On This Page: Overview • Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion • Eligibility Criteria • When to Apply • OPT Start and End Dates • How to Apply • Maintain Status on OPT • Travel During Post-Completion OPT • Additional Resources
What OPT is:
- Off-Campus Work Authorization: OPT is a form of work authorization that offers you the opportunity to gain practical work experience in your major field of study.
- Flexible in Timing: OPT can be utilized either before or after completing your degree program.
- 12-Months in Duration: OPT gives you up to 12 months of employment per (higher) degree level, with an optional 24-month extension for eligible STEM fields.
- Authorized by USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services authorizes OPT after receiving a completed application with an I-20 recommending OPT.
What OPT is not:
- Not Automatically Granted: OPT is not immediately available to you upon entering the U.S. in F-1 status. You must meet specific eligibility requirements to qualify.
- Not a Separate Visa Category: OPT is a benefit of your F-1 visa status. It is not a separate work visa or visa category.
- Not Employer-Specific: While on OPT, you can work for any U.S. employer, in any state, as long as it is related to your major field of study. You do not need to have an employer before applying for standard OPT.
Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion
OPT is available both before and after your studies are completed. Pre-completion OPT is intended for work during your academic program, and post-completion OPT is for employment after you graduate.
- Hours: Undergraduates and graduate students with coursework remaining can work up to 20 hours per week (part-time) during the fall and spring semesters. Part-time or full-time employment is allowed during winter and summer breaks.
- Unemployment: No penalty for unemployment.
- STEM & Cap-Gap Extension: You cannot apply for the STEM or cap-gap extension from pre-completion OPT.
Post Completion OPT:
- Hours: Full-time authorization, but only must work at least 20 hours per week to maintain status.
- Unemployment: Cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment
- STEM & Cap-Gap Extension: If otherwise eligible, you may be approved for the STEM or cap-gap extension from post-completion OPT
Graduate Students with Coursework Completed
If you are a graduate student who has completed all coursework except for a thesis, dissertation, or an equivalent project, you can apply for either pre- or post-completion OPT while finishing your degree. If applying for pre-completion OPT, you can request full-time authorization during the fall/spring semester.
To determine which option is best for you, meet with an international student advisor.
In total, you may be eligible for 12 months of standard OPT for each higher degree level you complete. If you do pre-completion OPT, then the time you utilize will be subtracted from the time available to you for post-completion OPT (subtracted at half the rate for part-time pre-completion OPT). For example, a student who utilizes 2 months of full-time pre-completion OPT and 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT will have 9 months remaining for post-completion OPT.
You must meet the following eligibility requirements to be recommended for OPT:
- You are in F-1 status
- You have been enrolled full-time for one full academic year (consecutive fall and spring semesters) in valid U.S. immigration status. Students studying remotely without an active I-20 record must enter the U.S. in F-1 status and enroll for one full academic year before becoming eligible for OPT.
- You are in good academic standing. If you have a low GPA or are on academic probation, ISS may hold your application until your grades are posted.
- You have not completed 12 or more months of full-time CPT.
- You have not previously been authorized for OPT at the same or higher degree level.
When to Apply
USCIS can receive your post-completion OPT application:
- No more than 90 days prior to your program end date
- No later than 60 days after your program completion date
- And within 30 days of when your I-20 was issued by ISS
You must receive your I-20 with OPT recommendation from ISS before you file your application with USCIS. Normal processing time for ISS is 10 business days. Please allow additional time to mail your application to USCIS. You must file Form I-765 while in the United States. If you have filed your application with USCIS during this period, you can remain in the U.S. after your 60-day grace period has ended with a pending application.
Program Completion Date
For immigration purposes, your program end date is the date that you complete your degree requirements, not the date of your graduation ceremony or degree conferral. Review the chart under Academic Changes: Program End Date.
- If you are completing your degree requirements prior to your I-20 end date, ISS will shorten your I-20. Please remember that you must stop all on-campus employment by the end date of your I-20.
- If you are completing your degree requirements after your I-20 end date, ISS will not automatically extend your I-20. You must instead formally request a program extension from ISS (go to Academic Changes: Program End Date for more information).
- If you are an undergraduate or master’s student finishing your program during summer or winter, you must enroll in at least one in-person class during your final term. For example, if you complete your degree during summer session II, you must register for at least 1 unit of in-person coursework during summer II.
OPT Start and End Dates
When we issue an I-20 recommending OPT, we will print your requested OPT dates on page 2 of your I-20. Consider these dates carefully; you cannot change them after submitting your application to USCIS.
- The requested dates for pre-completion OPT should correspond to your intended period of employment. Meet with an international student advisor for additional guidance.
- Start Date: Between 1 and 60 days after your program completion date (see above)
- End Date: 12 months after your OPT start date (minus any pre-completion OPT authorized at the same degree level)
For example, if your program end date is May 9, 2024, then you can request a post-completion OPT start date between May 10, 2024 and July 8, 2024. If you request a start date of June 1, 2024, your requested end date will be May 31, 2025 (assuming no pre-completion OPT at the same degree level).
- The dates printed on page 2 of your I-20 are only requested dates. The final dates will be determined by USCIS and printed on your EAD card upon approval.
