See also: F-1 Optional Practical Training  (STEM Extension)


Optional Practical Training for F-1 students is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience in the U.S., complementary to the academic program.  An F-1 student is normally eligible for a MAXIMUM OF 12 MONTHS.  However, if a student begins a new academic program at a higher level (e.g., master’s after bachelor’s degree, or PhD after master’s), the student is eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT.

NOTE: Certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT time in addition to the regular 12-month OPT.  Please refer to F-1 Optional Practical Training STEM Extension.


  • Who is eligible for OPT?
  • To be eligible for Optional Practical Training, you must:

    • have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year;
    • currently be maintaining a full-time program of study and valid F-1 status; and
    • work in a job directly related to your major field of study.

    You do not need a job offer prior to applying for OPT; however, the regulations require that you do have employment while on your post-completion OPT period (refer to the "Limited Periods of Unemployment to Maintain Status" section below).

    Please note that students in English language training programs are not eligible for practical training.  If you are uncertain whether you meet the eligibility requirements, please meet with an ISSS advisor.

  • Types of OPT
  • OPT is available in the following cases:

    • part-time or full-time during the student's annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student intends to register for the following semester
    • part-time while school is in session
    • part-time or full-time after completion of graduate course work requirements excluding a thesis or dissertation
    • full-time after completion of the course of study
  • When to apply?
    • Do I need to have a job to apply for OPT?

      • You do NOT need to have a job offer before applying for the first 12 months of optional practical training.

      • If your major/field qualifies you for the STEM OPT extension, you DO have to have a job to apply as you will be required to provide your employer’s E-Verify number.

    • For pre-completion OPT, students may file their OPT application with USCIS up to 90 days before being enrolled full-time for one academic year or 90 days prior to the requested employment start date for students who have already met the academic year requirement.
    • For post-completion OPT, students may file with USCIS up to 90 days before the program completion date.  The OPT application must be received by mail and accepted for processing by USCIS no later than 60 days after the program completion date.  
    • If you leave the US during the grace period and did not apply for OPT, your grace period will end as well as your OPT eligibility
    • The application must also be received by the USCIS ***within 30 days*** of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT I-20.  If filed with USCIS after 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date, you will risk a Denial.  
    • Processing times for OPT applications can be found on the USCIS website.  In general, expect that the OPT application will take three months to be approved.
  • How to select OPT dates?
    • Pre-Completion
      List the dates you actually intend to work. Your start date should be the earliest date that you could possibly begin work. Your end date should be the latest day that you could possibly work.
    • Post-Completion
      If you are applying for post-completion OPT, the beginning date must be within 60 days of the completion date of your studies. 

      For PhD Students: You may request your post-completion OPT to begin once you are in dissertation status or wait until the 60 day period that follows the end of the term during which you have defended and submitted your dissertation.  PhD students are encouraged to discuss their dates for OPT with an ISSS advisor
  • How to apply for OPT?
  • It is a three-step process, so please carefully read the following.


    *** Step One ***

    1. Submit the OPT I-20 electronic request form in iPenn. After you log in with your Pennkey, you will find "OPT I-20 Request " under Student Services in the left menu.
    2. As part of your iPenn eform submission, scan and upload the following:
      • Photocopy of pages 1 and 3 of all previous and current I-20(s)
      • Photocopy of passport (photocopy of photo page, renewal page if original has expired, and pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections etc.)
      • Photocopy of your I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94)
        Refer to the automated I-94 process at http://global.upenn.edu/isss/travel
      • Photocopy of any previously issued employment authorization documents(OPT/EAD cards)
      •  If you have been in F-1 status for less than one academic year, copies of documents indicating previous lawful status in the US permitting you to study full time
      • For post-completion OPT, you will be prompted to pay the $150 ISSS Processing Fee after submitting the eform in iPenn.
    3. After reviewing the materials submitted in iPenn, an ISSS advisor will prepare an I-20 recommending OPT on page 3

    *** Step Two ***

    Pick up the OPT I-20 at the ISSS reception desk after 3-5 business days.  During the peak / high-volume period, processing may take longer.

