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 April Graduates

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]

View an OPT Info Session!

Applying Online

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. 

Current Application Term: April 2024 Graduates

Online OPT Application Steps

For students Graduating in December 2023 (July), a live Zoom session will held on Monday, September 18, 1-2 PM. The link was/will be provided to enrolled iStudents in the September ISS Newsletter. Below are the materials from this session which you can reference at any time:

OPT Info Session Slides

Fall OPT Request Form  Spring OPT Request Form   Summer OPT Request Form   Winter OPT Request Form

Submit the appropriate request form linked above. Your requested start date is critical! This is used to create your OPT Request I-20 and considered by immigration when approving your OPT work authorizations.

PLEASE NOTE: This I-20 is valid for the purposes of your OPT Application for 30 days from the day it is issued. If you wait longer than 30 days to apply, you will need a new OPT Request I-20 from our office. If you apply using the I-20 more than 30 days after it is issued, your application will be denied. 

Before beginning your online application, we recommend you prepare all the items necessary to complete the application.

  • Photos: Have 2 color passport photos made. They are available for purchase at Walgreens. A digital copy is preferred for online applications. Passport photos must be of yourself and taken within the last 6 months.
  • Color scans of the following:
    • passport photo page
    • visa stamp in passport book
    • most recent I-94 (may be found at: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov)
    • previous EAD, front and back (if applicable)
    • previous I-20s
    • new OPT Request I-20 -- your application will be denied without the OPT Request I-20 (see step 2)

Students must create an account online: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/

Begin your application by clicking ‘File a Form Online’ under ‘Select What You Want To Do’ (if you do not have cases in progress) or through the ‘My Account’ tab. Select ‘I-765, Application for Employment Authorization’ from the list of options -> Click ‘Start form.’

Review the Sample I765 Form as a point of reference/example.

The system will prompt you to submit the documents we listed in step 3.

$410 must be paid at the time of applying.

Payment can be made by:

  • Credit Card
  • Debit Card
  • Checking Account
  • Savings Account

After completing all the steps as prompted by the online form, make sure to submit your application. Before submitting, make sure you have provided all of the following:

  • Passport Photos
  • I-765
  • Scan of passport photo page
  • Scan of visa stamp
  • Scan of I-94
  • Scan of previous EAD (if applicable)
  • Scan of new I-20 endorsed for OPT
  • Scans of I-20 Previous I-20s 
  • Payment

Premium Processing

In 2023 USCIS started offering Premium Processing. Premium Processing is an expedited process, where USCIS guarantees a 30 day approval for OPT and OPT STEM applications. Some are approved in as little as two weeks. The filing fee is $1,500.

Process

  • Request Premium Processing All pending and initial Form I-765 petitions filed by F-1 students are eligible to request premium processing
  • If you have already filed your form I-765 requesting OPT or a STEM OPT extension and you now wish to request premium processing, file Form I-907 online or with the Chicago Lockbox
  • After the I-765 is approved, your EAD card should be produced within two weeks but please allow 30 days before contacting USCIS. 

Payment

  • The fee is $1,500 if you are requesting premium processing of Form I-765 with eligibility category (C)(3)(A), (C)(3)(B), or (C)(3)(C)
  • You can pay the fee with a money order, personal check, cashier’s check (make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
  •  Or pay by credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions

Tracking


OPT Employment Reporting

The OPT Employer Reporting form must be submitted online so that ISS can update your information in SEVIS.  


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. 

Who is eligible for the STEM Extension?

The CIP code listed on your I-20 must EXACTLY match a STEM approved CIP code as it appears on the USCIS list of STEM approved programs. More information about STEM Extensions is available on our STEM OPT webpage

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. 

OPT Steps

OPT Steps to apply

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). 

OPT Timeline

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?

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 can be found on this page under Premium Processing and 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: 

  1. Valid passport
  2. Valid US F-1 visa stamp in passport
  3. 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.
  4. Valid EAD card
  5. 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, 

Applying by Mail

For students Graduating in December 2023 (July), a live Zoom session will held on Monday, September 18, 1-2 PM. The link was/will be provided to enrolled iStudents in the September ISS Newsletter. Below are the materials from this session which you can reference at any time:

OPT Info Session Slides

 

Fall OPT Request Form  Spring OPT Request Form   Summer OPT Request Form  Winter OPT Request Form

Submit the appropriate request form linked above. Your requested start date is critical! This is used to create your OPT Request I-20 and considered by immigration when approving your OPT work authorizations.

Photos get 2 color passport photos made. They are available for purchase at Walgreens. Optional: You can lightly write your first and last name on pencil on the reverse side in case your photos are separated from your application while processing.

$410 check made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security

This can be:

  • personal check
  • money order (Meijer's customer service desk, bring $410 cash)
  • Sample Money Order

Complete the following forms on a computer--we DO NOT recommend filling them out by hand:

  • G-1145
  • I-765
    • original signature required!  
    • print one-sided for your application to USCIS
    • Sample I765 Form

Both forms may be found at: www.uscis.gov 

Make color photocopies of the following to submit to USCIS, making sure all documents are single-sided (no double-sided copies):

  • passport photo page
  • visa stamp
  • I-94 (may be found at: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov)
  • previous EAD (if applicable)
  • previous I-20s

Arrange all your prepared documents in this order (from top to bottom):

  • Passport Photos
  • Check
  • G-1145
  • I-765
  • Copy of passport photo page
  • Copy of visa stamp
  • I-94
  • Copy of previous EAD (if applicable)
  • Copy of new I-20 endorsed for OPT
  • Copies of I-20 Previous I-20s (newest to oldest)

You can use one paper clip or binder clip to keep all the papers together. Please do not use multiple clips and never use staples for immigration applications.

Depending on your carrier of choice, you will send your OPT application to one of the addresses below. Pay special attention that you are choosing the correct one. Please do not submit your OPT application electronically to USCIS until further notice.  Mail your documents.


Regardless of carrier we HIGHLY recommend paying for tracking so you know when your documents arrive to USCIS. 

Via USPS:

USCIS
P.O. Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

Via FedEx, DHL, or UPS:

USCIS Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn
3rd Floor
Chicago, IL, 60603-5517

This I-20 created for you in step 2 is only valid for OPT Request for 30 days from the date it was issued. Please make sure to apply before the 30 day window expires or your application will be rejected.
 



Page last modified December 18, 2023