Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period of temporary employment authorization for F-1 students to gain experience in jobs directly related to the student’s area of study. Students can use a total of 12 months of OPT per educational level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Doctorate).
You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
You may not pursue a new course of study (degree program) while on OPT.
The application is approved by United States Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS), not the international office. USCIS processing time is on average three-four months (90-120 days).
Unemployment: During the 12-month period of post-completion OPT, you can have up to 90 days of unemployment. The STEM OPT extension allows another 60 days of unemployment, for a total of 150 days during the entire 36 months.
Types of Employment
Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all jobs must be related to your field.
Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): You’re allowed to have multiple short-term jobs or gigs (e.g. music performances). Keep a list of all gigs, the employer, and duration of each for your records.
Work for hire: Commonly referred to as 1099 or Independent Contractor Employment; keep evidence of the duration of contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
Self-employed business owner: You can start a business or be self-employed while on OPT. You should be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that it is related to your degree program.
Employment through an agency or consulting firm is also allowed.
Unpaid Employment: You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws.
Be careful with “volunteer” work. It is very unlikely that volunteer work at a for-profit company is legal. Internship opportunities have specific guidelines they must meet to be unpaid.
Genuine volunteer opportunities usually involve a philanthropic organization: Girls Who Code, animal shelter, hunger relief organization, etc.
If you’re not sure an opportunity is a genuine volunteer opportunity, talk to the International Office before working.
More information about OPT is available at Information about CPT and OPT.
Example: If Chris’ end date is June 13, their OPT start date can be between June 14 and August 12. USCIS will accept Chris’ Post-Completion OPT application between March 15 and August 12.
You are still in-status and can remain in the U.S. after your program end date but before your approved OPT start date.
Submit the TTIC Request for Work Authorization Form to the International Office. If you would like IO to review your Form I-765, include a copy of that in your submission. IO will issue you a new I-20 with the DSO recommendation for OPT, as well as a copy of the CPT usage page from SEVIS. Allow 1 week for processing.
Students applying for pre- or post-completion OPT can now apply online as well as applying by mail. More information is available here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765
Gather the following documents for your application:
Completed Form I-765 with fee and photographs in an envelope stapled to it (if applying by mail).
Two new color passport style photos. Your photos must be recent and must not have been used in any previous application. If applying by mail, write your name with a pencil on the back of the photos, put them in a small plastic bag or envelope and staple it to the top of Form I-765.
Payment in the form of a check or money order for the filing fee payable to “Department of Homeland Security.” Current filing fees can be calculated using the USCIS Fee Calculator.
Copy of current I-20 (the one with the OPT recommendation on it), all pages. DO NOT SEND THE ORIGINAL! The signature of the PDSO in the International Office must be fewer than 30 days old at the time the application is received by USCIS.
Copy of I-94 electronic receipt, available at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
Screen shots from SEVIS of OPT and CPT use (Provided by the International Office)
Copies (front and back) of all previous EAD(s) issued to you for OPT.
Copies (front and back) of all l-20s from any previous U.S. institution before the University of Chicago.
Copy of the identity page(s) of your passport. This includes the page that has your photograph and biographical information.
Form G-1145, “E-Notification of Application/Acceptance,” if you want to be notified electronically when your application is received.
Save a copy of your entire application before submitting or mailing it. Keep it with your mailing receipt if mailing!
If applying electronically, your submission is complete once the application and all required documentation is submitted.
If applying by mail, mail the complete I-765 application and accompanying documents using secure mail with delivery confirmation/tracking, such as U.S. Postal Service Certified Mail. For the mailing address, visit the I-765 direct filing page and submit to the relevant address for your category.
USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days after the I-20 end date and no more than 30 days after PDSO recommendation.
If you filed Form G-1145, you will receive a confirmation email or text from USCIS with a receipt number.
Within a month of mailing your application, you will receive a Receipt Notice (I-797) from USCIS. Using your receipt number (in the upper left-hand side) you can check the status of your application on the USCIS Case Status Search page.
USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) when your application has been approved. The card will state the specific start date and end date for your OPT. You cannot legally begin working until you have the physical card and the start date has been reached.
Contact the International Office if:
You need to cancel your OPT application.
You won’t finish your program as planned.
You need to update your mailing address on your OPT application.
All F-1 students on post-completion OPT are required to report any change in the following information within 10 days through the SEVP Portal: Name, address, employer name/address, and any interruption of employment.
Students must also contact the International Office within 10 days to report any changes to employment, starting a new academic program, and change of status. Those students using STEM OPT must report changes of employment through the STEM OPT portal.
Traveling Before Your Program End Date: You can travel normally as an F-1 student. (NOTE: Contact your employer if applying for H-1B, as traveling outside the US while H-1B is pending can be tricky.)
Traveling After Your Program End Date:
It is not advisable to travel outside the U.S. prior to receiving your EAD card and securing employment.
EAD cards will NOT be sent overseas, and an EAD card is required for re-entry. Travel through Chicago airports whenever possible.
You can remain in the U.S. if your F-1 travel visa (the stamp in your passport) has expired. If you will travel in and out of the US while on OPT, you must have a valid F-1 travel visa.
If your F-1 travel visa will expire before you re-enter, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad prior to your return.
After your program end date, you will need proof of employment to show you are returning to the U.S. to resume employment appropriate for OPT.
In addition to your regular travel documents (valid passport, valid F-l visa, 1-20 with OPT recommendation and travel signature less than 6 months old), you will also need:
Valid EAD (your card should say “not valid for travel,” meaning it cannot replace a valid visa)
Job offer letter or letter of employment verification from your current employer
NOTE: Without your EAD and proof of employment/job offer, you assume a risk in trying to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT.
F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT may apply for the 24-month STEM extension if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.
F-1 students may obtain additional information about STEM OPT extensions at the USCIS website. The application for STEM OPT is the same as the application for pre- or post-completion OPT.