     

    *** Step Three ***

    Mail the following items on the checklist to USCIS which has jurisdiction over the address listed on your Form I-765:

    • Government OPT filing fee (for the fee amount, I-765 Application Fee)
      • payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
      • must be drawn at a financial institution that is physically located in the U.S.
    • Two US passport-style photos (in a clear ziploc bag or envelope)
    • Completed G-1145 (optional)
      • To receive an e-Notification when your Form I-765 has been accepted, complete Form G-1145 and clip it to the front of the first application in the package.
    • Completed Form I-765   (NOTE: consult ISSS prior to e-filing I-765 via the USCIS website as the processes greatly differ.)
      • For pre-completion OPT (i.e. OPT dates before the I-20 end date), enter “c 3 A” under Item 16.
      • For post-completion OPT (i.e. OPT dates after graduation), enter “c 3 B” under Item 16.
      • I-94 number can be found on the I-94 printout (if entered by air/sea) or paper I-94 card (if entered via land)
      • Type or print legibly as USCIS uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology
      • Be sure to check off the purpose (“I am applying for:”) of the form
      • Sign in blue ink
      • Signature should be within the box
    • Photocopy of pages 1 and 3 of all previous and current I-20s, including a photocopy of the new OPT I-20 on top
    • Photocopy of current I-94 printout (if you have a paper I-94 card, include both front and back)
    • Photocopy of passport (photocopy of photo page, renewal page if original has expired, and pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections etc.)
    • Photocopy of the visa sticker used for last entry into the U.S. (except for citizens of Canada and Bermuda)
    • Photocopy of any previously issued employment authorization documents (e.g. EAD cards), if applicable
    • NOTE:  All documents should be single-sided.  Do not staple anything.

    *** USCIS Mailing Address and Important Notices ***

    • Instead of mailing (via USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc.), if you choose to electronically submit your OPT application via USCIS website, consult ISSS in advance as there will be an additional step of government scheduled biometric data collection.
    • Check all documents for completeness and accuracy.  
    • Be sure to sign Forms I-20 and I-765.
    • Make a complete copy of your application for your records. ISSS does not maintain copies of OPT applications.

    The USCIS “Dallas Lockbox” filing location is applicable to the following states and territories:
    Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia.

    U.S. Postal Service deliveries:
    USCIS
    P.O. Box 660867
    Dallas, TX 75266

    Express mail and courier deliveries:
    USCIS
    Attn: AOS
    2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
    Suite 400
    Lewisville, TX 75067

    If the state you put on form I-765 in item 3 is not in this list, refer to the different mailing instructions for F-1 OPT applications in the I-765 Instructions.

    Finally, we recommend that you mail your application by express mail such as Federal Express or UPS, or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery.

  • Do I need to work during OPT? (unemployment period)
    • During post-completion OPT; F-1 status is dependent upon employment.  Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any authorized period of standard post-completion OPT.
    • The 90-day limitation on unemployment during the initial post-completion OPT authorization continues during the cap-gap extension.
  • Duration of OPT Employment Authorization
  • Employment authorization is normally granted to begin on the date requested or the date the employment authorization is adjudicated, whichever is later, and is authorized until the end date requested.

  • Can I travel while on OPT?
  • It is prudent to consult an ISSS advisor prior to leaving the US as immigration regulations can change at any time.  Currently the following are required to return to the US:

    • Post-Completion OPT
      • A valid passport
      • A valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (except Canadian and Bermudian citizens)
      • Your OPT I-20 endorsed for reentry by an ISSS advisor within the last six months
      • Your valid EAD for OPT
      • Evidence of employment such as a job offer or employment verification letter

    If you do not have all of these documents listed above or plan to leave the US while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, you should consult an ISSS advisor before traveling abroad.

    It is recommended that you remain in the U.S. while OPT is pending at USCIS to respond to any additional requests from USCIS or to avoid travel-related complications.  For more information, see: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel/faq_f2.htm.

    Please note: Your EAD will have a notation “not valid for reentry to US.” This is printed on all EAD cards issued for OPT and simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for reentry to the US.

