Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training is employment authorization for off-campus work that is directly related to your major field of study. You may use OPT for unpaid or paid work experience. There are three types of OPT:

  • Pre-completion: Start and finish before your program end date.
  • Post-completion: Start and finish after your program end date.
  • 24-month STEM extension: Certain circumstances allow you to apply to extend OPT for an additional 24 months.

Eligibility

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

Application process

Step 1: Attend workshop and prepare documents

Attend a mandatory OPT workshop (sign up through MU Connect). Then gather the necessary documents, which can be uploaded through myStatus or submitted in hard copy to International Student and Scholar Services:

  • Completed Form I-765 — most students should use eligibility category (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT
  • Copy of I-94 record
  • Copy of passport biographical page
  • Copy of visa
  • Copies of all previous I-20s
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents you have received from USCIS (if applicable)
OPT application timeline
Term First day to accept application Graduation date (I-20 end date) Last day of grace period
Spring 2020 Feb. 15, 2020 May 15, 2020 July 14, 2020
Summer 2020 May 2, 2020 July 31, 2020 Sept. 29, 2020
Fall 2020 Sept. 19, 2020 Dec. 18, 2020 Feb. 16, 2021
Spring 2021 Feb. 13, 2021 May 14, 2021 July 13, 2021

 

Step 2: Submit application to International Student and Scholar Services

After gathering the necessary documents, submit an online OPT request and upload your documents or bring them to International Student and Scholar Services (do not staple them). You will also provide the following as part of your OPT request:

  • OPT workshop review (review the workshop slides)
  • OPT adviser verification
  • OPT processing fee — payable by cash (exact change only), check or money order (payable to “MU International Center”)
    • $75 for initial OPT applications
    • $150 for OPT STEM extension applications

Do not submit your U.S. Department of Homeland Security check or photos to International Student and Scholar Services.

After you submit your application, all required documents and pay the OPT processing fee, an international student adviser will process your application within five business days. When your documents have been signed, you will receive an email that they are ready for you to pick up.

Start a new OPT requestReturn to existing OPT request

Step 3: Mail application to USCIS

Once you have receive your documents back from International Student and Scholar Services, you should gather all necessary items and submit your entire application to USCIS in the pre-paid envelope we provide.

Step 4: Monitor your EAD progress

Approximately two weeks after you mail your OPT application, you will receive a receipt from USCIS confirming that they have received your documents. The receipt will have a YSC number that you may use to track the status of your application online.

Step 5: Receive your EAD card

USCIS will make a decision on your application within 120 days. If approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document in the mail. You may begin working when you have the EAD card and the employment start date on it has arrived.

Frequently asked questions

Before you apply for OPT

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 not 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 does International Student and Scholar Services do in the OPT process?

An international student adviser recommends 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 them to you with mailing instructions and a pre-paid envelope. Mailing the application to USCIS is your responsibility.

Rather than apply for OPT early, is 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 for F-1 students.

After I have submitted by 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. 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.

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

If you do not have a receipt (or you lost 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 the 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, 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.

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 work 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 International Student and Scholar Services 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 links provided in your OPT or OPT STEM extension record in myStatus 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. International Student and Scholar Services 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 information through myStatus.

What type of visa am I on during OPT?

OPT is not a different status — during OPT you continue to be an MU F-1 student; you are simply an F-1 student holding an EAD card for OPT. Therefore, you must keep International Student and Scholar Services informed of any changes to your address or employment through myStatus. Your I-20 will be valid past its program end date if the OPT authorization dates on your I-20 have not passed. If you plan to travel while on OPT, you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20.

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

If you still live in Missouri, you will renew your license by similar proceduresas 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 you request is granted, your application fee will not be refunded, but you do retain the OPT time for later. If USCIS has already approved your application, then it is not possible for have the OPT authorization withdrawn or changed. Your application fee will not be refunded 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 new program of study within 60 days of completing OPT. This will require you to complete the process of changing to a new level of study (if you resume studies at MU) or the procedure for transferring to another school (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.

Can I have my OPT extended if I’ve applied for H-1b?

F-1 status and work authorization are automatically extended if you are on OPT and have a pending H-1B petition with an Oct. 1 start date. This extension is valid until the H-1B petition is approved or rejected. This automatic extension is available to all OPT participants, not just those with STEM degrees. To see the extension reflected on your I-20, contact an international student adviser to reprint your document.

Travel regulations

You have not graduated
You may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. because you are still a student. To re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel in the last six months
  • Letter from your department stating that you have not yet graduated


You have graduated and your OPT is pending
You may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. in order to resume searching for a job. To re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel in the last six months
  • I-797 (OPT) receipt notice


You have graduated and your OPT is approved
You may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. only if you have a job offer or are returning to a job. To re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel in the last six months
  • EAD card
  • Letter from your employer stating that you need to return to the U.S. to resume working