Optional Practial Training (OPT)

Center for International and Cultural Education

OPT Information

  • OPT is an off campus employment authorization designed for gaining experience in your major area of study.
  • You may apply for pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. Most students apply for post-completion OPT, to use after they graduate, and use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for off campus employment prior to graduation. 
  • You must apply (date USCIS receives your application) no sooner than 90 days before the program end date on your I-20 and no later than 60 days after the program end date.
  • You must apply (date USCIS receives your application) no later than 30 days after the DSO submits the OPT recommendation in SEVIS.
  • You should apply at least 90 days before you plan to begin your employment, as USCIS can take 3 months or more to process your application.
  • The period of OPT is 12 months, which you must use within 14 months of graduation. When you apply, you must request an OPT start date that is within 2 months of graduation. It is very difficult to change that date after you have applied.
  • You do not need an offer of employment to apply.
  • OPT employment must be directly realted to your major field of study.
  • You may apply for OPT at each education level (bachelors, masters, doctorate).
  • If USCIS approves your application, it will send an Employment Authorization Document (OPT card) to you. You must have that OPT card before you can begin working. You may be employed only between the beginning and end date indicated on your OPT card.
  • During your 12 months of OPT, you may not be unemployed for more than 90 days. You must work at least 20 hours a week. A job or unpaid internship or volunteer work related to your major can count as employment.
  • You must report your employment to SEVIS, which keeps track of the number of days that you are unemployed.
  • You may travel outside of the U.S. during OPT. To return, you will need your passport, a valid F-1 visa, your I-20, your OPT card, and documentation showing that you have a job to return to.
  • If your major is in one of the designated STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, and your employer is registered with E-Verify, then you may apply for a 24 month extension of your OPT. You must apply for the 24 month STEM OPT extension before your current OPT authorization expires.

How to Apply

Meet with Jeff Anderson. Jeff will:

  • Enter your OPT request in SEVIS (including your requested start and end dates).
  • Enter "Student seeks employment directly related to major field of study. Requesting 1 full year of OPT" in the "student remarks" field in SEVIS.
  • Print and sign a new I-20 with OPT recommendation, and give that to you.
  • Help you to complete forms and prepare supporting documents for the OPT application.

Mail the following to the USCIS location that processes OPT applications for your region:

  • $410 application fee. (May pay by check or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" or by credit or debit card using Form G-1450.)
  • Form G-1145. (Use to request that USCIS notify you electronically of receipt and approval of your application.)
  • Form I-765. (Use code (c)(3)(B) in item 20. Your signature must fit completely within the lines.)
  • 2 passport style phontos. (Must be taken within 30 days of filing your application. Lightly print your name and I-94 number in pencil on the back of each photo. Gustavus Dining Service will provide passport photos.)
  • Copy of Form I-94. (Can download from the CBP I-94 website.)
  • Copy of Form I-20 showing the OPT recommendation, signed by you and your DSO.
  • If you have done CPT, include the SEVIS printout showing periods of CPT.
  • Copy of the ID pages of your pasport. (Passport photo page and F-1 visa page).

If you live in Minnesota and use United States Postal Service (USPS), mail your OPT application to:

USCIS; PO Box 805373; Chicago, IL 60680

You should use USPS Priority Mail or another USPS service that provides a tracking number or delivery receipt, so you can prove that you mailed the application if USCIS if needed.

You must use a different USPS address if you do not live in Minnesota or if you use FedEx, UPS, DHL or other service.

After You Apply

OPT receipt. Soon after receiving the application, USCIS should send a receipt by email or text, and later a paper receipt by mail. 

Check on the status of your OPT application. Go to USCIS case status online and enter your receipt number. You may also sign up to receive alerts from USCIS regarding your application. You may also call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283.

Processing time. It can take between 3 to 5 months for USCIS to process an OPT application. You may go to USCIS Case Processing Times and choose "I-765 Application for Employment Authorization" and "Potomac Service Center" to get an estimate, though the range of time varies. There is no way to expedite cases that have been pending for less than 5 months.

OPT start date. When you apply for OPT, you request a start date, which you cannot change. If your OPT application is approved after the start date that you requested, then USCIS will use the date of approval as the OPT start date, instead of the date that you requested.

Communicate with your employer or prospective employers. If you have a job offer or are interviewing for jobs, you can tell the employer that you have applied for OPT, and let them know the OPT start date that you requested, but that your actual start date may depend on how long it takes for USCIS to process the application. Hopefully your employer will be understanding and flexible.

