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F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of temporary employment authorization for F-1 students which allows them to gain practical experience in their field. Post-Completion OPT occurs after a student has finished their degree program. A student approved for Post-Completion OPT is authorized to work in the U.S. in a job directly related to their field of study for up to 12 months. F-1 students can apply for OPT following each higher degree.

Optional Practical Training FAQ

  • Am I Eligible for Post-Completion OPT?

If all of the below statements are TRUE, then you are eligible to apply for OPT:

  • I am completing my degree or have only thesis remaining.
  • I have been lawfully enrolled full-time for at least one academic year (fall and spring) immediately preceding my degree completion.
  • I have maintained my F-1 status.
  • I have NOT been approved for 12 months or more of full-time CPT.
  • I have NOT been approved for OPT in the past for the same current degree level or a higher degree level.
  • I will apply for OPT within the deadlines - no more than 90 days before my graduation date and no more than 60 days after my graduation date.
  • How Do I Apply for OPT?

Step 1: Determine if You are Eligible
Read through the information in this section of the website and determine if you are eligible for OPT. If you are unsure whether or not you are eligible for OPT or have questions about the application process, you can see Express Advising hours for ISSS on the ISSS Advising Services page.

You must apply for OPT within the appropriate filing deadlines. ISSS highly recommends that you apply early because processing time can take 1-4 months. There is a very useful Planning Tool for Post-Completion OPT (recommended browser: Internet Explorer) located on the Study in the States website, which can help you determine your filing deadlines.

Step 2: Choose Your OPT Start Date
You choose when your OPT work authorization will begin. The Planning Tool for Post-Completion OPT (recommended browser: Internet Explorer) can also assist you with determining your OPT start date.

  • Applying early does not change your range of start date options. You can apply early and still choose a later start date.
  • Your OPT start date must be within 60 days of the end of the semester (as listed on the University Academic Calendar) or your GA contract end date (whichever is later).
  • If you already have a job offer, you can make the start date match the start date of your job.
  • If you do not have a job offer, then choosing this date can be tricky. You need to make your best estimate as to when you will likely begin employment.
  • This date cannot be changed later.

Step 3: Submit an OPT Request to ISSS in the ISSS Portal
You will need to submit this request in order to recieve your new OPT I-20 document from ISSS.

  • Your Academic Advisor should be listed as the "Approver" at the bottom of your OPT request . They will be notified that you submitted an OPT request and will need to submit their approver form.
    • For graduate students, your approver will be your graduate coordinator which can be found here
    • For undergraduate students, your primary advisor can be found in the Success Team page in your My.IllinoisState account. 
  • After your Academic Advisor submits their approver form, you will see the status of your OPT request change to "Submitted". That is how you know your request has been officially submitted to ISSS for processing. You can always check the status of your request within the ISSS Portal.
  • ISSS will review your OPT request within 10 business days and issue you a new I-20 document that reflects our recommendation for OPT and lists your requested employment dates on page 2.
    • The OPT status on your I-20 will say Requested. ISSS will not provide you with an updated I-20 that says Pending or Approved unless you make an update to your employer information.

Step 4: Create a USCIS Online Account and Get Started on Your I-765
F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) can file Form I-765 online. To file online, you must first create a USCIS online account at https://myaccount.uscis.gov/. This free account allows you to submit your I-765 form online, pay the application fee, track your case status, communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox, and respond to Requests for Evidence.

While you are waiting for ISSS to process your OPT request , you can begin filling out your I-765 online. Just be sure you DO NOT SUBMIT the I-765 until you receive your new OPT I-20 from ISSS. Your new I-20 must be uploaded to your I-765.

ISSS highly recommends you review the Tips for Filing Online section below as you are completing the online I-765.

Step 5: Gather Your I-765 OPT Application Materials
For full details of what is required for your OPT application, please visit the USCIS website. The following list of application materials is provided for your convenience and is not meant to replace the official instructions listed on the USCIS website. All files must be saved as one of the following acceptable file formats: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, or TIFF and must not exceed the maximum file size of 6MB.

