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International Students

OPT Employment

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus employment that is related to your major field of study and is a benefit of the F-1 visa status. Helpful information regarding OPT can be found on the USCIS website.

Before You Apply for OPT

What is Optional Practical Training? OPT is off-campus employment that is related to your major field of study. OPT is a benefit of the F-1 visa status.

Who is eligible for OPT? An F-1 student who is eligible to apply for OPT must have been in lawful F-1 status for one full academic year prior to applying for OPT. Available both before and after completion of your academic program, but different rules apply to pre- and post-completion OPT. If you have questions about whether or not you are eligible, contact the Registrar.

What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)? CPT permits employment to fulfill a course requirement before graduation only. CPT requires the offer of a specific job. Please ask the Registrar if you are not sure if you need OPT or CPT.

When can I use my OPT? Eligible F-1 students may engage in optional practical training for a total of 12 months:

  • After completion of a course of study
  • After completion of all course requirements if engaged in thesis or dissertation research
  • While school is in session, provided that it does not exceed 20 hours per week in any given week while school is in session
  • During the summer or winter break of the regular academic year.

If I had CPT, can I still have OPT? Yes, provided that you did not have CPT full-time for twelve months.

When You Apply for OPT

What are the requirements needed to apply for OPT? You don't need a job offer in order to apply for OPT, but you must apply for OPT before you complete your studies. One can apply as early as possible within the last semester/quarter of studies.

How do I apply for OPT? To apply for OPT, complete the steps listed below:

  • Step 1: Review the OPT Checklist provided by Registrar
  • Step 2: Complete the I-765 Application USCIS form I-765
  • Step 3: Mail the Application to USCIS, Nebraska Service Center

Please contact the Registrar if you have questions after you have read the information on this website and have completed all the forms to the best of your ability.

Submit the I-765 application and supporting documentation to USCIS. Your application should include:

  • Check or Money Order to USCIS
  • 2 OPT photos cut to size (Refer to I-765 for Instructions)
  • I-765 Application
  • A copy of both sides of your new SEVIS I-20 requesting OPT, signed by the Registrar within 30 days. Do not send your original I-20 to USCIS.
  • A copy of your I-94, front and back
  • A copy of your passport photo page, passport expiration date page and your visa (If your passport is extended on another page, include that page as well)
  • A copy of any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) you have received from USCIS, if applicable (e.g., OPT authorized for a different degree).
  • If you have received an EAD before, also include copies of all previous I-20s.

Send your completed application and supporting documents to the Nebraska Service Center address shown on the I-765 instructions.

What does the Registrar do in the OPT process? While the Registrar can recommend OPT permission, it is the USCIS that must approve the OPT. The Registrar will verify that you are in lawful F-1 status and then make a notation on the third page of your I-20. You are required to provide the employment start date which will be submitted to USCIS and appear on your I-20. This date will start the 12 months of OPT eligibility.

What documents should I send to USCIS for OPT? Refer to Step 3 for information on which documents to include and where to send your application.

Is there a special way to mail the documents? You cannot apply for OPT in person at the USCIS office. The application must be submitted by mail. Do not use any type of mail service that would require USCIS to sign for the envelope. Courier service not requiring a signature can be used.

Rather than apply for OPT early in the semester/quarter, isn’t it a better idea to wait until I have a job offer? If you wait until you have a job offer before you apply for OPT, you risk delaying the start of your employment, which can, in turn, often mean losing the job offer. It can take up to 120 days to receive OPT work authorization and most employers are unwilling to wait that long to fill a position.

After I apply for OPT, can I change my start date? If you have not yet completed your studies AND your OPT application has not been processed by Immigration, then it might be possible to change the start date on your OPT. However, anytime that we try to make a change on an application that has already been sent to the Service Center, there is a risk that the change will not be implemented at the time of adjudication of your application. Once an application has been approved, we cannot change the start date.

Where can I get my receipt "LIN" number? You will receive a Form I-797 "Notice of Action" from the USCIS approximately two weeks after you mail your application to USCIS. The "LIN" number is the receipt number printed in the upper left corner of the USCIS Form I-797 "Notice of Action" receipt. If you have your "LIN" number you can check the status of your application online.

When You Have OPT Authorization

When can I start work under OPT? When you have the EAD and the start date of employment authorization (shown on the EAD) has arrived. If your EAD arrives later than the date your employer wishes you to begin working, you may not begin to work early. You cannot begin to work until the EAD card is in your hand and the start date has arrived.

Does OPT employment need to be full-time? If you have completed your studies, OPT employment must be full time.

Can I change employers during my OPT? Yes. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any employer.

What type of visa am I on and can I travel outside the U.S.? OPT is not a different visa. A person with OPT authorization is an F-1 student holding an EAD for OPT. Refer to the OPT Travel Regulations for more information.

OPT Travel Regulations

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending: You may travel outside the U.S. and reenter the U.S. while your OPT application is pending in order to resume searching for a job. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:

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

If you have graduated and your OPT has been approved: You may travel outside the U.S. only if you have a job offer or you are returning to a job. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:

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

If you have not graduated: You may travel outside the U.S. and reenter the U.S. because you are still a student. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:

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

What does the message "not valid for re-entry" mean on my EAD? The statement means that you must have a passport, visa, I-20, and the EAD to re-enter the U.S. The EAD does not replace the need for the other documents.

If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back? If USCIS has not yet acted on your application at the time you decide you do not want OPT, then you can write USCIS and state that you want to withdraw your application. If USCIS has already approved your application, then it is not possible to have the OPT authorization withdrawn or changed.

When You Finish OPT

How long can I stay in the U.S. after my OPT expires? 60 days.

Can I return to school after completing OPT? Yes, provided you obtain a new I-20 for the next program of studies within 60 days of your OPT expiration. This will require you to complete the USCIS procedure for moving to a new level of studies (if you resume studies at ATSU) or the procedure for a school transfer (if you go to a different school).

I already finished a year of OPT and I want to return to school. When I finish can I have another year of OPT? Yes, provided your degree is at a higher level than your previous degree (e.g. you have a M.S. and are now working on a Ph.D.). You also must meet the OPT eligibility requirements.