OPT Seminar

Through this seminar, you will learn more about Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the STEM OPT extension. You will also find helpful videos to help you fill out forms related to the process.

There are many rules and issues surrounding your OPT employment that you must understand.

  • All employment must be within your field of study and appropriate to your degree level. 
  • You must be employed at least 20 hours a week while on OPT.
  • You can work for multiple employers.
  • Volunteer positions are permitted while on the 12-month OPT period.

Students on the STEM OPT extension have additional requirements they must follow.

Seminar Contents

Initial 12-Month Application

There are two categories of optional practical training available for the initial 12-month OPT period one is called pre-completion OPT and the other is post-completion OPT.

Pre-Completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT takes place during your program of study. It can be full- or part-time work, depending on the following circumstances: 

  • part-time while school is in session, not to exceed 20 hours per week 
  • full- or part-time during your annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session
  • if you are in a masters or doctoral program, you can work on a full- or part-time basis after completing all course requirements for the degree excluding a thesis or the equivalent

Pre-completion OPT has some limitations.

  • You can only apply for up to one year of pre-completion OPT, or for the amount of time remaining to complete your program of study.
  • If you have less than one year until graduation, you may have to apply for OPTmultiple time times--once for pre-completion OPT, once for post-completion OPT and a third time if you wish to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. 
  • You can only work part-time on pre-completion OPT except during scheduled breaks or when all coursework requirements are completed.

Post-Completion OPT

Post-completion OPT takes place after completion of the degree or all degree requirements excluding a thesis or dissertation. Post-completion OPT must be full-time, over 20 hours a week.

To apply for post-completion OPT, you need to know your program completion date. Program completion dates based on semester end dates can be found on the One Stop website.

  • Undergraduate students
    • the last day of the term of your final semester of study. There is no flexibility with this date.
  • Graduate students
    • the last day of the term of your final semester of study OR 
    • the date that all requirements have been completed OR 
    • the date that all coursework for the degree (excluding a thesis or dissertation) was completed

We recommend choosing a date that will help you avoid having to file two OPT applications; one for pre-completion and one for post-completion. 

Having an earlier graduation date will only affect your ability to work on campus. Once the end date on your I-20 is reached, you cannot work on campus.

When to Apply

Knowing when to apply for your optional practical training is very important.

  • Pre-completion OPT: apply 90 days before the expected start date of the employment
  • Post-completion OPT: apply no earlier than 90 days prior to your graduation date and no later than 60 days after the program end date. 

Homeland Security will take 90 days or more to process your application. The longer you wait to apply, the less likely it is that you will receive your EAD when you want or need it. 

Application Process

First you will need an OPT recommendation from UC International Services on your I-20. You will request this recommendation using an eForm on iBearcatsGlobal.

If approved, UC International processes your OPT I-20 and mail it to you for a signature. You will then complete an online application with USCIS for an employment authorization document, or EAD card.

iBearcatsGlobal eForm

To apply for the initial 12-month OPT period, submit the 12-month optional practical training request eForm in the iBearcatsglobal system first.

Read the eForm's instructions. They will provide you with complete details about all the information and documents you need to complete your request. You can also watch our video for step-by-step instructions on completing the form.

Use the links at the bottom of the eForm to print required materials and receive further instructions and guidance about OPT.

Once you've submitted the form, follow up with your academic advisor. UC International will not, and sometimes advisors ignore the email and the requests.

Once your academic advisor certifies the program completion date, UC International Services will process your OPT request within five business days.

USCIS Application for Employment Authorization (I-765)

To formally apply for OPT, you will use the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, which can be completed online. When approved, you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD card), which allows you to work.

The online I-765 is linked on the 12-month OPT request eForm and found on the USCIS website. 

Make sure the online I-765 form is completed correctly and the right documents are uploaded. Our office has produced a video with step-by-step instructions for filling out the I-765 online.

Plan ahead! USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation put on your I-20 by UC international services and no later than 60 days from your program completion date.

If your application is not received by the USCIS within 30 days your OPT request will be denied and there are no appeals. 

Once you submit your stem OPT application online you will be able to print a receipt notice. However, USCIS will also mail you a paper receipt notice about one month after submission. 

The processing time for OPT EAD cards is 90 -120 days. If you move while your application is pending, you must change your address with USCIS using your online account. If you do not update your address, you will not receive your EAD card and will be unable to work.

Once received, provide a copy of the card to UC International Services in iBearcatsglobal. Login, select the biographical information section from the menu and upload the copy using the update immigration and visa documents eForm.

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT extension is an opportunity to gain an additional 24 months of work experience to complement your academic studies, if your field of study is on the Department of Homeland Security's approved list of science, technology, engineering or mathematics disciplines.

You must work a full-time job, at least 20 hours per week, while on the STEM OPT extension. 