  • Form I-765 filing fee (this must be submitted using a credit card, debit card, or ACH withdrawal from a U.S. checking or savings account)
  • One passport-size photo taken within the last 30 days
    • You cannot reuse an old visa or passport photo.
    • The travel.state.gov website has a useful Photo Tool that can help verify that your photo meets USCIS requirements.
  • Digital copy of Employment Authorization Document (EAD card; front and back) or government ID
    • If you were not previously issued an EAD card, you must upload a government ID. In most cases, this is your passport.
  • I-94 Record - This record changes every time you reenter the U.S. Make sure you have the most recent copy.
  • Digital copies of any previously issued OPT/CPT I-20 documents
    • You must upload any previously issued I-20s showing CPT or OPT authorization (on page 2). This includes I-20s from any previous U.S. schools you have attended.
  • Digital copy of your new OPT I-20 document (see Step 6)
    • You must upload a digital version of your OPT I-20 issued by ISSS. Make sure you have signed your I-20 before uploading.

Step 6: Sign Your New I-20 from ISSS
You will be notified via email when your new OPT I-20 is ready. Your I-20 will be uploaded digitally in the Control Center (Documents section) of your ISSS Portal. You must print and sign your new I-20 (in ink).

Step 7: Submit Your I-765 OPT Application Online
See the Tips for Filing Online section below for important details before you submit. Make sure your application is complete and accurate before paying the fee and submitting.

ISSS highly recommends that you file online. If you prefer to send a paper application, you can refer to the OPT Application Checklist and the I-765 Direct Filing Addresses page of the USCIS website to find the appropriate address to use.

Premium Processing

Premium processing (Form I-907) provides expedited processing for certain USCIS forms. For an additional fee, you may apply for premium processing while initially filing for OPT or while the application is pending. If properly filed, premium processing gurantees USCIS will take adjudicative action on your I-765 within 30 calendar days. This means that within 30 calendar days USCIS will take one of the following actions on your case:

  • issue an approval notice
  • issue a denial notice
  • issue a notice of intent to deny
  • issue a request for evidence
  • open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation

IMPORTANT: Premium processing does not guarantee your EAD card will be produced and arrive within the 30-day deadline.

  • The 30-calendar-day premium processing timeframe does not include the time it takes to produce your EAD.
  • After USCIS approves your Form I-765, your EAD should be produced within one to two weeks.
  • When your card arrives will vary depending on USPS delivery times.
  • Tips For Filing Online

ISSS will not review I-765 applications as you as the applicant are responsible for the completeness and accuracy of your application. These tips are provided for your convenience. They should not be viewed as legal advice and are not meant to replace the official instructions listed on the USCIS website.

Getting Started

  • What is your eligibility category? - Choose (c)(3)(B) Student Post-Completion OPT
  • What is your reason for applying? - Choose "Initial permission for employment"
  • Have you previously filed Form I-765? - Only choose "Yes" to this question if you have previously filed with USCIS for an EAD card

About You

  • What is your current U.S. mailing address? - Enter a U.S. mailing address that will remain VALID for the next 1-4 months. If you do not have an address that will remain valid, you can enter the address of a family member or friend and enter their name in the "In Care Of Name" field. You can list a U.S. Post Office address (P.O. box) as your mailing address if that is how you receive your mail.
  • In care of name (if any) - Your name should not be entered into this field. Only fill out this field if you have entered the address of a family member or friend as your current U.S. mailing address.
  • Place of Arrival - Your "Place of Arrival" is the location where you officially went through customs. You can find this by looking at your most recent entry stamp or your Travel History from the I-94 website.
  • What is your travel document number (if any) - You can leave this field blank.
  • What is your A-Number - Most students filing OPT will not have an A-Number. Your A-Number is listed as the USCIS# on the front of your most recently issued EAD card.
  • What is your USCIS Online Account Number? - If this is your first time filing an online form with USCIS, you will not have a USCIS Account Number yet.

