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International Student Resources: Optional Practical Training (OPT)

This is a libguide with resources for international students at Eastern Nazarene College

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Your F-1 student status allows up to one full-year (12 months) of off-campus employment authorization to gain practical experience related to your major field of study. This year of U.S. work permission is called Optional Practical Training (OPT).

  • Allows for paid and unpaid experiences
  • Must be used for training related to your major field and appropriate to your level of education
  • Allows you to have multiple employers (including self-employment) within authorized dates

Students graduating with certain majors may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT authorization under the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) extension.  Speak with a DSO for more information.

OPT Eligibility

As an F-1 student, you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT authorization per academic level. You can choose to start using your OPT time after you have been enrolled for one full academic year, but many students choose to save their OPT year until after graduation.

You may earn a new year of OPT eligibility if you move to a higher level of education in the U.S. (for instance, from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s degree).

You may be eligible to apply for OPT if:
  1. You hold valid F-1 status
  2. You have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time college/university student for at least one full academic year (two full semesters)
  3. You are in good academic standing with Eastern Nazarene College
You may NOT qualify to apply for OPT if:
  • You were previously authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT); part-time CPT does not affect your eligibility for OPT
  • You have previously received OPT authorization for the same or higher educational level
  • If you are on a leave of absence or suspension from ENC
  • You have had a status violation or a break in F-1 status in the past academic year and have restarted your F-1 status by traveling with a new “initial” I-20

Keep in mind that an ENC DSO will review your academic record and your immigration history to evaluate whether we can recommend you for a period of OPT. The final decision on whether to approve your case is made by USCIS.

Part-Time and Full-Time OPT

When you apply for OPT, you will indicate if you are requesting permission for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (anything over 20 hours) OPT.

You can apply for periods of OPT authorization as follows:

  • Part-time during a regular semester of study
  • Part-time or full-time during summer vacation
  • Part-time or full-time if you are a graduate student who has completed all coursework and is currently completing the thesis stage of your degree
  • Full-time to begin after graduation

If you apply for part-time OPT, it will be deducted from your 12-month total at half the rate. For instance, if you were to apply for 4 months of part-time OPT, you would use the equivalent of 2 months of full-time OPT so you would still be eligible to apply for your remaining 10 months.

Types of OPT

Pre-Completion OPT

You can apply to start using your OPT time as soon as you have been enrolled for one full academic year (two full semesters) and while you are still completing your program of study.

Pre-completion OPT is available part-time only during Fall and Spring semesters, but you can choose either part-time or full-time during summer vacation periods or if you are in the thesis stage of a graduate degree.


Post-Completion OPT

You may wish to save all or most of your 12 months of OPT eligibility to use after you complete your program of study.

When applying for post-completion OPT, you must be registered for graduation or have a letter from your academic advisor verifying the date of expected completion.

When Should I Apply for OPT?

We recommend that students apply 90 days before the requested OPT start date, as it can take this long for the USCIS to reach a decision on the application. The timing of submitting your OPT application differs depending on whether you are applying for pre-completion or post-completion OPT.  Contact a DSO for advice and to begin the process.

Step 1:  Confirm Your Graduation Date

Check with your academic advisor to make sure you are on track to graduate when you expect to.

Submit your graduation application to the Registrar's Office in spring of your Junior year.

Step 2:  Prepare Your Documents

Since USCIS makes the final determination about whether to approve your request for OPT, it's important that your application is complete and accurate.  Gather the following documents:

  1. Form I-765: Print the form here so you can see what the questions are before you begin the online form.
  2. Make a digital copy of each of the following items: (JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, or TIFF only; no larger than 6MB file size)
    • All I-20s (front and back sides)
    • Valid passport
    • F-1 visa stamp in your passport (does not have to be valid)
    • Download your most recent I-94 (front and back sides)
    • Any previous EADs
    • Any other immigration documents
    • Unofficial transcript from ENC (DSO can help with this)
  3. Digital copy of a passport-style photograph (JPG, JPEG, or PNG format only)
  4. Payment of $410 (can be by ACH withdrawal or a debit/credit card)

Step 3:  Make an Appointment with a DSO

Meet with the DSO to review your application documents (above).

  1. The DSO will issue a new I-20 that specifically recommends OPT.  Include this new I-20 with your application documents.
  2. During your appointment, review the OPT Acknowledgment Form (below) with the DSO.  Sign it and keep a copy for your records.

Step 4: Submit Your OPT Application Online

  1. Sign in or create a new account at
  2. Select "File a Form Online"; I-765 Application for Employment Authorization is toward the bottom of the list.
    • The online form is the same as the PDF version linked in Step 1
    • The form will automatically save when you move to a new section (see the navigation list at the left)
    • A draft of your online form will be saved for up to 30 days while you work on it
    • Answer the questions based on your conversation with the ENC DSO
  3. Fix all alerts and warnings.  You can't submit your application with any alerts.
  4. On the application summary page, save a PDF of your application by clicking "View Draft Snapshot."
  5. Read the statement carefully and sign the final declaration page by typing your full legal name.
  6. Before you make your payment, double-check (again!) that all information is correct.  You will not be able to submit any corrections after you pay.
  7. Once you submit, you will receive a confirmation email from  Save this for future reference.
  8. You can check in on the status of your application by logging into your myUSCIS account and clicking on Case Status, Case History, or Documents for Application History/Receipt.

Maintain Status During OPT

During OPT, there are three criteria for maintaining lawful F-1 status:

  1. Active employment within limits
  2. Accurate SEVP records
  3. Valid immigration documents


Employment Limits

  • Cannot begin working until Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is received and only within approved dates on the EAD
  • Must work in a job related to major and commensurate with degree level
  • Can be paid employment or unpaid training
  • Self-employment is permitted
  • Unemployment time is limited to 90 days (cumulative)
  • Must work at least 20 hours per week to count as “active” OPT


OPT Reporting

Use the SEVP Portal to see your record and complete your own reporting:

  • Report your new U.S. address within 10 days of a move
  • Report any new OPT employment start date and employer name/address
  • Report how OPT job relates to major
  • Report OPT employment end date

STEM Extension Eligibility

Certain majors in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields may qualify for a 24-month extension of OPT

  1. Must have a qualified STEM Major (match the CIP code on your I-20 to one of the codes on this DHS list)
  2. Employer must participate in the e-Verify program (search here)
  3. Employer must file Form I-983 STEM OPT Training Plan


Students may apply based on a prior degree in a STEM field:

  • From a US institution that is accredited and SEVP-certified
  • Degree earned within the past 10 years
  • Did not already apply for STEM extension after completion of prior degree
  • Student does not have to have been in F-1 status during the prior degree