OPT | Optional Practical Training
Post-Graduation Work Authorization for F-1 Students
OPT stands for Optional Practical Training and is a benefit of the F-1 student visa. OPT is work authorization for F-1 students after graduation. Students are eligible to apply for OPT the semester that they will graduate. OPT allows 1 year (up to 3 years for STEM) work authorization anywhere within the US after graduation but only within the student’s field of study/major.
Learn more below:
OPT Info Sessions
The Padnos International Center's International Student Services (ISS) hosts an OPT Information Session four times a year:
- September (Fall graduates)
- January (Winter graduates)
- March (Spring graduates)
- May (Summer graduates)
Invitations to the Zoom sessions are sent out via email. If you're a current student and interested in attending, please check your emails.
Questions? Contact GVSU's ISS Team at [email protected]
Students are encouraged to apply online. This saves mailing time and mailing fees. Detailed steps are shared below. Please carefully review you have completed all steps before submitting online.
Please note: Fall 2023 is the first semester that GVSU ISS is recommending applying online. If you notice any information that needs to be adjusted to be more accurate or helpful, please report a problem with this page and we will gladly update accordingly.
Online OPT Application Steps
OPT Employment Reporting
OPT Regulations & FAQ
Although the regulations can get confusing, we have tried to simplify the information into the following categories. As always, it's best to check with the ISS Team if you ever have doubts or questions.
Who can apply for OPT?
F-1 Students who have been enrolled in a degree full-time for at least 1 year and are graduating with that degree are eligible to apply for OPT during their final semester. Students must find work that is within their field of study. In addition to a full time position, part-time work and/or internship opportunities are also permitted. OPT is available after the completion of each degree level – BS, MS, PhD.
How long does OPT authorization last?
All F-1 students are eligible for exactly 1 year (365 days) of OPT work authorization. Students who are STEM eligible, can apply for a 2 year extension around 9 months into their first year of OPT.
Can I be unemployed while on OPT?
During your first year of OPT, you are permitted to be unemployed for a maximum of 90 days. These days start counting from the approved OPT start date as determined by USCIS if you do not have an employer immediately. These days do not have to be consecutive and are counted in total throughout the 1 year of authorization. This another reason why it is important to report your employment information to us--this way your unemployment days are counted accurately.
What are the steps to apply for OPT?
F-1 students must apply using our OPT Request Forms then they submit their application directly to USCIS. Below is an overview of the process.
What is the timeline to apply for OPT?
Students are permitted to apply to USCIS for post-graduation OPT as early as 90 before graduation (Program End Date) and as late as 60 days after graduation. We DO NOT RECOMMEND applying after graduation as this timeline gives you much less room for error. Likewise, WE DO NOT RECOMMEND choosing a start date 60 days after graduation as there is also much less time to adjust if needed.
Here is a helpful OPT Planning Tool by USCIS to help you track the many dates related to your OPT, including the number of days of full-time CPT you've worked (if any).
Application Processing Time
Average processing time is made public by USCIS on their Processing Times website. In Fall 2023, the average processing time was 2.5 months. USCIS is permitted up to 4 months (120 days) to process an OPT application.
What can I expect after my application is submitted?
After the OPT application has been submitted students SHOULD NOT leave the U.S. until they receive their OPT card. Students who have to leave will forfeit their application and will need to re-apply, if eligible.
Students will receive a receipt letter (I-797) with a reference number. This receipt will enable you to track your application status online. Students will not receive any updates until finally their OPT is approved--unless immigration requests evidence (I-797E). Once approved, the EAD card should come in the mail within 5-10 business.
Immigration is permitted up to 120 days to process the application. So unless you pay for Premium Processing, there is nothing further you can do until the 120 days have passed.
Can I use Premium Processing for my OPT application?
Beginning March 6, 2023, F-1 students applying for OPT and OPT STEM extensions are eligible to apply for Premium Processing which expedites the processing time to 30 days or less. Students must submit form I-907, which costs an additional $1,500.00 USD. More information about premium processing is available on USCIS's website here: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/all-forms/how-do-i-request-premium-processing
What counts as work related to my degree?
OPT only authorizes students to work in jobs that are related to the student's degree. This can be entry level, part-time, internships, hourly or salaried. If it is unclear to ISS based on the job title, we will refer to Faculty from the student's program to confirm.
Can I travel while on OPT?
Students are permitted to travel within the USA while their OPT application is still pending, however, students SHOULD NOT travel outside the USCIS while their application is still pending. This is considered as abandoning the application and it will be denied.
Once a student's OPT is approved, they are permitted to travel and should make sure to have the following documents with them when re-entering the USA:
- Valid passport
- Valid US F-1 visa stamp in passport
- Valid I-20 with travel signature less than 1 year old when re-entering the USA. If you need a new signature or if you’re not sure, please submit the travel signature form.
- Valid EAD card
- Job Offer letter form employer stating that you are returning to a current position
Please note that without having a job to return to, your entry to the USA may be denied.
Can I take classes while on OPT?
Students on OPT are eligible to take classes at any institution in the U.S. as long as they are also working.
What can I do when my OPT authorization expires?
If a student has concluded their OPT status and is pursuing another degree, they must notify our office within 60 days of the end of their OPT and request that we transfer their SEVIS record to the new school.
Do I have to file taxes for the time I worked on OPT?
Students on OPT are required to complete tax forms by April 15th .for each year or partial year that they worked on OPT. OPT students are still eligible to use our Sprintax support services.
- Students interested in the H-1 process should attend the Legal Seminar on working after graduation hosted each semester by the Padnos International Center.
What is the process for getting H1B?
Students should work with their employers to apply for H-1B work visas. GVSU's ISS team is not able to provide legal advice on the H visa application process,