Skip to content

Optional Practical Training

General Information
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization which allows F-1 students to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience. You may be entitled to up to 12 months of optional practical training per educational level. If a student begins a new academic program at a higher level, the student is eligible for another 12 months of OPT.  There is a filing fee of $410 to receive authorization for OPT. 
Please note that Optional Practical Training requires authorization from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which typically takes 3-6 months to obtain. We recommend that you apply no less than 90 days prior to graduation.
Post-completion OPT
  • OPT done after completion of the course of study
  • Apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before or no later than 60 days after the program end date. 
  • Finish OPT within 14 months after the completion of your academic program.
December Graduates
Early Application (recommended): 
Mid- September (actual date will be no sooner than 90 days before your program end date)
Last day to submit application: Mid- February (actual date will be 60 days after your program end date)
May Graduates
Early Application (recommended): First week of February (actual date will be no sooner than 90 days before your program end date)
Last day to submit application: First week of July (actual date will be 60 days after your program end date)

Eligibility and Information
  • Must:
    • Be a full-time student for one academic school year before the OPT is to begin.
    • Obtain employment directly related to the student's major area of study (see SEVP guidance and examples).
  • Can engage in OPT for up to a total of 12 months from your requested start date.
  • A job offer is not required to be eligible for or to apply for OPT but the student is expected to work or be actively seeking employment after the OPT approval card (EAD) is issued.  Students may only accrue 90 days of unemployment during post-completion OPT. 
  • Employment does NOT have to be paid employment to be considered “employed” for OPT.  Even if the work is unpaid, one must work a minimum of 20 hours/week and obtain proof of employment such as a letter from the employer.  Please be aware of US labor laws that require pay for certain types of work.  
  • Do not begin work until you have received the employment authorization card in the mail. Any employment outside the dates authorized on the Form I-20 is illegal work, and places you outside of legal status in the United States. Your legal status as an F-1 student is terminated if you work without authorization.
  • Please note that you must stop on-campus employment after your program completion date unless you have received your EAD card with a valid start date and the on campus employment is directly related to your course of study.
You can learn more by reviewing the USCIS official OPT Policy Guidance Document. 

OPT Application Process Checklist [to begin, see the "Apply Now" button below]
  1. Make an appointment with your DSO (undergraduate students only) to complete a graduating senior exit interview and discuss OPT eligibility and process.
  2. Complete the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The form I-765 and instructions are available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
  3. Gather all immigration documents and other supporting materials to submit with the application for employment authorization, including the following: 
    • Completed I-765 application 
    • Form I-94:  provide your most recent I-94 form.  You can print it out at:   
    • Photocopies of the following passport pages: 
    • Photo page
    • F-1 visa page
    • Renewal page (if original has expired)
    • Pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections, etc. (if applicable)
  4. Photocopy of I-20 printed with the OPT endorsement (signed) You will keep the original.
  5. Photocopies of all I-20 forms that have been issued.
  6. Photocopies of any previous employment authorization documents (EAD)-if applicable.
  7. G-1145 form, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. You can find and print this form here.
  8. Two identical 2x2 color passport photographs taken within 30 days.  These can usually be taken at a local store, such as Walgreens.  For details, please see:
  9. Pay I-765 fee (check or Money Order payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).  The current fee is listed on the USCIS website (see link above).
  10. Schedule a meeting with your DSO to review your application and get an updated I-20 showing the OPT endorsement which you will submit with the application. 
Please note: USCIS must receive your complete OPT application within 30 days of the date your new I-20 was printed endorsing OPT, and no earlier than 90 days prior to the program end date on your I-20. If USCIS receives your OPT application outside of the approved time line your request will be denied.
  1. Mail the application and supporting documents with the USCIS Service Center (address listed below) at the cost of the student.
USCIS Chicago Lockbox
U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

Ready to start your OPT application?   

The application on this site will further explain this and additional information, guide you in preparing the USCIS forms, and allow you to submit a copy of everything for your DSO to review before you mail in the official documents to USCIS.

If you prefer to learn more before starting an application, please make an appointment with your DSO.