Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of temporary employment authorization for eligible F-1 students. The authorization is recommended by International Student Services (ISS) and awarded by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It allows you to work anywhere in the United States, as long as the employment is directly related to your program of study. OPT is not employer-specific.
Working off campus without authorization is a violation of your status which will result in your I-20 being terminated without the option for reinstatement.
Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion
OPT can be utilized before you complete your program (pre-completion OPT) and/or after you complete your program (post-completion OPT).
In total, you may be eligible for 12 months of standard OPT for each higher degree level you complete. If you do pre-completion OPT, then the time you utilize will be subtracted from the time available to you for post-completion OPT (subtracted at half the rate for part-time pre-completion OPT). For example, a student who utilizes 2 months of full-time pre-completion OPT and 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT will have 9 months remaining for post-completion OPT.
Part-time (20 hours or less) during the fall/spring semesters
Part-time or full-time (more than 20 hours) during winter/summer breaks
Graduate students only: full-time during the fall/spring semester if all coursework is completed
Full-time authorization, but only must work at least 20 hours per week to maintain status
No penalty for unemployment
Cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment
You cannot apply for the STEM or cap-gap extension from pre-completion OPT
If otherwise eligible, you may be approved for the STEM or cap-gap extension from post-completion OPT
If you are interested in applying for pre-completion OPT, please contact ISS at (520) 621-4627 to schedule an appointment with an advisor or check our website for quick advising times.
You must meet the following eligibility requirements to be recommended for OPT:
You are in F-1 status
You have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least 1 academic year. If you have done a leave of absence, were in a different status previously or fell out of status within the last year, meet with an international student advisor.
You are in good academic standing. If you have a low GPA or are on academic probation, ISS may hold your application until your grades are posted.
You have not completed 12 or more months of full-time CPT.
You have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same or higher degree level.
When can I apply for post-completion OPT?
USCIS can receive your post-completion OPT application:
No earlier than 90 days before your program completion date
No later than 60 days after your program completion date
Normal processing time for ISS is 10 business days. Please allow additional time to mail your application to USCIS. If you have filed your application with USCIS during this period, you can remain in the U.S. after your 60-day grace period has ended with a pending application.
Program Completion Date
For immigration purposes, your program end date is the date that you complete your degree requirements, not the date of your graduation ceremony or degree conferral. Review the chart under Academic Changes: Program End Date.
If you are completing your degree requirements prior to your I-20 end date, ISS will shorten your I-20. Please remember that you must stop all on-campus employment by the end date of your I-20.
If you are completing your degree requirements after your I-20 end date, ISS will not automatically extend your I-20. You must instead formally request a program extension from ISS (go to Academic Changes: Program End Date for more information).
If you are an undergraduate or master’s student finishing your program during summer or winter, you must enroll in at least one in-person class during your final term. For example, if you complete your degree during summer session II, you must register for at least 1 unit of in-person coursework during summer II.
How to Apply
Applying for OPT authorization is a 2-step process. First, you have to request an I-20 recommending OPT from ISS. After you receive the new I-20 from ISS, you must submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
Step 1: Apply for an I-20 Recommending OPT from ISS
If you are applying for post-completion OPT, pay the $75 OPT Case Management Fee.
Submit the Optional Practical Training e-form in UA International.
In the e-form, you will be asked to provide the name and email address for your academic advisor. The advisor you indicate will receive an email with a link to UA International, so he or she can provide information about your degree completion date and academic standing. If you have more than one major, you must also submit the Secondary Advisor Information e-form.
Normal processing time for ISS is 10 business days, from the date your academic advisor(s) submits the advisor portion of the e-form in UA International.
Step 2: Apply for an EAD card from USCIS
Submit the documents listed below to apply for an EAD card in the following order (front to back):
Government-issued identity document
2 passport-style photos
Form I-20 stamped "copy"
Processing time for USCIS is approximately 3 months. For information about how to expedite your application with USCIS, read Chapter 12 – Request to Expedite Applications or Petitions of the USCIS Policy Manual. ISS will not expedite OPT requests and cannot review letters to USCIS to request expedited processing.
Where to Mail Your Documents
If you live in Arizona and would like to send your documents via express mail or courier (for example: USPS Priority Mail Express, FedEx, UPS), send all materials to: USCIS, Attn: NFB AOS, 1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ 85034.
If you do not live in Arizona or would like to mail your application through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) go to Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (under the category (c)(3)(i)).
eShipGlobal (UEMS) offers an option for students to send OPT applications to USCIS offices. You can choose the carrier (UPS, FedEx, or USPS), what type of delivery (next day, 2-day, etc.), and ship at discounted rates.
Go to study.eshipglobal.com to log in or create a free account.
Select "OPT Application" or "Send Documents to USCIS."
Enter your mailing information and select the correct USCIS location.
Select the carrier you want to use, pay for shipping and print the label. Drop off your application at the nearest carrier location.
Change of Address
If you change your address while your OPT application is pending, you must notify ISS and USCIS immediately.
To notify USCIS, go to File a Change of Address Online at USCIS.gov to report your new address.
To notify ISS, submit the OPT Reporting E-form in UA International.
Maintain Your Status on OPT
While you are on OPT, you are still in F-1 student status and your SEVIS record is still maintained by the University of Arizona. ISS will remain your point of contact for all immigration questions and requests related to your F-1 record.
While you are on OPT, it is your responsibility to take the following actions to maintain your status:
Only work in jobs related to your major field of study (paid, unpaid or volunteer positions). For information about the types of employment you can accept on OPT, review the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) OPT Policy Guidance.
Work an average of at least 20 hours per week
Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment (post-completion OPT only)
Report all changes to your address, employment information, visa status or permanent departure from the U.S. within 10 days of the change.
- If you enroll in classes, it must only be for recreational or avocational purposes. Your OPT will be automatically terminated if you transfer to another school or begin study at another education level. Read more at USCIS.gov.
Report all changes through the OPT Reporting e-form in UA International.
After you submit the e-form it will be reviewed by an international student advisor within 5-7 business days. You will receive an email once the information you reported has been entered in your SEVIS record.
ISS will print a new I-20 for every new employer during your OPT period. We will review your current I-20 on file, and if it does not reflect the employment information you provided above, we will automatically issue you an updated I-20 with a travel signature. You will be notified by email if a new I-20 has been issued for you.
Review Travel: Outside the U.S. for a list of documents you must carry to reenter the U.S. as an F-1 student on post-completion OPT.
If your employer has any questions about how to verify your eligibility to accept employment or complete the Form I-9, you can refer them to the M-274 Handbook for Employers.
After you receive your EAD card, you are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you do not already have one. For more information about how to apply, visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website (select "Original Card for a Noncitizen Adult").
ISS holds OPT workshops each semester to explain the application process and regulations affecting OPT in detail. They are open to all UA students. Check your UA email and the Programs & Events Calendar for dates. If you are a UA department interested in arranging a workshop for your students, submit the form under Employment Authorization.