Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization that provides F-1 visa students an opportunity to apply knowledge gained in their field of study to a practical work experience. OPT workshops are offered during each semester. Click here for the semester schedule. Please also read our page on Degree Completion and review the OPT Tutorial before applying for post-completion OPT. The OPT Facts flier provides OPT application FAQs.
- Students are eligible to apply for OPT if they have been a full-time F-1 student in good standing for at least one full academic year.
- Students don't need to have a job before applying for OPT, but once they have employment, the work must directly relate to their major.
- Post-completion OPT must be full-time (at least 20 hours per week). Pre-completion OPT must be part-time (less than 20 hours) while school is in session and students must maintain full-time course enrollment.
Duration of OPT: Standard OPT authorization is granted from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a maximum period of 12 months (pre- and post-OPT combined). OPT extension beyond 12 months is possible for STEM students who meet several criteria. Employment must be directly related to the major and field of study (not the minor degree).
OPT Application Cost: $410 payable by check or money order to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (Fee will increase to $490 on 10/3/2020)
Processing Time: Once the application is received by USCIS it takes an average of 90 days before it is approved. Employment may not begin until student has received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and the dates are valid.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD): The EAD is a small card with your photo, fingerprint and/or signature and OPT authorization dates of employment printed on the card. It is issued by the USCIS. Your employer will need to see the original EAD to hire you.
Periods of Unemployment: Although a job offer is not required to apply for OPT, students authorized for 12 months of OPT are not permitted more than 90 days of unemployment.
STEM OPT Extensions: If you are a student in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and interested in requesting a 24-month extension to your OPT, see the STEM Extension Page.
How to Apply: (NOTE: Please read the instructions for Form I-765 on the USCIS I-765 webpage for the most updated instructions on applying for OPT, as information including the filing fee, are subject to change.)
1. Complete the OPT Request Form: To initiate OPT, this form must be completed and submitted to your international student advisor. Your advisor will enter the proposed employment dates into SEVIS and will give you a new I-20 with OPT requested information and proposed employment dates on page 2 of the I-20. Forms take two to five working days to process. You have 30 days from the date the international student advisor enters employment dates into SEVIS to file Form I-765 and mail supporting documents.
2. Go to the USCIS website to access USCIS’s basic guidelines on the employment authorization application. Scroll to the bottom of the page to download the instructions and Form I-765.
3. I-765 Application for Employment Authorization: Once you have read the instructions, begin filling out Form I-765.
4. Address: The address you listed on your I-765 form will be the address USCIS will use to mail your EAD card and any other correspondence related to the I-765 (e.g. Notice of Receipt, Request for Further Evidence). Make sure it’s an address you can use three to four months from when you apply. If you will be moving from your current address, you should use a friend/sponsor’s mailing address to list in the I-765 application. If you use someone else’s address, it should be listed as:
Jane Doe (your name)
C/O Robert Smith (your friend’s name)
1156 Yosemite Street (street address)
Merced, CA 95454 (city, state and zip code)
5. Mail the Form I-765 and supporting documentation listed below to USCIS within 30 days of receiving the new I-20 with the OPT request. Mail your application package to the appropriate USCIS address as listed on the I-765 website. Keep a copy of these items for your records.
You must submit two recent 2in X 2in identical passport pictures to send along with all your documents. The USCIS instructions offer more details on photo requirements. On the back of the photos, using a pencil, write your last name and Alien Registration (I-94) number.
SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS (Students MUST read the USCIS website instructions for Form I-765 for any updated documentation requirements)
- Completed Form I-765 (original form, or copy of web receipt if filed online)
- New I-20 requesting OPT on page 2, printed within the last 30 days
- Copy of Passport picture page (must be valid for at least six months into the future)
- Copy of F-1 Visa picture page (visa can be expired)
- Copy of printed I-94 from Customs Border Patrol (CBP) webpage
- Prior I-20s if you have a previous SEVIS ID number from another school or were approved for CPT/OPT
- $410 check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Fee will increase to $490 on 10/3/2020)
- Two passport photos (strict requirements regarding size)
OPT Application Timeline
1. Students can apply for OPT 90 days before end date or as late as 60 days after end date. ISSO advisors encourage students to apply BEFORE program end date regardless of proposed OPT start date.
2. Student can pick his/her own OPT employment start date, as long as it is within their 60-day grace period. The employment start date can be as early as the day after you complete your program or it can be as late as the 60th day of your grace period. The employment start date must be between those dates within your 60-day grace period.
Reporting Requirements While on Approved OPT
An F-1 student who is authorized by USCIS to engage in Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment is required to report any change of name, change of employment or address within 10 days of the change. A UC Merced student can use the OPT Reporting Form to report any of the above mentioned changes and the SEVIS Student Portal. Following OPT approval, the Department of Homeland Security will send you instructions on how to create your SEVIS Student Portal account. The email will come from firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do not receive the email, check your spam or junk folder. If you still do not see it, contact your Designated School Official (DSO) in OIA to have the email sent to you again.
Students with an approved 24-month OPT STEM extension must make a validation report to the DSO every 6 months using the STEM OPT Participation Reporting Form.