Optional Practical Training (F-1)

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that allows students to work off-campus in a field related to their major. Students do not need to have a specific job offer to apply for OPT and are eligible for a 12 month period of OPT at every level of education. Students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM fields) may be eligible for an additional 24 month period of OPT.

Applying for OPT is a two-step process which begins first with a recommendation for OPT from the International Student and Scholar Advisor (ISSA), and second with approval of the application by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). In order to maintain F-1 status while on OPT, students must be employed, report their address, and report their employer’s name and address to USCIS through their ISSA.


To qualify for OPT students must:

  • Be in valid F-1 status and residing in the U.S. at the time of application
  • Have maintained full-time student status for at least one continuous academic year before applying
  • Not have used 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT)

OPT Limits

There is a limit of 12 months of full-time OPT per degree level. OPT may be used before completion of studies (Pre-Completion OPT), after completion of studies (Post-Completion OPT), or a combination of both.

  • Pre-Completion OPT is OPT that is authorized before the completion of studies. Pre-Completion OPT may be authorized for full or part-time (less than 20 hours per week.)  Pre-Completion OPT is deducted at half of the full-time rate (two months of part-time Pre-Completion OPT = one month of full time Pre-Completion OPT).
  • Post-completion OPT is OPT that is authorized after the completion of studies. Post Completion OPT may only be authorized for full-time.
  • STEM OPT Extension is OPT that may be authorized for an addition 24 month period after OPT to individuals majoring in STEM fields and employed by employers who use the E-Verify system.  (For more information on the STEM OPT Extension, please refer to our STEM OPT Extension instructions.

How to Apply for OPT

Step 1: Plan ahead and consider the timing of your application

Keep in mind that OPT applications may be filed up to 90 days before the completion of your program and up to 60 days after your Program End Date, listed on your Form I-20. Please note that this date may not necessarily be the same as your official graduation date. It can take up to 5 business days for your ISSA to process your OPT recommendation. Your complete OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of when the OPT was recommended. USCIS can take up to 3 months to process an OPT application.

Step 2: Sign up for an OPT Workshop (REQUIRED)

OPT workshops are offered regularly in the spring. Sign up for and attend an OPT workshop about three months prior to your anticipated employment start date. For instructions on how to sign up for an OPT workshop, email slatercenter@wellesley.edu. Once you have signed up for a workshop, you will be sent the instructions and forms to prepare your OPT application before the workshop.  During the workshop an ISSA will answer your questions, review your application, and collect your entire application for a final review.

Note: If you arrive at the OPT Workshop late or without your required documents you will not be able to participate in the workshop and will be asked to sign up for a future workshop.

Bring the following to the OPT Workshop:

Step 3: Submit Your OPT Application Packet to Slater

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we ask that you submit your documents online via the OPT Application Form.

Step 4: Receive Your OPT Form I-20

If Slater determines that you are eligible for OPT and your application is complete, you will be issued a new Form I-20 with a recommendation for OPT. Your Form I-20 will available for pickup at Slater during Document Pickup Hours. If you have any questions regarding the comments made on your Form I-765, please reach out to slatercenter@wellesley.edu.

Do not submit your application online until you have received your Form I-20 recommending OPT from Slater.

The original new Form I-20 should be used for future travel; however, you must keep all previous Form I-20s for your records.

Step 5: Submit your OPT Application on the USCIS website

You may submit OPT application on the my USCIS website up to 90 days before your completion date, but not more than 60 days after your completion date. Digitally-submitted OPT applications are immediately receipted after submission of payment. Do not submit your application online until you have received your Form I-20 recommending OPT from Slater.

You will need to upload the below documents:

  • Your passport ID page
  • Your F-1 visa (does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • Your most recent Form I-94
  • New Form I-20 (with OPT recommendation)
  • Forms I-20 showing CPT Approval
  • Copy of all previously issued EADs (if applicable)
  • A passport-sized photograph (taken within the past 6 months)

Your application will be immediately submitted to USCIS after you submit payment. Do you submit payment until you are certain all your documents are correct, complete, and accurate.

Note: Keep a copy of all the documents you have submitted to USCIS is a folder on your computer

Step 6: Wait for approval

Once your payment has been processed on the USCIS website, USCIS will immediately issue you a Receipt Notice and number. USCIS will also send a paper Receipt Notice for your OPT application within 3-6 weeks.

