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Applying for Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity to gain work experience to complement your academic program. F-1 students are entitled to one year of OPT for each higher degree. When it is time for you to do OPT, you must first view the online OPT Seminar. You will then submit the Optional Practical Training Request eForm. Once processed, you will make an appointment with UC International Services to get the necessary paperwork to apply.

OPT Categories

Optional Practical Training for F-1 students falls into three categories:

  1. Pre-completion OPT which can take place:
    1. During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student is eligible, and intends to register for the next term or session,
    2. While school is in session provided that OPT does not exceed 20 hours a week, or
    3. If the student is in a master’s or doctoral degree program, full-time after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or the equivalent).
  2. Post-completion OPT which is full-time after completion of the degree or all required coursework.
  3. 24-month STEM extension for students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM fields). You must have a job with an employer that uses the E-verify system.

OPT Eligibility

To obtain Optional Practical Training under any category, you must have completed one academic year in full-time status and currently hold F-1 status.

To obtain pre-completion OPT you must apply no sooner than 90 days before beginning employment.

To obtain post-completion OPT, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must have received your application no later than 60 days following completion of the degree and no sooner than ninety (90) days prior to the date of completion of the degree or required course work.

To obtain the 24-month STEM extension USCIS must receive your application no later than the date your current EAD card expires, but no sooner than 90 days prior to the date the EAD card expires. As long as the application is received prior to the expiration or the current EAD, you can continue working on the receipt notice for the STEM OPT application for 180 days.

OPT Authorization

We encourage all students to make an application no later than the program completion date. The date of completion of the degree is not necessarily the date you participate in graduation ceremonies or the end of the semester. Graduate students may complete the requirements for a degree any day of the year. Your lawful F-1 status expires 60 days after the date you complete your degree requirements. You are expected to leave the country by that date unless you have filed a timely application for Optional Practical Training or a status change which will allow you to remain in the U.S.

After viewing the Online Optional Practical Training Seminar, you must submit the appropriate Optional Practical Training Request eForm. There are two different OPT eForms. One is for students applying for pre-completion OPT or the initial 12 month post-completion OPT period. The other is for students applying for the 24-month STEM OPT period. Once approved, you will be instructed to call 513-556-4278 to schedule an appointment with a UC International Services advisor. Students not residing in Cincinnati can mail the documents to us for processing or have a friend come on their behalf. You must upload the following documents with the eForm request and bring the original documents to your appointment:

  1. All students applying for OPT must complete complete the Optional Practical Training Request eForm. For students applying for OPT for the annual vacation quarter or part-time during the academic year (first and second category above, respectively), you must bring proof that you have completed one academic year in full-time status (grade reports, registration, etc.).
  2. Copies of all I-20’s you have ever been issued.
  3. A copy of your unexpired passport, I-94 card (front and back) or the electronic I-94 card and your F-1 visa stamp.
  4. A copy of your official university transcript (needed for 24 month OPT based on having a STEM degree; post-completion OPT based on completing required coursework but not yet graduating; pre completion OPT)
  5. Check for $380.00 made out to "The Department of Homeland Security."
  6. 2 photos of yourself. The photos must meet the following format: color photos with a white background. Photos should be unmounted, printed on thin paper, glossy and unretouched. The photos should be passport style. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photos should be 2 x 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin measuring 1 inch to 1 3/8 inches. Lightly print your name and your I-94 card# on the back of each photo with a pencil. For your convenience, you can obtain the required photos in two locations on campus. They are:  (1) CVS Pharmacy, 17 William Howard Taft Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45219.  They charge $12.99 for photos and you may come in at your convenience.  There is always someone available to take the photos.  (2) Medical Photography  Location: Rm. G44 HPB (Health Professions Bldg) Hours: 1:30 – 4:30 MWF by Appointment Phone: 558-6111 Price: $12.05 set of 2 prints; $7.25 for each additional set of 2. Note: They do not cut the photos down to size; you must do so.
  7. Completed I-765 Form. There are several questions on the I-765 that students have problems completing including Question #3: the address should be that of UC International Services unless you are absolutely certain you will be at your home address when the EAD card arrives. 47 W. Corry St., ML 0640, Cincinnati OH 45221-0640, and Question #16, Eligibility Category is (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT; (c)(3)(B) for postcompletion OPT; and (c)(3)(C) for the 24-month STEM extension. If you are unsure of any questions, leave them blank until the appointment. Don’t forget to sign (don’t let your signature touch the top or bottom black lines), date and put your telephone number on the certification line.
    I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  8. Standard business-sized envelope holding required photos and check to USCIS. Do not seal the envelope!
  9. If you have applied for Optional Practical Training or any other employment authorization in the past, you must bring copies of all EAD’s or denial notices you have been issued.
  10. If you know who you will be working for while on OPT, please provide the name and address of the employer on a separate sheet of paper.
  11. If submitting 24-month STEM OPT extension, you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, training plan for STEM OPT students. You can access the Form I-983 here. You can download instructions for completing the training plan for STEM OPT students here.

If all the materials are in order, UC International Services will recommend to the USCIS that you be granted Optional Practical Training by issuing a form I-20.

OPT Processing Times

OPT approval can take up to 90 days to process. Please plan appropriately. If you have not designated UC International Services as the place to which the EAD card will be sent, you must provide us with a copy of the EAD card when you receive it. Use the Update Immigration/Visa documents eForm in iBearcatsGlobal to do this.

OPT Availability

OPT is available for up to 12 months for all F-1 students for each higher degree you receive in the United States. This means if you obtain a Bachelor’s degree and utilize twelve months of OPT for that degree, you could apply for and receive another twelve months of OPT for a Master’s degree.

An additional 24-month OPT period (36 months total) is available to F-1 students who have completed a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) and who have accepted employment with employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment verification program. E-Verify is a free internet-based system operated by USCIS, in partnership with the Social Security Administration, which determines a new employee’s eligibility to work. STEM students have the ability to earn a second qualifying 24-month STEM OPT period by obtaining a STEM degree at a higher level. Students participating in a 12 month OPT based on a non-STEM degree can use a prior eligible STEM degree as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension provided the degree was completed in the past 10 years.

OPT Limitations

Optional Practical Training is designed to provide students with work experience in their fields of study. As such, there are limits to how long you can remain in the U.S. in lawful F-1 status on OPT while unemployed. Students on 12-month OPT can remain in the U.S. unemployed for an aggregate of 90 days. Students who qualify for and receive the 24-month STEM OPT extension can be unemployed for an aggregate of 150 days. It is also important to remember that once OPT is awarded, even if you change your immigration status, go back to school, etc, it cannot be cancelled or saved.