Make a secure plan for getting your OPT card. If you have a new address that is a reliable location to receive your OPT card, it is be best to update your address in SEVIS and with USCIS, so the card will be sent directly to you (see instructions below). Having the OPT card sent directly to you will be faster and more reliable than having your OPT card go to your Gustavus PO box, and then sent to you by a friend or by me. When approved, USCIS will send your OPT card by USPS Priority Mail, with a tracking number. If you don't receive that OPT card at your new address, which they can verify with the tracking number, they can send you a replacement OPT card. But if the OPT card arrives at Gustavus, which they can verify with the tracking number, but it gets lost between Gustavus and your new address, then they will not replace the OPT card, and you would have to re-apply, pay the $410 application fee again, and wait 3 to 5 months again, which basically makes it impossible to do OPT. So, it is extremely important to make sure you get that OPT card, and best to have it go to your new address, unless you don't have a new address where you can reliably receive that OPT card. 

Change of address. If you have a new mailing address that is a reliable location to receive your OPT card, then you should email your new address to Jeff, to update in SEVIS. You should also go to the USCIS Change of Address page and provide your new address. If you do that, then USCIS should send your OPT card to your new address. On the USCIS Change of Address form, you should choose "I765" as the "Form Number" and choose "I765 - Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(e)]" as the "Form Sub Type".

Gustavus PO box. The Gustavus Post office normally closes your PO box when you graduate. Jeff will ask the Gustavus Post Office to keep your PO box open until your OPT card arrives, in case your OPT card goes there, instead of your new address. Please let Jeff know when you have received your OPT card, and Gustavus will then close your PO box. You can have your other Gustavus mail forwarded to you by contacting the Gustavus Alumnii Office to give them your new address, but that is not an option for forwarding your OPT card, as USPS Priority mail cannot be forwarded.

OPT SEVIS Reporting Requirement. Immigration laws require that you report your address and employment information to SEVIS, while you are on OPT. You must report the information, and any subsequent changes to that information, within 10 days. You may report the information to Jeff, to enter into SEVIS, or directly through the SEVP Portal.

OPT – SEVIS Reporting Requirement form. Jeff will enter the information into SEVIS. If you work for more than one employer, please complete the form more than once, for each employer. If you change address or change employers in the future, please complete the form again, within 10 days.

SEVP portal. You may report your address and OPT employment information directly to SEVIS, through the SEVP portal. Or you may choose to report your OPT information to Jeff, and not use the SEVP portal. When your OPT application has been approved, the portal will send an email to you with a unique link to create a portal account. You may ignore that email if you prefer not to use the portal. You can find more information at SEVP portal help or SEVP portal student user guide. It can be helpful to have Jeff look at what you plan to submit, to avoid any possible mistakes or issues.

OPT employment requirement. Immigration laws prohibit you from being unemployed for more than 90 days during your period of OPT. Therefore, reporting your employment information to SEVIS is very important. If you do not report employment information to SEVIS within 90 days of your OPT start date, then SEVIS may terminate your SEVIS record, which cancels your OPT and F-1 status. If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during your period of OPT, DHS will consider you to be "out of status" and immigration laws require you to leave the U.S. or apply to change your status. A job or unpaid internship or volunteer work related to your major can count as employment, and should also be reported to SEVIS, to avoid the 90 day unemployment restriction.

Social security and medicare taxes. You are exempt from paying social security and medicare taxes for the first 5 years you are an F-1 student. Any part of a year counts the same as a full year. If you began as an F-1 student in the U.S. before 2016, then you may have to pay social security and medicare taxes in 2020, as you will have been here for more than 5 years. If you have been here 5 years or less, you should check with your employer (usually the Human Resources or Payroll Department) to make sure that they do not withhold social security and medicare taxes from your pay. If they withhold social security and medicare taxes from your pay, it is hard to get it back. Your employer should not object, as it can save them money. You may cite IRS Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens to show your employer that they should not withhold social security and medicare taxes, if you have been here 5 years or less. In the menu on the IRS website, click on “Students and Exchange Visitors” under “Social Security and Medicare Taxes”. You will see the following (relevant language in italics):

"Students and Exchange Visitors. Generally, services performed by you as a nonresident alien temporarily in the United States as a nonimmigrant under subparagraph (F), (J), (M), or (Q) of section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act are not covered under the social security program if the services are performed to carry out the purpose for which you were admitted to the United States. This means that there will be no withholding of social security or Medicare taxes from the pay you receive for these services. These types of services are very limited, and generally include only on-campus work, practical training, and economic hardship employment. Social security and Medicare taxes will be withheld from your pay for these services if you are considered a resident alien as discussed in chapter 1, even though your nonimmigrant classification (“F,” “J,” “M,” or “Q”) remains the same." (IRS Publication 519)

Tax returns. If 2019 was your 5th year or less in the U.S. as an F-1 student, then you will still do the non-resident tax return for 2019. If you have been in the U.S. more than 5 years as an F-1 student, you will be considered a resident for tax purposes and will complete the same return as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. You may get tax forms on the IRS website. You can see your Gustavus W-2 form on WebadvisorSprintax and Glacier Tax Prep do non-resident tax returns, for a fee, and could be good options for you after graduation.

Post OPT plans. While you are on OPT and planning for your future, Jeff is happy to advise you on STEM OPT applications (if your major is a STEM major), H-1B strategy, transferring to graduate school, and more.