Evidence

  • Employment Authorization Document or Government ID -If you were not previously issued an EAD card, you must upload a government ID. In most cases, this is your passport.
  • Post-Completion CPT or OPT - Upload any previously issued I-20s showing CPT or OPT authorization. You can see any previous OPT/CPT on page 2 of your I-20s. This includes I-20s from any previous U.S. schools you have attended. Make sure to upload both page 1 & 2 of each I-20 document.
  • Form I-20 - Upload a digital version of your OPT I-20 issued by ISSS (from Step 4 above). Make sure YOU have signed the I-20 document before uploading. Your signature must be a wet signature and cannot be a digital signature. Make sure to upload both page 1 & 2 of your I-20 document.

Additional Information

  • Use this section to explain, clarify, or elaborate on your responses or the documents you uploaded as evidence.
    • Previous SEVIS IDs: If you have had other SEVIS ID numbers in the past, enter them in this section and include the level of study (Bachelor's, Master's, or Phd) and whether you were authorized for any CPT or OPT under that SEVIS ID number.

Review and Submit

  • Review your application carefully for completeness and accuracy before submitting. It is your responsibility, as the applicant, to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your I-765 application.
  • Before paying the application fee, confirm you are still within the 30-day window after the date your OPT I-20 was issued. Do not submit if you are outside of this window and contact ISSS immediately.
  • Once your payment has been processed, your application will be considered submitted, and you cannot make any further edits.
  • Immediately after submtting your application, you will be able to click on "Go to my cases" and click on the "Documents" tab to view your Receipt Notice.
  • While Your Application is Pending

OPT Receipt Notice

Immediately after submitting your online I-765 application, you should see confirmation on the screen that your I-765 was successfully submitted.

  • Click on Go to my cases and navigate to the Documents tab to download your Receipt Notice and a PDF of your completed I-765 form.
  • Upload your OPT Receipt Notice to your ISSS Portal by submitting an OPT Receipt Notice Upload (found in your Control Center).
  • Within two weeks of submitting online, you should also receive a paper Receipt Notice (Form I-797) in the mail.

USCIS Processing Time

USCIS, not ISSS, is reponsible for processing your I-765 application for OPT. Therefore, ISSS has no influence or control over USCIS processing times.

  • OPT processing times can vary. There is no guarantee USCIS will process your application within a specific time frame.
  • You can check your case status by logging in to your USCIS Account and navigating to the Case Status tab of your I-765 application. ISSS recommends you set your account notifications to receive both text messages and emails and login to your account on a weekly basis to check for updates or action items.
  • While your I-765 application is pending with USCIS, you are permitted to stay in the U.S. awaiting adjudication of your case.
  • If your application is adjudicated on or before the OPT start date you requested, then your EAD card should reflect your chosen date. However, if your case is adjudicated after the OPT start date you requested, then your EAD card start date should be the same as the date your case was adjudicated by USCIS.
  • If your application has been pending more than 90 days, and you have not received your EAD card, you can call the USCIS Customer Service number listed on your Receipt Notice and ask that they open a service request. You can also submit a case inquiry for Outside Normal Processing Time online.

Premium Processing

Premium processing (Form I-907) provides expedited processing for certain USCIS forms for an additional fee. If properly filed, premium processing gurantees USCIS will take adudicative action on your I-765 within 30 calendar days. This means that within 30 calendar days USCIS will take one of the following actions on your case:

  • issue an approval notice
  • issue a denial notice
  • issue a notice of intent to deny
  • issue a request for evidence
  • open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation

IMPORTANT: Premium processing does not guarantee your EAD card will be produced and arrive within the 30-day deadline.

  • The 30-calendar-day premium processing timeframe does not include the time it takes to produce your EAD.
  • After USCIS approves your Form I-765, your EAD should be produced within one to two weeks.
  • When your card arrives will vary depending on USPS delivery times.

Address Changes

While your OPT application is pending, you must report any changes in address to both ISSS and USCIS within ten days of moving to the new address. It is also important to update USPS with any changes of address to ensure the proper delivery of your EAD card.

  • Update ISSS by updating your contact information in your MyIllinoisState account (pre-graduation) or by submitting an SEVP Portal Update request in your ISSS Portal (post-graduation).
    • If you need to update your address at the same time you are reporting employment, you can do so by submitting an OPT Relationship to Major request in the ISSS Portal.
  • Update USCIS by updating your address in your USCIS online account.
  • Update the United States Postal Service (USPS).