Eligible F-1 students can receive a 24-month (two year) extension of their OPT period if they complete a bachelor's degree or higher in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree program accept employment with an employer which is enrolled in the e-verify employment verification program.

Students must complete a bachelor's degree or higher in a STEM field. A complete list of STEM fields can be found on the STEM OPT request eForm in iBearcatsGlobal. Compare the major indicated on your I-20 to that list to determine if your major qualifies.

To apply for the STEM OPT extension, you must meet the following criteria: 

  • You must already be on optional practical training based on a STEM OPT-eligible degree, or have completed a stem eligible degree from an accredited SEVP-certified institution within the past 10 years.
  • You must have fewer than 90 days of unemployment during your initial 12-month OPT period. 
  • You must be employed by or have a job offer from an employer who is registered in E-Verify.
  • You must not have used two periods of the 24-month STEM OPT extension previously.

You must accept employment with an employer who is enrolled in E-Verify. E-Verify is a free internet-based system operated by the USCIS in partnership with the Social Security Administration which determines a new employee's eligibility to work.

As a student employee, you cannot be the sole proprietor of the employing business. You may also not be employed through a temp agency or consulting firm that provides labor for hire or other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.

STEM OPT Application

To apply for the STEM OPT extension, you will need to complete several documents and fill out forms through iBearcatsGlobal and USCIS. 

You must apply for the stem OPT extension in the 90 days prior to the expiration of your current EAD card and no later than the date that your current EAD card expires. We recommend applying as early as possible once your 90-day window has begun. 

You are permitted to continue working for 180 days while your STEM OPT application is pending, provided you have a valid application receipt from the Department of Homeland Security.

iBearcatsGlobal eForm

All students must submit the 24-month STEM OPT using iBearcatsGlobal. The eForm requires you to submit several documents, including your transcript and the I-983 training plan.

I-983 Training form

One of the forms you need to complete and upload as part of your STEM OPT application is the I-983 training plan. Together, you and your employer will describe the goals and objectives for your employment.

The I-983 is linked at the bottom of the 24-month STEM OPT eForm in iBearcatsGlobal. We have also linked step-by-step instructions on the eForm.

When you submit your initial STEM OPT request, the evaluation sections will be left blank.

At the 12-month mark of your STEM OPT period

  • complete the first evaluation section
  • submit it to UC International Services using the I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Extension eForm within 10 days

At the end of your STEM OPT period

  • complete the final evaluation section
  • submit it to UC International Services using the I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Extension eForm within 10 days

One of the forms that you're going to need to complete and upload as part of the STEM OPT request is the I-983 training plan. The document is linked as a fillable form at the bottom of the 24-month STEM OPT request form. Instructions for completing the I-983 form are also linked. Most sections of the I-983 are self-explanatory, but we have linked a sample I-983 in the eForm that you can use as a guide.

Work with your employer closely to completing the form. You will also use your I-20 form for key information to complete the I-983.

  1. The University of Cincinnati’s SEVIS school code is on the I-20. It begins with CLE 214F. There will be a different number based on whether you're on Main Campus, UC Blue Ash or UC Clermont.
  2. You’re going to be asked for the contact information of a Designated School Official. You may use the name of the Designated School Official found on your I-20 under the “School official to contact upon arrival.” You may also use our office phone number, 513-556-4278, and our generic email, international.students@uc.edu, as the contact information for your DSO.
  3. Your SEVIS number begins with the letter N and is found on your I-20.
  4. You will be asked for the CIP code for your major. Under the program of study section of your I-20, you will find the name and the key CIP code under the heading “Major.” It is a six-digit number that has a period in it.
  5. When asked if your application is based on a prior degree, you will most likely be checking “no.” You would only check yes if the STEM OPT application you are going to make is based on a degree you obtained prior to the degree that you used for your current OPT period.

Sign and date the form.

Sections 3 and 4 of the I-983 training plan must be completed by your employer. Review that section to make sure it is fully completed, including the employer ID number. The employer can list your salary either on a monthly or yearly basis. They can also add additional compensation like medical benefits and potential bonuses. The employer must also sign the form under Section 4.

Section 5 of the form I-983 training plan is to be completed by both you and the employer. It's going to ask for information about you and your employer. It will also ask you and the employer to describe the goals and objectives for your stem OPT employment and how the employer is going to oversee your training, including how you will be measured and assessed in terms of meeting those goals.

UC International Services has a sample I-983 linked at the bottom of the STEM OPT request eForm that provides some example language for this section of the form.

Section 6 will ask the employer to certify all the statements added to the training plan. 

