Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of the F-1 visa program that allows you to pursue experiential learning opportunities in the U.S. that directly relates to your program of study. While an OIE Designated School Official (DSO) recommends a student for OPT, it is the student who must apply for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the OPT is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Students can utilize this benefit once per education level once they have completed at least one year in their academic program. There are three types of OPT: pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, and STEM OPT extension.
There is much to know about OPT. OIE offers OPT workshops on average once a week throughout the year to help students understand the application process, status maintenance requirements, travel expectations, and more. You are not required to bring any materials with you to the workshop, but you are encouraged to review the required OPT guidance below prior to attending. Please arrive at least 5 minutes prior to the start time of the workshop as once the workshop begins, the advisor will close the workshop. If you are unable to attend an in-person workshop, we also offer an online version of the OPT workshop found in the following link, https://oie.gatech.edu/isss/opt.
General OPT Eligibility Requirements:
Students are eligible to apply for OPT after completing one academic year of full-time enrollment. This means that if a student begins their academic program in a fall semester, they will be eligible for off-campus work after attending full-time fall and spring semesters. If a student begins in the spring semester, they must attend a full-time spring semester and the next fall semester before becoming eligible for OPT.
Students are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT once per education level.
Students become eligible for another 12 months of practical training upon changing to a higher education level. Students are ineligible for OPT at the lower education level after participating in practical training at a higher education level.
Students must first request the recommendation from OIE before mailing in their application to USCIS. Per 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11), failure to request the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation before mailing the OPT application to USCIS will most likely result in the student being denied the OPT benefit by USCIS.
Students can apply for the OPT benefit up to 90 days prior to their program end date and no later than 60 days after their program end date. (Students are encouraged to ensure their I-20 program end date aligns with their graduation date)
Student must be present and inside the U.S. in order to file their OPT application with USCIS.
Students that have participated in 11 months and 28 days or more of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT at that education level.
Students are not required to have a job offer to apply for OPT.
How to Apply for OPT:
Complete the OPT request form within iStart.
An OIE advisor will review your request and respond to your request via email within 5 business days. If you are eligible to receive the OPT recommendation from OIE, the student will continue through the steps listed below.
Student will collect the new I-20 form from OIE and then mail their OPT application packet to USCIS within 30 days of the recommendation.
We encourage you to review page 2 of the I-20 form to ensure the OPT recommendation is listed and the requested OPT dates are accurate.
Gather the forms and documents listed below to compile your OPT request packet to mail to USCIS. You are also encouraged to review the I-765 form instructions to determine if any additional documents need to be submitted along with your request. Please Be Aware: Do not submit an electronic OPT application or e-file your application. These applications can take longer or even be denied by USCIS.
G-1145 e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. Use this form to request a text and/or email when USCIS accepts your I-765. This should be the first page of your application package.
Two US-style passport photos with your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo.
Students can take passport photos at the BuzzCard Center. Passport photos must meet the Department of State’s photo requirements detailed on their website.
Review USCIS's instructions on how to complete the I-765 form. You are also encourage to review OIE's additional gudiance for the I-765 form. As part of your request for the OPT recommendation I-20 form, you will upload a copy of your I-765 form. OIE will review your I-765 form as part of the request and make edit suggestions.
If applying for pre-completion OPT, use code (c)(3)(A) in line 27. If post-completion OPT, use (c)(3)(B).
You are encouraged to type your answers within the I-765 PDF but you must sign the form by hand and in black ink on page 4. Electronic signatures are not accepted by USCIS.
Include a check or money order for the I-765 filing fee made payable to US Department of Homeland Security. Please review USCIS’s website for the filing fee amount.
If paying by check, do not use a starter check which does not contain one’s name and address printed on the top left corner of the check. Be sure to sign and date the check as well as put the I-94 number in the memo/”for” section. If the address is incorrect, do not cross out and change – leave it as is.
Students who do not have a check with a name and address should use a money order. Make sure to write your most recent I-94 # on the Money Order. Do not write on the back of your check/money order.
If paying filing fee by credit card (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover) you must complete USCIS's Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transaction and mail with your application.
Copy of new I-20 containing your signature on page 1 and the OPT recommendation on page 2.
USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after you receive your recommendation for OPT.
Copy of I-94 record.
If you have an electronic I-94 record, visit CBP's website and print out your most recent I-94 record. If you still have a paper I-94, include a copy of the front and back of your I-94 card. The paper I-94 card is the white card typically stapled in the passport.