    • Pre-Completion OPT
      • You can travel and return to the US with a valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp, and your OPT I-20 endorsed by an ISSS advisor within the last twelve months. You do not need evidence of a job or a valid EAD issued by USCIS to return to the US.
  • Important reminders
    • For post-completion Optional Practical Training (non-STEM), we may shorten the program end date on your I-20 if deemed appropriate.
    • You must be physically present in the U.S. until after USCIS receives your application for processing.  Keep delivery confirmation whenever possible.  We strongly recommend you to discuss your travel plans in advance of the OPT filing with USCIS to avoid any rejection or denial.
    • If you later decide not to mail your OPT application (Form I-765 plus supporting documentation) to USCIS for any reason, you must notify an ISSS advisor immediately so that we may timely cancel your OPT recommendation in SEVIS.  Failure to inform an ISSS advisor that you are not applying for OPT can cause problems in the future.
    • Please meet with an ISSS advisor if you have not received an I-797 Receipt Notice with a case number from USCIS within 2-6 weeks from the date that your OPT application was received at USCIS.  Please bring a copy of delivery confirmation.
    • Please email (isss@pobox.upenn.edu) or fax (215-573-9587) a copy of your OPT card to ISSS immediately upon receipt.
    • Please keep in mind that ISSS will not authorize CPT after post-completion OPT has been recommended. Thus, if there is any possibility for CPT in your last semester, please plan accordingly.
    • While OPT is pending, we strongly advise you against changing the address listed on Form 1-765 as USClS has not been able to process change of address notifications properly.  Changing your address while OPT is still pending may result in your being required to file a new OPT application with a new fee if your documents are lost. We suggest that you use the address of someone who can receive mail on your behalf – remember to put “c/o”, followed by the person’s name and address, on Line 3 of Form I-765. The US Postal Service will not forward USCIS mail.
    • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), please consult an ISSS advisor immediately.
    • Your OPT will be automatically terminated when you begin study at another educational level or transfer to another school.
    • If you find any errors by USCIS on your OPT EAD card, please inform ISSS immediately.
    • Immediately inform ISSS of any immigration status change.
  • Reporting Requirements While on OPT
  • Students on OPT are required to report to ISSS any change of name or address, or any interruption of such employment within 10 days. Such reporting should be done by submitting the OPT Reporting eform in iPenn.

  • H-1B Cap-Gap extension
  • Duration of F-1 status and work authorization will be extended for a student on OPT who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed, non-frivolous H-1B petition requesting a change of nonimmigrant status with an employment start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September). The extension of duration of status and work authorization will automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

    To request an updated I-20 for cap-gap extension, please log into iPenn and complete the Cap-Gap Extension I-20 Request eform.  To complete the eform you will need to scan and upload the following:

    • Copy of current I-94 card, front and back
    • Copy of EAD card
    • Employer's name and full address including a zip code
    • In addition:
      • For a receipted H-1B petition: A copy of the Form I-797 Receipt Notice and a letter from your employer stating that:
        • the cap-subject H-1B petition was filed with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing
        • the H-1B petition was filed with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September)
      • For an approved H-1B petition: A copy of the Form I-797 Approval Notice
      • For a wait-listed H-1B petition: A copy of the wait list letter from USCIS to the employer and a letter from your employer stating that:
        • the cap-subject H-1B petition was filed with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing
        • the H-1B petition was filed with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September)
      • For a properly-filed H-1B petition:
        • A letter from the employer stating that you are the beneficiary listed on a properly filed e cap-subject H-1B petition (with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing; and with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year) and proof of delivery to a USCIS showing the date of receipt.

    Things to Consider:

    • This benefit is not availabe to the H-1B petition filed by a cap-exempt employer.
    • Students on cap-gap extensions must also continue to report all changes of name and address, and interruptions of employment.
    • The 90-day limitation on unemployment during the initial post-completion OPT authorization continues during the cap-gap extension.
    • Students on cap-gap extension should not travel outside the U.S. since your OPT EAD has expired.

New USCIS Development:

The OPT application must also be received by the USCIS within 30 days of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT I-20.  If filed with USCIS after 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date, your application will be denied.