EAD Card

  • If you created a USCIS account and signed up for case status updates, you should automatically be notified via email when your application has been approved and your EAD card has been sent to production and shipped.
  • Your USCIS Account should provide the USPS tracking number for the envelope containing your EAD card. Generally, your card will arrive within 10 days from being shipped.
  • Once received, you should upload your EAD card to your ISSS Portal by submitting an OPT EAD Card Upload (found in your Control Center).
  • You may only begin working after you have received your EAD card and the start date on the card has been reached.
  • On or after your OPT EAD card start date, you will receive an email from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov with a link to setup your SEVP Portal account. Please review the Reporting Requirements section of this page for full details on how you should utilize the SEVP Portal to report information to ISSS.
EAD Card Not Received

If the USCIS site shows that your card was delivered, but you have not yet received it, then you should contact your local post office. If you are still unable to locate the card:

  • First, make sure that the address on file with USCIS is correct and update it in your USCIS online account if needed.
  • Then submit a case inquiry for Non-Delivery of Card online.
  • Follow up in a few days by calling the USCIS Customer Service number listed on your Receipt Notice to check the status of your inquiry request.

Possible reasons for non-delivery:

  • The address you wrote on the original I-765 was illegible or incorrect. For example, if you live in an apartment and you did not include the apartment number on the I-765, then the envelope may not be delivered.
  • You requested USPS to forward your mail to a new address, and did not update your new address with USCIS. EAD cards are mailed by USPS as "Return Service Requested". This means they will not be forwarded to a new address.
  • You updated your address with USCIS but did not change your address with USPS. EAD cards are mailed by USPS as "Return Service Requested". This means they will only be delivered if the individual named on the envelope is officially associated with the address on the envelope.
EAD Card Errors

After you receive your EAD card, you should look it over and make sure everything is correct. If you find any errors on the card, the process of correcting them depends upon the cause of the error:

  • If the error was caused by USCIS, then the Notice of Action you received with your EAD card should have instructions on how to fix the error. You can also fill out the USCIS online typographical error form.
  • If the error was caused by you (the applicant), then you must refile an entirely new I-765 OPT application with USCIS, including submitting the full filing fee again.
  • The Job Requirement and Unemployment While on OPT

Job Requirement

Any job you take while on OPT must be directly related to your field and level of study. To be considered "employed" while on OPT, you must be working for at least 20 hours/week in a paid or unpaid position. If you are working multiple jobs, they must collectively add up to at least 20 hours per week.

You cannot begin working on OPT until you have your EAD card in your hand and the start date has been reached, and you must stop working on the end date listed on the EAD card.

Employment Must Be Related to Major

According to SEVP Guidance found at https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/optDirectlyRelatedGuidance.pdf, all F-1 students must provide a description of how their OPT employment is directly related to their major area of study.

You must submit on OPT Relationship to Major request for each employer you have while on Post-Completion OPT to explain how your employment is related to your degree. Please see the Reporting Requirements section below for full details.

If you are uncertain whether a potential job would be considered in your field of study, ISSS recommends that you obtain a signed letter from your employer and/or a faculty member within your previous ISU academic department stating how the job duties directly relate to your field of study.

You may also wish to utilize websites that provide a general crosswalk between jobs and programs of study, such as:

Unemployment Limit

While on OPT, you cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment for the entire 12 months. Staying past the 90-day limit may be considered a violation of status by DHS.

The 90 days does not start counting until the start date listed on your EAD card. Weekends are included in the calculation.

  • Reporting Requirements

Though you may no longer be an ISU student, you are still in F-1 student status while on OPT and continue to have requirements to report information to ISSS.

ISSS Portal

Shortly after you graduate, you will receive an email to set up your new "non-integrated" ISSS Portal account. This email will be sent to your personal (non-ilstu) email you provided in the OPT Request you submitted to ISSS. Your ISSS Portal account will no longer be tied to your My account because you will no longer be a student.