Copy of the most recent F-1 visa. Students who do not have an F-1 visa because of changing status in the U.S. should include a copy of the most recent visa and the I-797 verifying F-1 status approval (If you are a Canadian citizen, you may enclose a copy of your citizenship card or a birth certificate & a government-issued photo ID rather than a copy of the visa).
Copy of the biographical page from your passport (with expiration date at least 6 months in the future or proof of application for a new passport).
If applicable, copies of any previous I-20 forms with OPT or CPT authorizations listed. Note, your signature is expected to be listed on page 1 on all I-20 forms.
If applicable, copies of any previous EAD cards for OPT
Mailing OPT Application Packet
Now that you assembled your OPT application packet, you must mail the packet to the USCIS Service Center. Remember, USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after you receive your recommendation for OPT. Please review USCIS's website, https://www.uscis.gov/forms/forms-information/uscis-phoenix-and-dallas-lockbox-facilities, to determine where to mail the OPT application packet. You are expected to use the USCIS Service Center assigned to the mailing address you provided on the I-765 form. We encourage you to purchase tracking services when mailing your packet so that you can ensure the packet is timely delivered to USCIS.
After USCIS Receives Your OPT Application
USCIS will receipt your I-765 application and notify you electronically and via regular mail service utilizing the I-797C receipt notice. You can expect to receive the paper receipt notice within 2-3 weeks of USCIS receiving your OPT request. Review your personal information listed on the receipt notice - your name and mailing address - to ensure accuracy. If you need to update information with USCIS, follow the instructions provided on the receipt notice by USCIS or call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.
USCIS processes most I-765 requests within 90 days of the receipt notice. While most cases are processed within 90 days, there is a chance your application could take longer. Please review USCIS’s case processing times page to find out more about the expected processing times for your application. If you believe your case is outside normal processing time, you can submit an inquiry to USCIS regarding the status of your application. If USCIS receives your Post-Completion OPT request and needs additional information, the following may occur:
USCIS issues request for evidence (RFE)
USCIS may determine that additional information is necessary in order to adjudicate your request. USCIS will stop the processing of your application and issue a letter or RFE explaining what additional documentation is required. USCIS will communicate a deadline for when you must respond with the additional support documentation. If you do not provide the requested evidence by the deadline, USCIS will deny your OPT application. Once USCIS receives the additional information, an officer will resume the processing of your petition and the “processing clock” will resume.
OPT application is rejected by USCIS
If your application is rejected by USCIS, USCIS will return your OPT packet along with a letter explaining the reason for the rejection. In this scenario, your OPT packet will not be receipted by USCIS. Please immediately contact OIE and provide a copy of the rejection letter. OIE will assist you with understanding the reason for the rejection and provide guidance on eligibility for refiling the I-765 request. Please note, if you receive the rejection notice after your filing window for OPT, you may no longer be eligible to apply for the OPT benefit.
Maintenance of Status after USCIS Issues EAD
Maintenance of status is the responsibility of the F-1 student visa holder at all times while inside the U.S. The information below provides a reminder of some of the requirements to maintain status, but is not intended to cover every scenario. If you have a question about maintenance of status, it is your responsibility to seek out guidance from International Services or a qualified immigration attorney.
Per 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A), F-1 student visa holders may not begin Optional Practical Training (paid, unpaid, or voluntary employment) until the start date indicated on his or her employment authorization document (EAD) and until the EAD has been received by the student. Again, you cannot begin any kind of volunteering, paid employment, or unpaid employment before receiving your OPT EAD card, nor prior to the start date listed on your OPT EAD card. F-1 student visa holders in violation of 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(10)(ii)(A) are in violation of status and subject to termination of their SEVIS record. Additionally, under a new proposed policy effective August 2018, F-1 student visa holders in violation of status begin to accrue unlawful presence from the date of the violation irrespective of government or sponsor notice. If you begin working before receiving your EAD card or before the start date listed on your EAD card, your F-1 SEVIS record will be terminated for unauthorized employment and you will begin accruing unlawful presence. You would then be ineligible to continue working on OPT and you would be expected to depart the U.S. immediately. Unauthorized employment also jeopardizes your eligibility for future employment benefits such as the 24-Month STEM Extension and the H-1B visa.
