F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is 12 months of work authorization for F-1 visa students.
Most students apply for Post-Completion OPT to begin work after graduation. However, other OPT options are included below along with Post-Completion OPT. If you have additional questions or are unsure after reading the information provided, we encourage you to meet with an International Student Advisor to discuss the employment options, requirements and answer questions.
Pre-completion OPT is work authorization which is available to F-1 students before graduating. Pre-completion OPT can be an option when an off-campus internship or employment opportunity is not considered “integral” to a student’s degree.
F-1 students may take advantage of up to 12 months of OPT per degree level. Both pre-completion and post-completion OPT count toward these aggregate 12 months, meaning that any OPT completed before graduation is deducted from available post-completion OPT. This deduction occurs at a rate of either 50% or 100%, depending on whether the pre-completion OPT was part- or full-time. See the examples below:
- 4 months of full-time, pre-completion OPT: 8 months of post-completion OPT available
- 4 months of part-time, pre-completion OPT: 10 months of post-completion OPT available
During the fall, winter, and spring quarters, pre-completion OPT can only be authorized for part-time work (20 hours/week or less). Pre-completion OPT can be authorized for either part-time or full-time work during summer.
Unlike Curricular Practical Training (CPT), all OPT is authorized by USCIS. This means that an OPT application can take 3 months or more to be processed and approved. You may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before your intended start date. Note that changing from part-time to full-time, or revert from full-time to part-time, will require a new application.
- Undergraduate or graduate student standing
- Valid F-1 status for at least one academic year
- Good academic standing (2.0 for undergrad students, 3.0 for graduate students)
- International Center recommends your pre-completion OPT in SEVIS and issues you a new I-20 with the requested OPT dates
How to Apply
- Email email@example.com to schedule an appointment with an International Student Advisor
- Obtain an offer letter from your prospective employer will all of the following:
- Start and end dates of employment (may extend into winter/spring breaks)
- Paid or unpaid position
- Part-time (must state 20 hours or less) or full-time
- Full address of the employer
- Brief description of job duties
- Signature of your employer
- Provide the offer letter to your advisor to determine whether the employment is directly related to your major. Advisor should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org recommending the internship and confirming that it is directly related to your major.
- Gather the documents below and send PDF scans to email@example.com for review:
- Form G-1145
- Form I-765
- Two passport-sized photos
- I-94 electronic copy
- Black and white scan of your passport photo and information page(s)
- Black and white scan of your most recent entry stamp
- Black and white scan of any previous EAD card(s)
- Black and white scan of your I-797a Approval Notice (if applicable)
- Mail the documents above along with your $410 application fee to USCIS and include a copy of the I-20 with pre-completion OPT recommendation issued by International Center
- A Receipt Notice will be sent within a few weeks after your application is received
- You can follow-up on the status of your application after you receive your receipt notice. The receipt notice has a case number. Check the DHS Online Case Status site for the status of your application
- If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), notify the International Center immediately for assistance
- The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card will be mailed to the address on your I- 765 Form. Your approved employment dates will be listed on your EAD card so you must receive the EAD before you can begin employment
- Be physically present in the U.S. in valid F-1 status
- Have maintained full-time enrollment for at least one academic year in F-1 status (or other visa status that allows enrollment)
- Have completed the GWR or plan to complete it in your final quarter
- Graduate students may work full-time on OPT concurrently while finishing thesis work as long as all course requirements have been completed
Things to Know
- USCIS can take 1-3 months (sometimes more) to process OPT applications.
- Carefully follow the OPT Application Instructions listed at the bottom of this page.
- After your OPT ends, there is a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S. or have your SEVIS record released to another school.
- You are not authorized to begin employment until your OPT application is approved and you have received your EAD from the DHS.
- You can apply for OPT:
- Up to 90 days prior to the end-date of your final term (last day of finals)
- Your application must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the end-date of your final term
- NOTE: Normal USCIS processing time for OPT applications is 90 days
- The 12 months of OPT will not be authorized beyond 14 months after the end-date of your final term
- After your OPT ends, there is a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S. or have your SEVIS record released to another school
Additional OPT Employment Information
OPT Application Instructions
- Attend an OPT workshop hosted by the International Center.
- Prepare the following documents:
- I-94 Electronic Copy – Use the Electronic I-94 Retrieval Form to access your most recent I-94
- Passport Copies - Color scans of your passport:
- Photo, information, and signature page(s)
- Any extensions
- Any/all previous I-20s with CPT authorization for your current degree level (if applicable)
- Passport-sized photo - review the government's photo requirements webpage. The Department of State also has a photo check tool which you can use to check your photo before uploading.
