Frequently Asked Questions about Optional Practical Training F-1 OPT FAQs
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Frequently Asked Questions about OPT
Please view the topics below to learn more about Optional Practical Training (OPT).
For Spring 2021 graduates (May 17, 2021 end dates): The earliest you can apply for OPT is February 16, 2021. The latest OPT application date is July 16, 2021.
For Summer 2021 graduates (August 6, 2021 end dates): The earliest you can apply for OPT is May 8, 2021. The latest OPT application date is October 5, 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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:
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.
International travel is not recommended while your OPT application is pending with USCIS. Doing so could jeopardize your ability to re-enter the United States, respond to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) from USCIS, or apply for OPT in the future.
Your work on OPT must be directly related to your field of study at Penn. As a rule of thumb, your major should be something closely related to your everyday job responsibilities and your overall job mission. If you are unsure what kind of job you should be looking for, you may utilize the following resources:
The current USCIS lockbox address is:
If mailing with U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680
If mailing with UPS or FedEx:
USCIS Attn: I-765 C03
31 South Dearborn – 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
YES, include any I-20 copy ever issued from Penn or any other school.
1. What if I do not have all my I-20s from Penn?
Email your ISSS assigned advisor to request a file copy of any missing I-20s. In the email, let them know which I-20s you already have.
2. What if I do not have all my I-20s from my previous school?
Contact your previous school for copies. If no longer available, we suggest to include a note with your OPT application explaining your documents are lost and provide the following:
- Name of your school
- Level of education i.e. high school, bachelors
- Dates of Attendance
- Did you have OPT and/or CPT, dates of each
Each Penn major is matched to a Department of Education CIP code. This code is listed on your I-20 and may differ from your official Penn major.
Once your application is mailed to USCIS, you cannot change your start date. If you have not mailed your application yet and need to change your start date, please consult with your assigned ISSS advisor.
You are still in F-1 status and Penn ISSS is still your immigration sponsor. We are still here for you and even though you may be in other states like California, Texas, Washington DC, or even Philadelphia, we are available via phone, email. All reporting, updates and requests should still be submitted via iPenn.
In order to apply for the STEM OPT extension, you must currently be on post-completion OPT. You may file the STEM OPT application up to 90 days before the current OPT end date. The STEM OPT application must be received at USCIS before the end of the current OPT period. See the STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions.