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Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The steps required to apply for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) are outlined below. 

Please note the the application can take several months for processing and you may NOT begin working until authorization is granted. 

ISO highly recommends scheduling an appointment with an ISO advisor to review your plans before applying.

  • 1. Obtain OPT recommendation from the University

    Complete and submit the OPT Recommendation Form (PDF) to request an OPT recommendation, which will be issued on a new I-20. To complete the form, you should fill out the top half, then submit the document to your academic department for signatures. Once the form is complete and signed, it can be sent to ISO.

    Once the form is received, an ISO advisor will process your request within 1 week and issue a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation. You will be notified by email when the new I-20 is available. You must include a copy of this I-20 when sending your OPT application to USCIS.

    On the OPT Recommendation Form, you will be asked to indicate your requested OPT authorization dates.  You may want to consider these common OPT decision factors when choosing your employment dates.  Please note that once you have applied for OPT, it is not possible to change or cancel the requested employment dates. If you are considering a transition to a work-based immigration status, such as H-1B, the dates you select may also impact your ability to maintain work permission during that change.

  • 2. Submit Application to USCIS 

    Collect the necessary application materials and mail the completed application to USCIS for processing. 

    Please consult the ISO's page on preparing and filing OPT applications for a list of required documents and instructions.

    Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS:

    • No earlier than 90 days before your I-20 Program End Date
    • No later than 60 days after your I-20 Program End Date
    • Within 30 days of your OPT recommendation 
    • While you are maintaining F-1 status in the United States

    Applications received outside of the required timeline will likely be denied by USCIS. Please consult an ISO advisor if you have questions about your application.

  • 3. While Your Application is Pending

    Once your application is delivered to USCIS, you should receive a few updates and notices updating you about your application status. Please note that you do not have any OPT work authorization while your application is still pending.

    Within a few weeks of your application being delivered to USCIS, you can expect the following:

    • Text/email confirmation of application receipt
    • I-797 Receipt Notice (delivered to mailing address)

    Once you have your USCIS Receipt Number, you can use it to check your case status online while your application is pending. USCIS processing times vary, but often range from 1-5 months.

    Within this 1-5 month timeframe, you can expect the following:

    • If applicable: Request for Evidence or other USCIS notice (delivered to mailing address)
    • I-797 Approval Notice (delivered to mailing address)
    • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (delivered to mailing address)
    • If applicable: Social Security Card (delivered to mailing address)

    If you used ISO's mailing address for your application, you will receive an email from our office with instructions once we receive any mail on your behalf.

    If you used a personal mailing address for your application, check your mail regularly and please promptly inform ISO of any updates or documentation you receive from USCIS. Please submit scans of these documents by email to

  • 4. Once Your Application Is Approved

    Only the EAD you receive by mail can serve as official proof of work authorization (not the approval notice). Your EAD will list your authorized OPT employment dates. Employment is authorized ONLY for the dates listed and ONLY in your field of study, as indicated by the major(s) on your I-20. 

    Do NOT begin working until you have your EAD in hand and your authorized OPT period has started!

    During your OPT period, you have an aggregate 90-day unemployment limit. During your OPT period, you must report all employment activities and address details to ISO within 10 days of any changesOPT work permission is not employer-specific and you may change employers at any time during the authorization period, you report these changes accordingly. 

    If you completed a STEM-eligible degree program and may apply for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension toward the end of your OPT period, please review ISO's website for timing and employment eligibility criteria to assist you with planning during your OPT period. 

Please contact ISO if you have questions about the OPT application process. Click here to return.