You can track the status of your case directly from the myUSCIS website. Check your Receipt Notice to verify that your name is spelled correctly. If your name is not spelled correctly, please contact the USCIS Customer Service Center at the number provided on your receipt. Please also provide Slater International Center with a copy of this notice if you receive it directly.

Request for Evidence
If you receive a notice indicating that additional documentation is required for your application, contact your ISSA immediately for assistance.

Step 7: Receiving your EAD

If your OPT application is approved you should receive your EAD in approximately 90 days from the date your application was received by USCIS.  A separate Approval Notice will be sent to you before the actual EAD.

When you receive your EAD:

  1. Inspect your card for accuracy and contact the USCIS Customer Service Center if there are errors.
  2. Make 2 photocopies of your EAD.  Send one to Slater International Center and keep the other copy in a safe place.
  3. Remember that you are authorized to work only within the dates specified on the EAD.
  4. If you lose your EAD you must apply for a replacement by submitting a new Form I-765, another $550 check, two photographs, and a copy of your previous application to the USCIS.

Note: If you do not complete your degree by the date originally specified, contact your ISSA for assistance.

Additional Information

Maintaining F-1 Status While on OPT

OPT is an extension of F-1 status.  While you are on OPT, you must follow USCIS regulations to maintain your status. 

  • You must be employed in a position and work more than 20 hours per week. If you are unemployed for more than a total of 90 days during the 12 month OPT period, you will lose your F-1 status and OPT employment authorization.
    • If you work 20 hours or less per week, it is counted as part-time and you continue to accrue unemployment time.
    • You can work for a combination of employer in order to reach more than 20 hours per week. For example, you may work at Company A for 15 hours per week and Company B for 15 hours a week for a combined total of 30 hours a week, which place you in full-time status
  • You must report your address, contact information, and employment information to your ISSA for your SEVIS record via the Slater Gateway. After Commencement, Slater will activate your Gateway account and send instructions on reporting.
Travel and Re-Entry to the United States

You must have a valid travel signature on your Form I-20 to travel and re-enter the United States in F-1 status. (while on post-completion OPT the travel signature is valid for 6 months)

  • Pre-Completion OPT
    If you have not completed your degree requirements and you have pre-completion OPT, you may travel and re-enter the United States with a valid passport, Form I-20 (with a valid travel signature), a valid F-1 visa, and proof of financial support.


  • Post-Completion OPT
    If you apply for post-completion OPT you must consider your future travel plans to determine what you will need to do.  After you have completed your degree, your OPT application must be approved and you must have proof of a job offer or employment in order to re-enter the U.S.

Documents Required to Re-Enter the U.S. While on OPT:

  • A valid F-1 visa
    If your F-1 visa has expired and you must travel outside of the U.S., you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate outside of the U.S.  You may remain in the U.S. with an expired visa as long as your EAD, Form I-20, and passport are valid.
  • A valid passport (must be valid at least six months into the future.)
  • A valid EAD – While the EAD is marked, “Not valid for re-entry,” this simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for re-entering the U.S.
  • Form I-20 with OPT showing "Approved" and a travel signature less than 6 months old
  • Proof of employment – A letter from your current or prospective employer which indicates that you have a temporary job offer and that you will be employed.

Note: If you re-enter the U.S. in visa waiver or tourist status during your OPT authorized period, you are no longer eligible for OPT.

Cap-Gap Extension

F-1 students who are engaged in a period of post-completion OPT and have applied for a change of status to H-1B may benefit from an automatic provision which extends duration of status and OPT work authorization until October 1st. You may request an updated Form I-20 by emailing a copy of your H-1B petition receipt notice or approval notice to slatercenter@wellesley.edu.

Note: Students are strongly recommended not to depart the U.S. during the period of their cap-gap extension.

Social Security Numbers

Social Security numbers are unique identification numbers assigned by the U.S. Federal Government. They are required for those who are employed in the United States. If you do not already have a Social Security number, you may obtain one once you have received your EAD. For more information please review the Applying for a Social Security Number website.

The Slater Center provides general guidance on your OPT/STEM application based on information obtained from government sources. Our guidance reflects our experience working with students. Slater Center staff will make every attempt to ensure that you receive the most up to date information available. Any advice provided to you by our office (as well as any written material provided to you) does not constitute legal advice, upon request, we can work with an immigration attorney of your choosing. The OPT application is a personal application for which you are wholly responsible; the application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts of your particular case. Slater Center staff will attempt to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that USCIS may change its interpretation of policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. The Slater Center is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.