OPT: Optional Practical Training

F-1 and F-3 students may be eligible for a 12-month employment authorization called Optional Practical Training (OPT).  OPT allows you to remain in F-1 or F-3 status for an additional twelve months after graduation, and gain practical experience in the field of study you just completed.

During OPT, you must work at a job which is related to your major, with a minimum of 20 hours per week and no maximum.  You can work in a variety of positions like intern, volunteer, part-time, full-time, seasonal, and hold multiple jobs during your OPT, but all jobs all must be directly related to your field of study

You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before your final semester ends, and no later than 60 days after.  We strongly caution you not to wait until the last minute because the process is complicated.  You have to attend an OPT workshop at OIP and you are welcome to do that in well advance of being ready to apply.

OIP first recommends you for OPT, and then you must submit an application to the USCIS Service Center to receive the final approval in the form of an EAD card (employment authorization document). The entire process may take about three months.

Eligibility for OPT

  • Presently hold F-1 or F-3 status
  • Have at least one academic year of valid F status (2 consecutive semesters)
  • Be in the final term of study and have applied for graduation
  • Have used less than 12 months of full-time CPT

English Language Institute students are, unfortunately, ineligible for OPT.

If in the future, you advance to a higher degree level, you will be eligible for an additional OPT. For example, you may complete a bachelor’s degree and do OPT for bachelor’s level, then complete a master’s degree and do OPT for the master’s level.

How to Apply

  • Attend the OIP OPT employment workshop.
  • Apply for graduation.
  • Complete the OPT application form.
  • Submit your application at the OIP front desk.
  • Get 2 U.S. passport-sized photos (OIP can take them for you if you want; the cost is $10, payable by check or money order). Print your name & I-94# on the back of each one.
  • Purchase a money order or fill out a personal check in the amount of $380 ($410 as of December 2016) to “Department of Homeland Security.”

When OIP has processed your OPT recommendation, return to our office with the following:

  • Completed form I-765
  • Completed Form G-1145 (optional)
  • Copy of passport bio page
  • Copy of student visa
  • Copy of I-94, front & back

The front desk will assist you in preparing your application packet.

  • Mail your application to the USCIS lockbox in Dallas, TX.

You do not have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. However, it is a good idea to be actively searching for a job, so that once your OPT is approved and the start date of your EAD card is reached, you can start working as soon as possible.

Choosing a Start Date

You can choose your start date of OPT, within a two-month window.  The start date you choose must be within 60 days of the last day of your final semester.  Your OPT may begin right after school ends, or as late as 59 days after.

When you apply for OPT, your I-20 expiration date will be shortened to the last day of finals in your graduating term. This date is called the “program end date.” Your I-20 program end date is the last date that you may work on-campus or on CPT until your OPT begins.

If you are a graduate student and will finish your thesis or dissertation before the end of the semester, you may use the project completion date as your program end date, if you wish to start your OPT earlier. However, it is most common to use the last day of finals of your graduating semester as the program end date.

Request the earliest possible start date if:

  • You are working at UTEP and wish to continue working after the last day of finals of your graduating semester.
  • You are currently on CPT and want to transition to OPT without an employment ga
  • You have a job offer and the company wants to you start working right away
  • You think it is possible you will find a job soon and that the company will want you to start working right away

Request a later start date if:

  • You need time to search for a job
  • You want a vacation between graduation & OPT
  • You are applying for OPT after graduation

During OPT

Once you are approved for OPT, you will receive the EAD card from USCIS in the mail.  The card will state the dates that you are authorized to work. Do not work until you receive your card, and only work between the start and end dates printed on it.

If you apply late, and USCIS does not approve your card by the the start date you requested, you will only receive a start date as of the eventual date of approval.  They do not back-date the authorization and you may lose some of your twelve possible months as a result.

During your 12 months of OPT authorization, you are allowed only a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. You may take a volunteer and/or part-time position to avoid accruing unemployed time.

You must report your employment to OIP every time you obtain a new job, end a job, or add an additional job, via our OPT Notification Form . Also, you must continue to report any changes in your residential address to OIP within 10 days of moving, via our Change of Address form.

You are still in F-1 or F-3 status during OPT.  If you decide to pursue another degree, your OPT is invalidated once classes start. You will also lose your remaining period of OPT if you transfer to another university.

