Frequently Asked Questions About Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students
What forms do I need to apply for optional practical training (OPT)?
You'll need an Advisor's Recommendation Form for Optional Practical Training. This form is available in the International Student Advisor’s office. There are additional items that must be sent to a Dallas lockbox for forwarding to the USCIS Vermont Processing Center. You will be provided with a checklist of those items at the time you pick up your application.
How much practical training time am I eligible for?
If you have not been authorized for any previous practical training at the same degree level or at a higher level, you are eligible for up to twelve months, once you have completed one academic year of your program of study.
Previous curricular practical training will not affect the 12 months unless the curricular training was full time and for more than twelve months.
May I apply for less than 12 months of practical training?
Yes, but… you must be sure that you will not want more than the period that is less than 12 months. It is no longer possible to apply for additional time after the degree completion date deadline has passed.
May I obtain 12 months of practical training after each degree?
Yes. A student is now eligible for 12 months of practical training for EACH change to a higher educational level. So a student in F-1 status who enters as a Bachelor’s degree student is eligible for up to 12 months practical training upon completion of the Bachelor’s and then ANOTHER 12 months upon completion of the next higher degree (Master’s).
How is my application processed by US Citizenship and Immigration Services?
To apply for your Employment Authorization Card (EAC), you must mail your completed application and all required attachments to the Dallas lockbox for forwarding to the USCIS Service Center in Vermont.
How long will the application approval process at USCIS take?
Processing time at USCIS Vermont Service Center is highly variable and difficult to predict. It can take up to twelve weeks and sometimes longer. Therefore, you are urged to apply early to allow sufficient time for you to receive your EAC.
Can't I apply in person at a USCIS District Office?
No. In-person applications for Employment Authorization Cards for students are not accepted at USCIS District Offices. Cards are only processed by mail at an USCIS processing center.
What about the OPT application fee?
The USCIS application fee for OPT is $380.00
What is the deadline for sending in my application to USCIS Vermont Service Center?
The deadline is based on the date of your completion of studies. If you are applying for OPT to begin after graduation your application must be received at one of the 5 processing centers no more than 60 days after your degree conferral date.
What should I put as the start date for practical training?
That depends on your plans. Practical training must begin no later than 60 days following your program completion date.
What if I apply for practical training and end up not using it? Perhaps I won't be able to find a job, or perhaps I decide to go back to school. What happens then?
Applying for practical training is a two-step process. You must first make application to the International Student Advisor’s office, and then mail your application to USCIS to obtain an Employment Authorization Document Card (EAC). Once USCIS approves your OPT application, it is not possible to cancel the practical training authorization. Therefore, any unused time will be lost.
I have a job offer but my EAC has not arrived yet. Can I begin work?
Can I work at any job with OPT authorization?
No! OPT authorization is only for employment related to your field of study. Working in an unrelated job is a serious violation of your F-1 status. Do not put your legal status at risk.
Once I receive my EAC, is there anything else I should do?
Yes, please bring in your EAC to the ISA office so that a photocopy can be made for your file. Please Note: Employment cannot begin until the date authorized for practical training on the EAC and you have your EAC “in hand”. You will also need to update the ISA office on your employment status. You are not permitted to be unemployed for longer than 90 days while on OPT.
I have already received my EAC. I will not graduate as expected. My OPT end date is later than the ending date on my I-20. Do I need to file for an extension since my OPT end date is after my new graduation date?
YES! You must file for an extension if you will not graduate before the program of study completion date on page 1, section 5 on your SEVIS I-20. The OPT end date is only related to the OPT employment authorization. These are two separate issues.
Do I need a job offer to obtain practical training?
No. Proof of employment is not required to obtain practical training. You must, however, notify the ISA office as soon as you begin working. You are only permitted to be unemployed for 90 days while on OPT.
What about change of address or change of name while I am on post-completion OPT?
While on OPT post graduation, students must continue to report any name or address changes to the ISA office, because the school continues to maintain the F-1 record until OPT ends.
I may be moving while my application is pending. Can I give the ISA office as my mailing address?
Yes. US Citizenship and Immigration Services will mail Employment Authorization Cards to an office address at a university. If you will be moving before you receive your EAC then you will want to have the card sent to you at a friend or relative’s address or at the ISA office address.
To use a friend or relative's address, complete form I-765, by showing your mailing address like this:
c/o (the name of your relative or friend)
City, State Zip Code
To use the ISA office address show the mailing address like this:
c/o International Student Advisor’s Office
Riverdale, NY 10471
I am planning to travel outside of the United States. The signature on my I-20 is eight months old. Do I need a new signature?
Yes, while you are on OPT you need a travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 that is less than 6 months old on the day of your re-entry.
What if I want to travel outside the United States during practical training?
An F-1 student who has timely filed an application for OPT post-completion of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that the F-1 student can present their USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the application has been filed.
However, once the EAC for OPT is issued to the F-1 student, and the student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. The F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.
The best general advice is that an F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAC, and has to travel abroad should make sure that there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or the job offer. Otherwise the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
Please note: If you will need to obtain a new F-1 visa, such travel may be risky. There have been cases where students who had completed their degree program were denied a new visa and not permitted to reenter the United States.
Even if your visa is still valid, USCIS regulations state that re-entry is permitted only to “resume authorized employment.” Therefore, students who do not yet have jobs take a risk if they travel outside the U.S. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss their travel plans with International Student Advisor.