Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Reminder: Do not submit your OPT application to USCIS without first obtaining an OPT recommendation I-20 from PDSO Shelley Palmer.

Please note that these resources are intended for general informational purposes only and are not legal advice. It is your responsibility to review and follow all official instructions provided by USCIS.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is designed to provide F-1 students with an opportunity to gain employment experience in their chosen profession. This is initially granted for a period of 12 months. OPT may be used after the student’s program ends (post-completion OPT).

OPT jobs must be in your field and at your level. This means that the job opportunity must be directly related to your major and must require applicants to have your level of education. Please consult with your DSO if you are unsure if a position qualifies for OPT.

Post-completion OPT may be paid or unpaid (i.e. internship or volunteer work). You may also be self-employed or volunteer during your post-completion OPT period. Please see the section below on “Self-Employment and Volunteering” before pursuing this type of work.

Who is eligible for Post-Completion OPT?

To be eligible for for Post-Completion OPT, you must:

  • Be currently maintaining F-1 status
  • Have been studying with an active F-1 record for at least one academic year
  • Expect to graduate this term or have recently graduated from Bates
  • Be within the 90 days before your I-20 program end date, or be within the 60-day grace period following your I-20 program end date
    • If you are finished with your academic program, you can still apply for OPT as long as the USCIS receives your application within 60 days of the end date on your I-20 AND you have not left the U.S. since completing your program.
How do I apply?
  1. Attend an OPT information session with International Student Programs & Services
  2. Submit the form to request an I-20 for your OPT application.
  3. Prepare your OPT application materials.
  4. Schedule an OPT Application Review Session with PDSO Shelley Palmer to review your application materials.

Applying for OPT Online?

Follow steps 1 through 7 of the online OPT application instructions to prepare your application materials.

Remember, the OPT recommendation I-20 is a required component of your OPT application. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!

  • Stop and save your MyUSCIS application at the “Review and Submit” stage. Retrieve a draft of the I-765 form to bring to your OPT Application Review Session with PDSO, Shelley Palmer. Do not pay and submit until your draft submission has been reviewed.
  • Pay the OPT application fee and submit your OPT application to USCIS online. USCIS must receive your Post-Completion OPT application no more than 30 days after your OPT recommendation I-20 was issued. Late applications will be denied.

Applying for OPT by Mail?

Collect your materials and prepare your I-765 form using the mail-in application instructions. Bring your drafted I-765 and application materials to your OPT Application Review Session with PDSO, Shelley Palmer.

  • Schedule and attend a 30-minute OPT Application Review Session with the PDSO.
    • During this session, your OPT application materials will be reviewed and any questions you have can be discussed. If your application materials are not ready for review, please reschedule your review session.
  • Receive your OPT recommendation I-20 from the PDSO
    • After your OPT application review session, the PDSO will provide you with your OPT recommendation I-20. The OPT recommendation I-20 is a required component of your OPT application. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
  • Sign your OPT recommendation I-20 and add it to your OPT application. Make changes to your OPT application based on feedback from your OPT review session with the PDSO.
  • Be sure to sign your I-765 using ink. Unsigned or electronic signatures will not be accepted.
  • Submit your OPT application to USCIS by mail. USCIS must receive your Post-Completion OPT application no more than 30 days after your OPT recommendation I-20 was issued. Late applications will be denied.
  • Avoid common mailing errors when filing with the USCIS Lockbox. Please read the USCIS Lockbox Tip Sheet 
When do I apply?
  • The earliest you may apply for Post-Completion OPT is 90 days prior to the end date on your I-20, and USCIS must receive your OPT application no later than 60 days following the end date on your I-20.
    • If you are finished with your academic program, you can still apply for OPT as long as the USCIS receives your application within 60 days of the end date on your I-20 AND you have not left the U.S. since completing your program.
    • USCIS must receive your OPT application no more than 30 days after your OPT recommendation I-20 was issued by the PDSO.
    • Plan ahead and apply as early as you can. It generally takes 3-5 months for USCIS to process OPT applications. For the most up-to-date processing time estimate, visit the USCIS’s processing times page and search for Form I-765 at the USCIS Service Center listed in your receipt notice (typically, OPT cases are processed by the Potomac Service Center).
What can I expect as the USCIS processes my application?
  • Within a week or two of submitting your OPT application to USCIS, a paper receipt notice from USCIS will be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. (If you apply online, your receipt notice should be immediately available in MyUSCIS).
  • Your receipt number can be used to track your application status via the USCIS case status tool. (If you apply online, your receipt notice will become available immediately after submission.)
  • Application processing times vary, though they generally hover around 3-5 months.
  • Occasionally, USCIS may issue a follow-up “Request for Evidence” notice, asking for additional documentation. If you receive such a request, please consult with the PDSO.
  • If your application is approved, an approval notice will be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. (If you apply online, your approval notice will also be available in MyUSCIS).
  • If your application is approved, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will also be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. The EAD is a photo identification card that serves as your proof of OPT work authorization.
When can I start working?