After OPT

If you have maintainted your immigration status during OPT and not reached 90 days of unemployment) you have a 60-day grace period. The grace period is a time for you to prepare to either depart the United States, be issued an updated I-20 to begin a new degree program, or change your immigration status.

New STEM Extension Policy

If you have received a US degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), and your employer is registered in the E-Verify system, you may be eligible for a 24 month extension of OPT called a STEM Extension.  (More detailed information about this new policy as well as the transition plan can be found here.)

For an E-Verified employer search tool, click here.

Eligibility for 24-Month STEM Extension

You are eligible for a STEM extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) if:

  • You have completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a STEM field while studying in the US
  • You are currently participating in post-completion OPT
  • You are currently working/will soon be working in a paid position of at least 20 hours/week for an employer who is registered in the E-Verify program
  • You have not applied for STEM OPT for this degree or degree level before
  • You have not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment on current OPT authorization.
  • Have a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or math
  • Work for an employer who is enrolled in the E-Verify program. All employers you have while on OPT STEM must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Currently be on standard post-completion OPT and apply before your current OPT expires
  • Complete OIP’s OPT Extension Application Form
  • Get 2 U.S. passport-sized photos (OIP can take them for you if you want; the cost is $10, payable by check or money order). Print your name & I-94 # on the back of each one.
  • Prepare your check or money order for $380 to “Department of Homeland Security”

When to Apply

  • The Form I-765, Form I-983, supporting evidence and $380 fee ($410 as of December 23, 2016) must be received at USCIS before the current OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires
  • USCIS recommends that students file beginning 120 days before the expiration date of the current OPT EAD

How to Apply

Bring the following to the Office of International Programs:

Once your complete application has been received, OIP will issue you an I-20 with a recommendation for a STEM Extension and will contact you to let you know your I-20 is ready.  Once you have your I-20 from OIP, you will need to mail your application packet to USCIS.  USCIS must receive your application within 30 days from the time the new I-20 is signed or your application will be denied.  

Once you have received your new I-20 from OIP with the STEM OPT recommendation, mail it to USCIS with the following:

Once you have picked up your I-20, mail it to USCIS with the following:

  • Form I-765 (typed)
  • Form G-1145 (optional)
  • Official or unofficial transcript from UTEP (official is recommended) and a copy of your diploma* (*For those students still completing their thesis/dissertation, include a letter from your department that states that you have met all other requirements for your degree.)
  • Copy of EAD for current OPT
  • Copy of your new I-20 with the STEM OPT Recommendation and all previous I-20s
  • Copy of the Form I-983 “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” completed by you are your employer
  • Copy of visa, passport, and I-94. If you have a paper I-94, submit a copy of the front and back of the card.  If you do not have a paper I-94, print your electronic record here.
  • Two passport size photos (2” x 2”), with your name and I-94 number written on the back of each photo. Click here for photo specifications.
  • Application fee of $380 ($410 as of December 23, 2016) (check or money order) to “US Department of Homeland Security”

If your OPT card expires while the extension request is still being reviewed, you are allowed to continue working (up to 180 days) until you have received the results of your application.

If your application is approved,  you will receive a new EAD for your STEM extension.  If your application is denied, you may only work through the end of your original OPT. You still have a 60-day grace period to depart the US, start a new academic program, or change your status.

Refer to the STEM OPT Request Form for detailed information regarding reporting requirements and how to maintain status while on STEM OPT.

H-1B Cap Gap Extension

While in the U.S., students may find an employer that is willing to sponsor an H-1b visa. If the student is working in the private sector, they must become familiar with the regulatory provision known as H-1b “Cap Gap Extension”.

H-1b visa is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer whom may be in the private or public sector. Although students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization to H-1b, they can transition at any moment they become eligible. New H-1bs filed for the private sector become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier, April 1.

The cap refers to the limit on the number of individuals who can receive H-1b status every fiscal year. The gap is the period between the end of an individual’s F-1 status and the beginning of the individual’s H-1b status in October 1.

A cap-gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of F status and start of H-1b status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the gap. The cap-gap extension is available to students who, as of April 1st were either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status October 1st H-1b petition with the USCIS that was filed prior to the expiration of their OPT or 60-day grace period.

Dependents: An automatic extension of an F-1 student’s duration of status also applies to the duration of status of any F-2 dependents.

Can I travel during a Cap Gap Extension period and still return with my OPT I-20 and EAD (OPT card)?

OIP recommends you consult your employer’s immigration specialist before traveling internationally during the cap gap extension period.

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