How To Apply

  1. Review the Frequently Asked Questions and Important Reminders before proceeding to the form
  2. Complete the Mandatory Online Tutorial if you are applying for Post-Completion OPT
  3. Submit the OPT I-20 Request Form in iPenn (using logo below)
    • After review of materials submitted in iPenn, an ISSS advisor will prepare an I-20 recommending OPT on page 3.  You will receive email when this I-20 is ready for you to pick up at ISSS and submit to USCIS.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When to Apply?
  • 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.

    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.  

    NOTE: 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 be received by USCIS ***within 30 days*** of the OPT I-20 issuance date.  If received by USCIS after 30 days, there is a risk of OPT application 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
  • What are the work requirements for OPT?
  • 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 OPT.
    • If your major/field qualifies you for the STEM OPT extension, you DO have to have a job to apply - (You will be required to provide your employer’s E-Verify number)

    Employment/Unemployment During OPT:

    • 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 visit the TRAVEL FAQ provided by the US Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
    • 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 the following:
      • A valid passport
      • A valid F-1 visa stamp
      • 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 Considerations

  • If you are applying for Post-Completion OPT, you will be prompted to pay the $165 ISSS Processing Fee after submitting the eform in iPenn.
  • For Post-Completion OPT (non-STEM), we may shorten the program end date on your I-20 if deemed appropriate.
  • ISSS will not authorize CPT after Post-Completion OPT has been recommended. If there is any possibility for CPT in your last semester, please plan accordingly.

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What's Next?

Once you have obtained your OPT I-20 from ISSS you should submit your USCIS Application.