 hours per week. There is no maximum number of hours you can work.
As an F-1 student authorized for OPT, you are required to report any of the following to ISO within 10 days of occurrence:
- If your address has changed, update it in TopNet
- If your immigration status has changed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of your new status
- If your employer has changed, report this through the "OPT Employment Report" e-form in iStart
- If you decide to return home and forgo any remaining OPT time, email us at email@example.com
What are the available OPT Extensions?
If you are an F-1 student whose OPT is based on a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) field, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of OPT.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is my program complete?
Please note that the program completion date is not necessarily the same as the graduation date. Although you may walk or participate in graduation ceremonies, for immigration purposes, your program completion date is the date in which all final requirements have been met for your degree. If you have not completed internship requirements or thesis requirements, for example, your program would not be considered complete yet.
Can I travel while I'm waiting for my OPT to be approved?
We recommend caution when traveling outside of the United States after you have graduated, while you are waiting for your OPT to be authorized. If while you are outside of the country, USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may travel back to the United States while your OPT is pending in order to search for employment. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explains this in detail on its website.
We also recommend caution if you need to renew your visa while abroad. Since OPT is optional, the consular officer may feel it's not necessary for you to return to the U.S., especially if they feel you have any intention of immigrating.
If you do decide to travel outside the U.S. while waiting for your OPT to be approved, make sure to carry:
- Your passport
- A signed I-20
- A valid F-1 visa stamp
- An I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS)
Can I travel during my OPT?
Yes, but keep in mind that if your visa has expired or will expire, it can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT.
If you are traveling while on OPT, you are advised to carry the following:
- Your I-20, signed for travel
- A valid F-1 visa stamp
- A passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the United States
- A valid OPT (EAD) card
- A job offer or confirmation letter. If you are traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.
- Make sure you have updated ISO on your employer information by submitting the Employment Reporting Form on iStart.
You can always discuss your plans and options for travel with an international student advisor at ISO.
When I am on OPT, what is my status? Can I extend my OPT like I could extend my I-20?
OPT is part of your F-1 status. Although you might no longer be a student, you are still in F-1 status.
An 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. See the information about STEM Extensions.
What are the reporting requirements for tracking employment?
You should report your employment dates and place of employment and personal address through the OPT Employment Reporting form in iStart.You must submit the form again within 10 days of changing employers.
How is my authorization affected if I become unemployed?
You are allowed to accrue up to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
Any days that you are not employed or on payroll will count toward the 90-day total. This includes any days spent outside of the United States while unemployed.
If you near the 90th day of unemployment while on OPT, it is best to make plans to depart the United States, apply for a change of status, or make preparations to begin a new degree program.
Take action early so that by the end of the 90th day of unemployment, you have another option already in progress. If you are unemployed for more than 90 days, you are considered to be out of status and your SEVIS record may terminate.
What kind of employment is allowed on OPT?
All employment must be related to your degree major or field of study.
Work for Hire
You may perform services on a contractual relationship with an employer, rather than be hired as their regular employee. You should maintain evidence of every contractual job that you accept.
Self-Employed Business Owner
You may start your own business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must work full-time. You must be able to prove that you have proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
Employment through an Agency
You must be able to provide evidence showing that you worked an average of at least 21 hours/week while employed by the agency.
Unpaid (Volunteer) Employment
As a strategy for maintaining your employment status while on OPT, you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, as long as this does not violate any labor laws. This unpaid work must also be in your major field of study. You will be required to provide evidence from your employer that you worked at least 21 hours per week during the period of employment.
You must be careful not to "volunteer" without pay in positions that U.S. citizens would be paid for. This rule is designed to protect you, the employer, and other workers. The U.S. Department of Labor provides information on the Fair Labor Standards Act on its website. Visit the Department of Labor »
Can I take classes or start a new degree program while on OPT?
If you take a class or two while on OPT, you should be enrolled in a non-degree seeking program as only incidental study is allowed to maintain OPT status.
If you begin a new program of study at WKU or at another institution, your OPT authorization is terminated because OPT work must be full-time. OPT will automatically terminate when a new program of study begins or when your SEVIS record is transferred to another school.
To begin a new program of study at WKU, please contact our IEM Admissions Team.
If you wish to transfer your SEVIS record to another school to begin a new program of study, you must complete the Transfer Out Request e-form through iStart
Please note that you must complete theses processes before the end of the 60-day grace period following your OPT end date.
Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view,
download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Note: documents in Excel format (XLS) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Word format (DOC) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Powerpoint format (PPT) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Quicktime Movie format [MOV] require Apple Quicktime,