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OPT frequently asked questions

Please refer to the following information for answers to commonly asked questions about OPT:


Before you apply for OPT

What is optional practical training?

OPT is employment authorization for work experience that is directly related to your major field of study. You may use OPT for unpaid or paid work experience. You can utilize OPT in the following ways:

  • Full-time (More than 20 hours per week) as pre-completion OPT during summer break.
  • Part-time (20 hours or fewer per week) as pre-completion OPT while classes are in session and full-time enrollment is maintained.
  • After completion of a degree program (undergraduates: after graduate date; graduate students: after defense or graduate date of semester in which defense took place) as post-completion OPT.
  • Graduate students: After completion of all course requirements, excluding thesis or dissertation, as pre- or post-completion OPT.

Who is eligible for OPT?

To be eligible for OPT, you must:

  • Be in lawful F-1 status for one full academic year prior to applying for OPT
  • Have a passport that is valid at least six months beyond when you apply for OPT
  • Have no more than 364 days (less than one year) of full-time CPT

When should I apply for OPT?

The filing window for OPT is between three months before and two months after your program end date. You will be granted 12 months of OPT to end no later than 14 months after your program end date. USCIS processing typically takes about three months, so you should apply for OPT three months before you want to begin working on OPT to maximize the 12 months available.

If I had CPT, can I still have OPT?

Yes, as long as you did not have CPT full time for 12 months or more. Part-time CPT has no effect on OPT eligibility.

When you apply for OPT

What are the requirements needed to apply for OPT?

You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT, but you should apply three months before you intend to begin working.

How do I apply for OPT?

Please see the OPT application process for detailed information about the steps involved in applying for OPT.

What does the International Center do in the OPT process?

An international student adviser can recommend OPT permission; USCIS must give the final approval for OPT. The adviser will verify that you are in lawful F-1 status and then create a new I-20 for you with the OPT recommendation. The adviser will also review the rest of your OPT application materials and return the entire application to you with mailing instructions. Mailing the application to USCIS is your responsibility.

What documents should I send to USCIS for OPT?

Refer to step 3 of the OPT application process for information about which documents to include and where to send your application. The International Center will not make copies for you. Please have all your copies ready when you turn in your application.

Are there special ways to mail the documents?

You must submit your OPT application by mail. It is recommended that you send your application with a mail service that allows you to track when your package is delivered, but note that USCIS will not sign for the delivery (make sure "no signature required" is selected on your shipping envelope).

Rather than apply for OPT early, isn't it a better idea to wait until I have a job offer?

It can take up to 120 days to receive OPT work authorization, and many employers are unwilling to wait that long to fill a position. You should apply for OPT three months before you would like to begin working to make sure you have your work permit in hand to begin employment on time.

Can I use CPT as I wait for OPT approval?

CPT is to be used for meeting an integral curricular component within your degree program. CPT is not an option if you have a job offer for a full-time, benefit-eligible position and you have completed the degree requirements for your program of study. Once an academic program is completed, OPT is the only work authorization available for F-1 students.

After I have submitted my OPT application, can I change my start date?

If your OPT application has not been approved, it may be possible to change the start date. However, there is no guarantee that the request to change your dates will be approved. Please contact an international student adviser immediately if you would like to change your dates. Once an application has been approved, the start date cannot be changed.

Where can I find my receipt YSC number?

You will receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action from USCIS approximately two weeks after you mail your application. The YSC number is the receipt number printed in the upper left corner of the Form I-797. If you have your YSC number, you can check the status of your application online.

What if I do not have my USCIS Form I-797 (OPT receipt)?

If you do not receive a receipt (or you lose it), your receipt number will be printed on the back of the canceled check or money order you submitted to USCIS for the application fee. If you paid with a check, ask your bank for a copy of the canceled check and look on the back for your LIN number. If you paid with a money order, bring the money order receipt back to the place where you bought it. Ask for a copy of the back of the money order; it usually takes at least 24 hours. It is easier to track a canceled check than a money order.

When you have OPT authorization

Can I register for graduate examination credit while on OPT?

You may be eligible if you are past the academic program end date on your I-20 and you already applied for post-completion OPT. Before registering, please contact an international student adviser. If you have not passed the program end date on your I-20 and are applying for pre-completion OPT, you must enroll in research credit until you reach your program end date.

When can I start work under OPT?

You may begin work once the EAD card is in your hand and the start date has arrived.

Does OPT employment need to be full time?

If you have completed your studies, OPT employment must be full time. Full time for OPT purposes is anything 21 hours or more per week.

What if I cannot find employment?

Unemployment is limited to no more than 90 days during the whole 12 months of OPT. You are required to work in your field of study to maintain your status on OPT. What is considered work is flexible — you may be employed, intern, volunteer, etc. As long as you are getting full-time experience related to your degree, your status is maintained.

How is the 90-day unemployment rule regulated?

It is your responsibility to report your employment information to the International Center as soon as you have a position. An international student adviser will then update your SEVIS record to reflect your employment. You should use the Document Request System anytime you have subsequent employment or address changes.

Can I take classes during OPT?

If you have only research left and you already applied for post-completion OPT, you can continue to register until you finish the research requirements. You are subject to the 90-day unemployment rule, even if you are still registered. Beginning a new course of study will automatically cancel your OPT authorization. The International Center does not recommend taking a class that may later be used to satisfy new degree program requirements.

Can I change employers during OPT?

Yes. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any and all employers you would like. Submit your new employer's address through the Document Request System.

What type of visa am I on and can I travel outside the U.S.?

OPT is not a different status — you are an F-1 student holding an EAD card for OPT. See the OPT travel regulations for information about traveling.

How do I renew my driver's license while on OPT?

If you still live in Missouri, you will renew your license by similar procedures as you have followed as an F-1 student.

If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back?

If USCIS has not yet approved your application at the time you decide you do not want OPT, you may write USCIS and state that you want to withdraw your application. If your request is granted, you will not receive your application fee back, but you do retain the OPT time for later. If USCIS already has approved your application, then it is not possible to have the OPT authorization withdrawn or changed. USCIS will not return the application fee and you will not be eligible to apply for OPT again at your current educational level.

When you finish OPT

How long can I stay in the U.S. after my OPT expires?

60 days. This only applies if you have completed OPT. If you are on post-completion OPT and have accrued more than 90 days of unemployment, you are considered out of status and are not eligible for the 60-day grace period.

Can I return to school after completing OPT?

Yes, if you obtain a new I-20 for the next program of study within 60 days of completing OPT. This will require you to complete the process for moving to a new level of study (if you resume studies at MU) or the procedure for transferring schools (if you go to a different school).

I have finished 12 months of OPT and want to return to school. Can I have another year of OPT?

Yes, if your new degree is at a higher level than your previous degree (e.g., you had OPT at the master's degree level and are now working on a Ph.D.) and you meet the OPT eligibility requirements.