F-1 Optional Practical Training

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least four consecutive quarters and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study. OPT is recommended by your International Student Advisor at ISSO, but final approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your F-1 program completion date (Section 5 of your I-20). The latest date the USCIS will accept your application is 60 days after your completion date. In addition, OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of the printing of your OPT I-20 from ISSO.

Step 1:

Download and complete OPT I-20 Request Form

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) Web site (www.uscis.gov) under Immigration Forms.

Step 2:

Gather all immigration documents and other supporting materials to submit with the application for employment authorization, including the following:

  • Form I-94 - Printed from www.cbp.gov/I94
  • Valid passport - photocopy of photo page, renewal page if original has expired, and pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections, etc.
  • Visa (if applicable) - photocopy of visa page
  • Photocopy of OPT-notated I-20 (don't forget to sign it)
  • Photocopies of any previous employment authorization documents (EAD)
  • Two identical photographs (photograph instructions are found on the Form I-765 instructions under Required Documentation)
  • $380 fee (check or money order payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Step 3:

Schedule a meeting with the international student advisor to receive the updated Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, and to review your application to ensure you have properly completed the Form I-765 and have all of the required supporting documents.

Step 4:

Make a photocopy of all application materials for your records.

Step 4:

File the Form I-765 and supporting documents listed in item 3 with the appropriate USCIS Service Center (depending on where you live).

Important OPT Reminders:
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, once you find a qualifying job, you must notify ISSO.
  • The employment may occur anywhere in the U.S.
  • No special permission is required to change employers or terminate your employment. However, you must notify ISSO of your unemployment and/or new employer's information at by emailing kevin.long@ucsf.edu
  • The OPT application generally takes between 2.5 to 3 months to issue the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT. There is no way to expedite an application.
  • For post-completion OPT, you can file the Form I-765 up to 90 days before your program end date and no later than 60 days after your program end date.
  • The Form I-765 must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date your advisor made the OPT recommendation in SEVIS (see page 1 of the printed Form I-20 for the date).
  • If you move and do not provide USCIS with your new address, your EAD will be returned to USCIS. To change your address, submit an online Form AR-11 to USCIS, and ask international student advisor to update SEVIS.
  • Your OPT employment must be directly related to your field of study and cannot begin until you have the EAD card in hand (and the start date has arrived).
  • F-1 status is dependent upon full-time employment, part-time employment or volunteer service while on post-completion OPT. You cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT. If you are close to 90 days, consult with the international student advisor.
  • You will need to continue to update the international student advisor with address changes and changes in employment while on post-completion OPT.
  • OPT can only be extended beyond 12 months (for up to 17 additional months), if you meet the following three conditions:
    • Your OPT is based on a U.S. Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctoral in a STEM major (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics at the time of application for the extension.
    • Your employer subscribes to E-Verify. 
    • You are currently authorized for OPT and working in a job related to your field of study