A new I-983 training plan is required each time a material change occurs in your employment. A material change includes:

  • any change of employer or employer identification number, 
  • any reduction in compensation from the amount previously reported on the training plan that is not a result of a reduction in hours worked, 
  • any significant decrease in hours per week that a student works and 
  • any decrease in hours below the twenty hour per week minimum required to be on the stem OPT extension

The new training plan must be submitted to UC International Services within ten days of material changes.

USCIS Application for Employment Authorization (I-765)

To formally apply for OPT, you will use the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, which can be completed online. When approved, you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD card), which allows you to work.

The online I-765 is linked on the 12-month OPT request eForm and found on the USCIS website. 

Make sure the online I-765 form is completed correctly and the right documents are uploaded. Our office has produced a video with step-by-step instructions for filling out the I-765 online.

While on OPT

While you are on OPT, you are still an F-1 student and are subject to additional reporting requirements and you must submit extra documentation including attestations from your employer.  This includes: 

  • You are required to keep UC International Services up to date with the name and address of your employer and your personal address. You must update any changes within 10 days.
  • You must notify UC International Services if you decide to stop optional practical training and leave the U.S. permanently.
  • You must complete a mandatory reporting check in every six months.

You also need to know the ways in which your OPT can be invalidated or canceled. Your OPT will be cancelled or invalidated if you obtain a new I-20 to start a new program of study, request a transfer of your SEVIS record to a new school, you change your immigration status to something other than F1, you enter the U.S. using a status other than F1, or if you violate your F1 immigration status including not following the reporting requirements for your evaluations, change of address change or Employer.

If your immigration status changes while you are on OPT (it's very typical to change status to H-1B for example), you must inform UC International Services immediately by submitting your immigration status change documents electronically using the iBearcatsglobal system.

You may travel outside the US while your application is pending and once it is approved. You will need the following in order to re-enter the US:

  1. an unexpired passport
  2. an unexpired F1 visa stamp (unless you are visa exempt) 
  3. page two of your I-20 form signed for travel within the past six months 
  4. your OPT employment authorization document or the receipt of still pending 
  5. proof of employment: a letter or a paycheck

If your visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one at a US consulate or embassy to obtain a new visa stamp. 

  1. an unexpired passport
  2. page two of your I-20 form signed for travel within the past six months 
  3. your OPT employment authorization document or the receipt of still pending 
  4. proof of employment: a letter or a paycheck, with your salary noted

Consult with UC International Services prior to travel. Submit the Travel Signature eForm in iBearcatsGlobal if you need a travel signature on your I-20. 

There are limits on how long you can remain in the US while unemployed. 

  • Students on the 12-month OPT period can be unemployed for an aggregate of 90 days.
  • Students on the 24-month OPT extension can be unemployed for an aggregate of 150 days.

You are required to tell UC International Services about any loss of employment while on OPT, and to keep the name and address of your employer up to date. If we do not have the SEVIS system updated with the name and address of your employer, you will accumulate unemployment time.

If you have reached the maximum for your OPT category, your F-1 status is violated.

You are authorized to work until the expiration date on your EAD card. You then have a 60-day grace period after that date to 

  • get a new I-20 to pursue a new degree
  • change your visa status to something other than F-1
  • leave the country

The number of people who can obtain the H-1B status is regulated by a numerical limit, or “cap”, each fiscal year. If a person's H-1B is subject to the cap, and if that person's OPT expires before September 30, the time in between the EAD expiration and October 1 is called the “cap gap.” Cap gap relief extends your F-1 status and employment eligibility during the gap between your OPT period and H-1B employment.

This rule applies to all students on optional practical training, including those on the STEM OPT extension. If you meet all of the following eligibility criteria, you may be able to utilize cap gap relief.

  1. You have properly maintained F-1 status
  2. Your employment is subject to the H-1B cap
  3. Your employer filed an H-1B petition for “Change of Status” on or after April 1
  4. Your EAD expires between April 1 and September 30
  5. The H-1B petition was filed before your EAD expired

To request a cap gap I-20, you need to provide UC International Services with proof of a pending or approved H-1B petition using the Cap Gap I-20 eform in iBearcatsglobal. We will then prepare an I-20 to indicate your continued employment authorization.

If your H-1B petition is denied or revoked, your work authorization automatically terminates and your 60-day grace period starts on that date.

All international students are required to file their United States taxes annually through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Knowing the rules could help save you money.

  • Both state and federal taxes are due April 15th each year. 
  • UC International Services has free access to an online tax assistance software for international students. Instructions for using the system will be available on our tax website beginning in February each year.
  • Until you have been in the United States for all or part of five years, your employer should not withhold Social Security or Medicare taxes from your paycheck. Make sure you bring this to their attention. You can refer them to IRS publications 519 and 901 when necessary. 
  • All or part of your salary may be exempt from federal taxation based on tax treaties between the US and your country of residence. A complete list of tax treaties is linked on the OPT request eForm.