You may start working when you have received your EAD and the approved OPT start date on that EAD is no longer in the future. You may not begin working any sooner than this.

Where can I start working?

You may work at any position that directly relates to your major field of study. You should feel confident in the connection between your major and your employment.

Work does not have to be paid on Post-Completion OPT. Volunteer and unpaid work, as long as it directly relates to your major field of study, counts on OPT as “employment.”

Remember, you must work at least 20 hours per week in order to be considered “employed” on Post-Completion OPT. You are permitted up to 90 days of cumulative unemployment time.

You may have multiple employers, as long as all of the work directly relates to your major field of study. The hours spent working each job should total, in sum, at least 20 hours per week.

How many hours can I work per week?

You can request authorization for Post-Completion OPT on a full-time basis only. You must work at least 20 hours per week, in roles directly related to your major field of study, while on Post-Completion OPT.

What do I need to report while on OPT?

Don’t forget to report your employment, and any other notable changes.
Within ten days of the following changes, you are required to report:

  •  employment: name, address, and employment dates of your job
  • changes to employment (adding a job, leaving a job, changing jobs)
  • changes in legal name
  • changes in mailing or residential address
  • deciding to depart the US with the intention of forfeiting the remainder of your OPT
  • returning to school full time
  • changing out of F-1 status

To report your employment and any of the above changes, send an email to PDSO Shelley Palmer.

Am I allowed to take time off between jobs?

Yes. However, you may not be unemployed for more than 90 days (cumulative) during your period of approved Post-Completion OPT.

Remember, in order to be considered “employed” while on Post-Completion OPT, you must be working a minimum of 20 hours per week. Working less than 20 hours per week is considered “unemployment” on Post-Completion OPT; time spent working under 20 hours/week counts toward the 90 days of permitted unemployed time.

Notes:
  • For immigration purposes, you will continue to be considered an F-1 student visa holder and a Bates College student as long as you maintain your F-1 OPT status.
  • You must be physically present in the U.S. at the time of submitting the complete OPT application to USCIS.
  • You are permitted to remain in the U.S. while your OPT application is pending. However, after your program end date, you may not work on- or off-campus until your OPT has been approved and you have received your EAD card.

Refer to our I-765 Supplemental Instruction Guide in addition to USCIS’s instructions on completing the USCIS Form I-765 for Employment Authorization. 

Self-Employment and Volunteering

If you report self-employment, you must document all work-related activities carefully and make sure that you are working a minimum of 20 hours a week. You may need to show proof of your self-employed work to USCIS at a later time. We encourage you to keep your calendar up to date, track your time, and keep track of billable hours.

Volunteering is also tricky. You can only report volunteer work if it meets the requirements of OPT (in your field and at your level of study). It is important to note that volunteering opportunities are typically only found in the public sector (non-profits, charitable organizations, etc.). There is no such thing as “volunteering” for a private or for-profit organization. These institutions generally must offer an unpaid internship for unpaid work. It is very important not to accept a position with any company that is violating US Department of Labor laws. If you have any questions about an opportunity you are thinking of pursuing, please contact the PDSO.

Travel While Applying for or Working On OPT

Please consult our Travel page for specific guidance depending on where you are in the OPT process.

H1-B Cap Gap

Students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in the US may qualify for H1-B sponsorship. Per USCIS, “An F-1 student who is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition and request for change of status that is filed on time may have his or her F-1 status and any current employment authorization extended until the first day of the new fiscal year.”

This allows you to remain in the US and continue employment until your H1-B application is approved and takes effect on October 1st, provided that your H1-B application is received by USCIS prior to the end of your current OPT status. Keep in mind though that this automatic extension of work authorization will also automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition. If this is the case, you will need to leave the U.S. immediately.

You can learn more about H1-B Cap Gap on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States page on this topic. For students who wish to apply for an H1-B visa, we encourage you to work with an experienced immigration attorney.

Disclaimer: International Student Programs & Services has prepared this information to provide you with general guidance. However, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on these pages, should not be construed as legal advice. Due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, it must be understood that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of State (DOS) may change their interpretations of established immigration laws/regulations and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time.