SEVP Portal

You will gain access to the SEVP Portal through a link sent to you via email. This email will come from do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov and will be sent to the email address currently listed in your ISSS Portal profile. The email with the link to the SEVP Portal will only be sent after:

  • Your OPT has been approved AND
  • The start date on your EAD card has been reached.

If you believe you should have received this email but did not, please first check your spam or junk mail folders. If you still do not see it, please submit an SEVP Portal Account Reset request in the ISSS Portal.

Locked SEVP Portal Account

If you have been locked out of your SEVP Portal account, click the "Reset Password" link on the SEVP Portal Login page. The SEVP Portal will send you an email with a temporary password so you can log in and create a new password.

If you already attempted to reset your password and are still unable to log in to the SEVP Portal, please submit an SEVP Portal Account Reset request in the ISSS Portal.

Reporting Changes

You must report any changes in your personal contact or employment information to ISSS within 10 days. All ISU F-1 students on OPT must report changes as follows.

Please refer to the table below to see how to report any changes that you make in your SEVP Portal.

For additional information, see the SEVP Portal Help page on Study in the States.

Student Information in the SEVP Portal How to Report to ISSS
Add New Employer

Submit an OPT Relationship to Major request for each employer you add in your SEVP Portal. Your request will not be procesed until ISSS can see your employer information in SEVIS. The information you enter in the SEVP Portal should match the information you enter in the request. You cannot enter a start date that is more than 10 days in the past in your SEVP Portal, so you should update your SEVP Portal with the closest date to your actual start date. If you were unable to provide your actual start date in your SEVP Portal, make sure you provide your true start date in the ISSS request.

Edit Current Employer

Step 1: Update your SEVP Portal with the changes.

Students can edit:

  • Employer Address
  • Job Title
  • Full-Time/Part-Time Indicator
    • The total number of hours you work per week for your job(s) must add up to a minimum total of 20.
  • Start and End Date
    • You cannot enter a start date that is more than 10 days in the past, so you should update your SEVP Portal with the closest date to your actual start date. If you were unable to provide your actual start date in your SEVP Portal, make sure you provide your true start date in the ISSS request.
  • Relation to Field of Study Description
  • Self-Employment Indicator

Step 2: Submit an SEVP Portal Update request .

Delete Employer Submit an SEVP Portal Update request . You should only delete an employer if you never ended up working for them.
Personal Contact Information Updates

Step 1: Update your SEVP Portal with the changes.

Students can edit:

  • Personal Address
  • Mailing Address
  • Telephone Number(s)

Step 2: Submit an SEVP Portal Update request or, if you are reporting a new employer at the same time your personal address changes, submit an OPT Relationship to Major request . If, after ten business days, you do not see the change reflected in your ISSS Portal, please submit a Post-Completion Student Help Ticket...

Student Email Address Submit a  Post-Completion Student Help Ticket with your new email address. ISSS will update your email address in the ISSS Portal, and you will receive an automatic email with temporary login credentials. Click on the link in the email to log in to the ISSS Portal. Your new username for the ISSS Portal will be your updated email address and you will create your own password. ISSS will update your email address in SEVIS, and you will receive an automatic email from SEVP with temporary login credentials. Log in to the SEVP Portal with your new email address and temporary password.
Student Name

Log in to the ISSS Portal and upload your new passport showing your new name to your Personal & Program tab in the Passport upload field. Then, navigate to your Control Center tab and submit a Request Inquiry . Include notes in the Request Inquiry describing the name change you need to make. Before making any changes to your name, please note that you will have to reapply for OPT (and pay the application fee again) in order to update the name on your EAD card.

 

Other Changes

Please see the chart below for information regarding other common changes that should be reported while on OPT. Submit a Request Inquiry in the ISSS Portal if you need to report a change that is not covered by the information on this page.

Leave the U.S.: Submit a Program Completion request in the ISSS Portal if you plan to depart the U.S. prior to your OPT end date, with no plans to return and resume OPT.
Transfer to Another School: Submit a Transfer Out request in the ISSS Portal if you plan to stop working on OPT and transfer to another U.S. institution to begin a new program of study.
Begin a New Degree Program: Submit a Change of Level request in the ISSS Portal if you plan to stop working on OPT and begin a new degree program at ISU.