Once you have obtained your EAD card and you are in your authorized period of OPT employment, you are expected to work a minimum of 20 hours per week in a position related to your field of study. You have up to 90 days of unemployment starting on the approved OPT start date listed on your EAD card. If you reach the 90-day unemployment limit, you should make plans to either depart the U.S. or seek alternatives if you wish to remain inside the U.S. You are expected to report employment and changes to your information within 10 days of any change. Please note, since you will not be a student while on OPT, you will no longer be enrolled in an insurance plan and should seek personal medical insurance. Please see our Health Insurance after Graduation website for more information.
Reporting Requirements for Maintaining Status
When employed all students on OPT are required to report the following updates to an International Student Advisor using iStart.gatech.edu. Instructions on how to update your OPT employer information is located here. To learn what types of employment are allowed while on OPT, click here.
Change of name (use Personal Information Update e-form through iStart)
Changes to U.S. and foreign addresses (use Personal Information Update e-form through iStart)
Name of employer, and any change of name of employer (iStart)
Address of employer, and any change of address of employer (iStart)
Interruption of such employment (iStart)
To report your employment or unemployment information, log into iStart and complete the OPT Personal Contact / Employment Update e-form found under the OPT tab.
If you cannot log into iStart using your current Georgia Tech ID# or password please follow these instructions please see here. If you continue to have issues please contact us at email@example.com.
OPT and Traveling Abroad
F-1 Regulations allow students participating in OPT to travel abroad, but there may be additional risks and/or additional documentation to prepare. Visit the OIE's OPT and Traveling Abroad website for more information.
Options After Post-Completion OPT
If you plan to depart the U.S. and DO NOT plan to return to use your OPT, complete the "End OPT" eform in iStart. The OIE will use this information to complete your SEVIS record so that you do not accrue days of unemployment.
Transferring Your SEVIS Record
If you are admitted to a U.S. institution while you are on OPT or during the 60 day grace period after your OPT, it is possible to request the transfer of your SEVIS record. Whether your record would be eligible for transfer will depend on important factors such as when you would be starting your studies at the new institution and whether you have been employed or unemployed during your OPT period. To request the transfer of your active SEVIS record, please complete the Transfer Out request within your iStart Student Portal.
Change of Status
If you are considering remaining in the U.S. during your OPT or within your 60 day grace period in another visa status, you can apply for a change of visa status under the guidance of a qualified immigration attorney. If you change visa status while on OPT, complete the "Change of Status from F-1/F-2" eform in iStart
24-Month STEM OPT Extension
Students that have studied in a STEM eligible field, may be eligible to extend their OPT benefit for 24 months. OIE encourages you to visit our OPT STEM Resources webpage to learn more about eligibility requirements, the application process, reporting requirements, and other related aspects of the extension. Once a student's post-completion OPT end date has passed, the student is no longer eligible to apply for the OPT STEM extension.
H1B and the Cap Gap Extension
While on OPT, your employer may choose to file an H1B visa application on your behalf. If your OPT expires prior to the start of the H1B, you may eligible for the Cap-Gap Extension. The Cap Gap is a benefit that is automatically applied to students’ immigration records and will be reflected once the H1B petition is receipted by USCIS. We encourage you to visit Study in the States website to review eligibility requirements for the cap-gap. If you believe you are eligible for this benefit, complete the "Cap-Gap I-20 Request" eform in iStart .
If an H1B application is filed in your name, you are encouraged to contact us to discuss your responsibilities for maintaining your F-1 status. We also encourage you to speak with a qualified immigration attorney.
60 Day Post-OPT Grace Period
If none of the above options are applicable to you, at the end of your OPT period, the U.S. government provides a 60-day grace period where you are eligible to remain inside the U.S. You must depart the U.S. no later than the 60th day after your OPT end date in order to avoid visa overstay penalties, as you will begin to accrue unlawful presence after the 60th day. During the 60-day grace period you are ineligible to travel internationally and re-enter on your current record.
Optional Practical Training Resources:
Have more questions about OPT? Review our OPT FAQ page.
To learn more about the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension, please visit our STEM OPT Extension website.
OIE Practical Training Fee
The Office of International Education will collect a $35 fee each time an international student holding an F or J student visa receives practical training benefits in the form of Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Academic Training (AT). Student e-forms submitted to the OIE for review after June 15, 2017 will be required to show evidence of PTF payment. Specific instructions for paying the fee will be include in the respective eform.
For more specific information about the PTF, please visit OIE's website: https://oie.gatech.edu/isss/ptf