- Previous EAD Card Copies (if applicable) - A color copy of the front/back of any previous EAD card(s)
- Register for a USCIS online account and begin the application for Post-Completion OPT.
- Click "My USCIS" then "File a Form Online"
- Select Form I-765, then Post-Completion OPT
- Upload all required documents (listed above)
- Do not submit your payment until your application has been reviewed by the International Center and your OPT I-20 has been issued.
- Obtain your OPT I-20 from the International Center
- When you reach the end of the online form, click "Your application summary," then "View draft snapshot." Save a PDF copy of this document.
- Return to this application in the International Student Hub and upload your draft snapshot along with all other required documents.
- You will need to enter your Academic Advisor’s information into the Recommendation form so they can confirm you are on track to graduate.
- An International Student Advisor will review your application and issue your OPT I-20 via email.
- Print and sign your new I-20 in blue ink, and make a copy of pgs. 1 & 2
- Return to your USCIS online account and upload your new I-20, make your payment, and submit your application. Take a screenshot of your Receipt Number which you can use to track the status of your application online.
OPT Employment Rules
- You must wait to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card in the mail before beginning work.
- You are allowed only 90 days of cumulative unemployment during your authorized OPT period
- You must work in a field related to your major at Cal Poly
- Volunteer work may be counted as employment, and you may have multiple employers
- You are required to work a minimum of 20 hours per week
Travel While on OPT
You will need the following documents for re-entry to the U.S.:
- OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature
- Although Form I-20 indicates a validity period of one year for travel signatures, visa regulations set a shorter validity period of 6 months for travel signatures on I-20s used by students on post-completion OPT
- Signed letter from employer including:
- Company name
- Whether job is paid or unpaid (if paid, must list salary to be earned)
- Start and end date of employment
- Brief description of your job duties
- Address of the company (location of where you will work)
- Specific number of hours you will work per week
- Supervisor’s name, email and phone number
- Valid F-1 student visa (entry permit)
- Valid passport
- EAD card
- Levels of Risk Grid for traveling during different stages of OPT processing and employment
Change of Address
- If you move while your OPT application is pending, you will need to submit a Change of Address request directly with USCIS. If the EAD card is mailed to an old address, the post office will not forward it to you. It will be returned to immigration and you will have to apply again and repay the fee.
- You may not begin employment until you have received your EAD from the DHS.
- If you move any time during your stay in the U.S. under F-1 status (this includes time on OPT) while on a Cal Poly I-20, you must notify the International Center within 10 days.
- Before you are hired, it is advisable to obtain an employment contract from your employer. This should state the terms of employment such as salary, review schedule, length of employment, and job requirements.
- After OPT is approved, update address, phone, and employer information in the SEVP OPT Portal. SEVP will send you login information to the portal when your OPT is approved. If you do not get an email, email with a copy of your EAD card to firstname.lastname@example.org so our staff can submit a correction request to SEVP on your behalf.
- Once your OPT period starts you will report address, phone, and employer changes in the SEVP OPT Portal SEVP Portal for OPT Updates (Doc)
- If you need to change your email address, email email@example.com
- Your employer must also notify us via firstname.lastname@example.org when you end employment
- While on OPT you must report every six months to validate your information.
- Click the International Services Login link below
- Login with your non-Cal Poly email used for this site. If you do not remember your login, email email@example.com and ask for a password reset for this site.
- On your User Home Page, select either your current Optional Practical Training (OPT)(F-M) program or your STEM OPT Extension (F-M) if you have an approved STEM OPT extension.
- Answer the appropriate validation questionnaire(s).
Ready to validate? Login to International Services, then navigate to your STEM OPT Extension (F/M) or your Optional Practical Training (OPT) (F/M) application.
OPT STEM Extension
The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field. Both you and your employer should review details of the requirements of the program on the Study in the States STEM OPT Hub.
- Review the Eligible CIP Codes for the STEM OPT Extension webpage
- Your major’s CIP Code is located on the first page of your I-20
When to Apply
- No sooner than 90 days before the end date on your current OPT EAD card.
- Mail your application to USCIS so that is received before your OPT EAD end date.
How to Apply
- Read full OPT STEM extension instructions
- Complete the OPT STEM Extension Request
- Complete the Form I-983 and upload in the STEM OPT Extension Request Form
- Submit Form I-983 within first 12 months of STEM OPT with annual evaluation
- Submit Form I-983 at end of STEM OPT
- Report of changes to your employment, address, email and phone number within 10 days of any change
- Keep the International Center updated with your employment, address, email, and phone number
- STEM OPT Reporting Chart
- STEM OPT General Reporting Requirements
- Do not have more than 150 days of unemployment between your regular OPT and STEM OPT authorized periods combined