- If you find a job before your requested start date, you won’t be able to start working until you have your EAD card in hand and your OPT period has started.
- You cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment total during the entire period of post-completion OPT.
- Post-completion OPT must end within 14 months of your program end date. If your OPT is not approved until after your 60-day grace period has ended, you will not be authorized for the full 12 months.
How to Apply
Applying for OPT authorization is a 2-step process. First, you have to request an I-20 recommending OPT from ISS. After you receive the new I-20 from ISS, you must submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
IMPORTANT OPT requests are reviewed and approved on a case by case basis. If you have questions about your eligibility for OPT, please meet with an advisor at International Student Services.
Step 1: Apply for an I-20 Recommending OPT from ISS
- If you are applying for post-completion OPT, pay the $75 OPT Case Management Fee. (You must upload a copy of the email receipt with your request.)
- Submit the Optional Practical Training e-form.
- If your degree has not yet been awarded in UAccess (under Academic Record > Academic Summary > Graduation Status), you will be asked to provide the name and email address for your academic advisor in the e-form. The advisor you indicate will receive an email with a link to MyGlobal, so he or she can provide information about your degree completion date and academic standing. If you have more than one major advisor, you must also submit the Secondary Advisor Information e-form.
Step 2: Apply for an EAD card from USCIS
You must file Form I-765 while in the United States.
Download the appropriate checklist below. USCIS offers the option to file electronically or to send the complete application to USCIS by mail. You must choose one filing option. Do not file both. You can read more about the Benefits of a USCIS Online Account on the USCIS website.
Normal processing time for ISS is 10 business days, from the date your academic advisor(s) submits the advisor portion of the e-form in MyGlobal. Processing time for USCIS varies. Follow these steps to check current case processing times:
For Form, select I-765 | Application for Employment Authorization.
For Form Category, select Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)].
For Field Office of Service Center, select Potomac Service Center.
Online filing of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, is now also available to F-1 students who wish to pay an additional fee for express processing (within 30 days). Visit the USCIS website for the fee amount and filing instructions.
For students who do not request Premium Processing, expedite options are extremely limited, and requests are frequently denied. For information about how to expedite your application with USCIS, read Chapter 5 – Request to Expedite Applications or Petitions of the USCIS Policy Manual. ISS will not expedite OPT requests and cannot review letters to USCIS to request expedited processing.
Maintain Status on OPT
While you are on OPT, you are still in F-1 student status and your SEVIS record is still maintained by the University of Arizona. ISS will remain your point of contact for all immigration questions and requests related to your F-1 record.
While you are on OPT, it is your responsibility to take the following actions to maintain your status:
- Only work during the validity period of your EAD. Working off campus without authorization is a violation of your status which will result in your I-20 being terminated without the option for reinstatement.
- Only work in jobs related to your major field of study (paid, unpaid or volunteer positions). For information about the types of employment you can accept on OPT, review the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) OPT Policy Guidance.
- Work an average of at least 20 hours per week
- Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment (post-completion OPT only)
- Report all changes to your address, employment information, visa status or permanent departure from the U.S. within 10 days of the change read more under OPT Reporting).
- If you enroll in classes, it must only be for recreational or avocational purposes. Your OPT will be automatically terminated if you transfer to another school or begin study at another education level. Read more at USCIS.gov.
Travel During Post-Completion OPT
Review the list below for details about the required documents for reentry during post-completion OPT:
- I-20: You must have a valid travel signature to reenter the United States. During post-completion OPT, travel signatures are only valid for 6 months. To request a travel signature, submit the Travel Signature e-form.
- Passport: Your passport must be valid 6 months into the future from the date of your entry into the U.S., unless your country has an agreement with the U.S. allowing entry with a passport until the date of expiration.
- Visa: You must have a valid F-1 visa to reenter the U.S., unless you are a citizen of Bermuda or Canada. If your visa has expired and you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island for less than 30 days, you may be eligible for automatic visa revalidation. For more information about visa renewal or revalidation during OPT, meet with an international student advisor.
- EAD: The bottom of the card says “not valid for reentry to the U.S.” This statement means that the EAD card alone is not sufficient documentation for entry to the U.S.
- Employer Letter: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recommends carrying a letter of employment if you have one (read Can I reenter if I left while on OPT?). There is no specific template for the employer letter.
Travel while OPT is pending
If your application for post-completion OPT is pending and your I-20 end date has passed, travel with caution. If your OPT is approved, you will be expected to have your EAD card in hand when you reenter. Read Can I reenter if my request for OPT is pending? for more information.
If you have additional questions, meet with an international student advisor to discuss your specific situation.
- ISS holds OPT workshops each semester to explain the application process and regulations affecting OPT in detail. They are open to all students. Check your university email and the Programs & Events Calendar for dates. If you are a department interested in arranging a workshop for your students, submit the form under Employment Authorization.
- Review Healthcare and Insurance for examples of health insurance providers that offer plans tailored to international students.
- If your employer has any questions about how to verify your eligibility to accept employment or complete the Form I-9, you can refer them to the M-274 Handbook for Employers.
- After you receive your EAD card, you are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) if you do not already have one. For more information about how to apply, visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website (select "Original Card for a Noncitizen Adult").