Change of Status to H-1B: If your employer has filed for your change of status to H-1B, submit a Change of Status Receipt Notice Upload  in your ISSS Portal to upload a copy of your Receipt Notice. ISSS will verify that the change of status is showing on your SEVIS record, if applicable.

  • Depending on the timing or your Change of Status application (and other factors) you may be eligible for "Cap Gap" extension of your OPT (see below for details).
  • Remember that you must continue to maintain your F-1 status up until your new status begins.

Once you are approved for your change of status to H-1B:

  • Submit a Change of Status Approval Notice Upload in your ISSS Portal to upload a copy of your Approval Notice.
  • Log in to the SEVP Portal to update your OPT employment end date with your current employer. The end date should either be the expiration date of your OPT EAD card or the day before the start of your H-1B status (whichever is earlier).
Other Status Changes: If you have been approved for a change of status to something other than H-1B (Permanent Residency, for example), follow the instructions below.
  • Submit a Record Termination request for change of status in your ISSS Portal.
  • Log in to the SEVP Portal to update your OPT employment end date with your current employer. The end date should either be the expiration date of your OPT EAD card or the day before the start of your new status (whichever is earlier).
  • Your F-1 status will be terminated for "Change of Status Approved".
  • Remember that you must continue to maintain your F-1 status up until your new status begins.

Cap Gap Extension

"Cap Gap" is a term used to describe the "gap" between the end of OPT/STEM Extension and the beginning of H-1B status with an employer subject to the H-1B "cap".

You are eligible for a Cap Gap Extension to your OPT employment if:

  • Your employer timely filed an H-1B petition that was receipted before the end date of your OPT EAD AND
  • Your employer is subject to the numerical "cap" AND
  • The H-1B petition requested a change of status AND
  • The H-1B petition requested an October 1st start date

IMPORTANT: If your H-1B petition was receipted after your OPT EAD card expired (but before your 60-day grace period ended), then you are eligible for a Cap Gap Extension to your F-1 status, but not to your employment authorization. You can remain in the U.S. in F-1 status, but you cannot work during the "gap" period.

F-1 students who are eligible for Cap Gap and would like a new I-20 printed reflecting the extension of their status/employment should submit a Cap Gap request in the ISSS Portal.

Your are NOT eligible for a Cap Gap Extension if:

  • Your employer is cap-exempt OR
  • Your H-1B petition requested "consular processing" OR
  • Your H-1B petition requested a start date other than October 1st OR
  • Your H-1B petition was filed after your 60-day grace period expired (if this occurs, USCIS will likely deny the change of status portion of the petition, and you will be required to travel to change status)
Toward the End of OPT

Students who are STEM-eligible can apply for STEM Extension OPT up to 90 days prior to the end date of their Post-Completion OPT. See our STEM Extension page for further details and to determine your eligibility. If you are STEM-eligible, you must apply for your new STEM Extension I-20 and submit your application to USCIS prior to the end date of your Post-Completion OPT.

After the end date of your Post-Completion OPT, you are no longer authorized to work, but you have a 60-day grace period during which you can:

  • Prepare to leave the country
  • Transfer to another U.S. university
  • Start a new degree program
  • Change visa status (if eligible) - see the Change Status section of the chart above under "Other Changes" for further details
  • Travel within the U.S. (do not travel outside of the U.S., as students cannot re-enter the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student during the grace period)
  • Travel on OPT

Traveling outside of the U.S. prior to receiving work authorization is strongly discouraged. Attempting to enter the U.S. without proof of employment may result in denial. When traveling outside of the U.S. following OPT approval, the following documents are required:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid F-1 Visa
  • I-94 Printout marked D/S
  • Valid EAD card
  • I-20 with a valid DSO travel signature on page 2 (the signature is only valid for 6 months from the date it was signed)
  • Employment letter (stating: start dates, hours, and duties)
Request a Travel Signature

If the travel signature on page 2 of your most recent I-20 has expired, you can request a new signature by submitting a Travel Signature request in the ISSS Portal.