Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides students who have an F-1 visa with the opportunity for hands-on work experience complementary to their academic field of study.

A student is eligible for a maximum of 12 months* of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, a student may apply for OPT after completing a Bachelorís degree and then again after completing a masterís degree. While engaged in OPT, individuals are still considered F-1 students and must report any changes, including change in address, contact information, or job title to DigiPen International Student Services.

*Students in the BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation; BS in Computer Science and Game Design; BS in Computer Science; BS in Computer Science and Digital Audio; BS in Computer Engineering; BFA in Digital Art and Animation; BA in Game Design; MFA in Digital Arts; or MS in Computer Science are eligible to apply for an OPT extension. This extends employment for an additional 24 months. This is called a STEM OPT extension and is only available to students in science, technology, engineering, and math majors (animation was added to the eligibility list in 2011).

There are two types of OPT:

Full-time

  • During your annual vacation breaks, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the following semester (Pre-completion OPT)
  • After the completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or dissertation credit) (Post-completion OPT)
  • After completion of your degree program (Post-completion OPT)

Part-time

  • While enrolled in a full course of study, provided employment for OPT does not exceed 20 hours per week (every two months of part-time OPT counts as one month from the 12-month total) (Pre-completion OPT)
  • Available to students with F-1 status who have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (Pre-completion OPT)

Because of processing delays, applications should be mailed to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as early as 90 days before your program end date. You cannot begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Please contact International Student Services to learn more about the OPT application process.

Application Procedures

Read all of this text before beginning the application process.

  1. Schedule an appointment with International Student Services to finalize your OPT application.
  2. Bring the following to International Student Services during your meeting:
    • Completed Form I-765
      NOTE: We recommend that you print out your I-765 and mail a paper copy to USCIS. If you are planning to submit an online Form I-765, it must NOT be submitted before the DSO inputs the official OPT endorsement in SEVIS.
    • Check or money order made payable to "Department of Homeland Security" for the amount of the current filing fee
    • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
    • Photocopies of your I-94
      NOTE: If your I-94 was stapled into your passport, please make a copy of the front and back of the I-94
    • Photocopy of the biographical (picture) page of your passport
    • Two passport-style photos taken within 30 days of application
    • Photocopy of visa page in passport
    • Photocopies of any previously issued EAD cards
  3. After reviewing the items listed above, International Student Services will:
    • Have you fill out an Employment Authorization Request Form
    • Recommend to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, through the online SEVIS system, that practical training permission be authorized
    • Print a new I-20, then sign and date the I-20
  4. After all forms are reviewed and signed, you will mail the following to USCIS within 30 days:
    • Completed Form I-765
    • Check or money order made payable to "Department of Homeland Security" for the amount of the current filing fee
    • Photocopy of current I-20 with the OPT endorsement from International Student Services
    • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
    • Photocopy of your I-94
    • Photocopy of the biographical (picture) page of your passport
    • Two passport-style photos taken within 30 days of application
    • Photocopy of visa page in passport
    • Photocopies of any previously issued EAD cards
  5. Make a copy of your entire packet before sending it to USCIS for your records.
    • For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
      USCIS
      PO Box 21281
      Phoenix, AZ 85034
    • For Express Mail and Courier Deliveries:
      USCIS
      Attn: AOS
      1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S.
      Suite 100
      Phoenix, AZ 85034
  6. USCIS will send you a receipt within 30 days. The receipt will have the date USCIS received your application, the date the receipt was mailed to you, and an estimate of when your application will be processed. Average processing time is at least 90 days. The receipt will also have a "LIN number" at the top right-hand corner. You may use this number to check the status of your application online.
  7. If USCIS approves your application, you will be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) within approximately 90 to 120 days. The EAD is a photo-identification card, similar in shape and size to a driverís license, on which is noted the beginning and ending dates of your OPT authorization.
  8. When you receive the EAD, please bring, mail, or fax a photocopy of the card to DigiPen's International Student Services.
  9. Remember to tell International Student Services if you change your address at any time during your OPT authorization.

STEM Extension

On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension. This final rule went into effect on May 10, 2016, replacing the 17-month STEM OPT extension. In this ruling, DHS extended the period of time from 17 months to 24 months and strengthened oversight of the program by adding new features, including changes to the STEM OPT application process.

Changes with STEM OPT

Under the new ruling, changes to STEM include the following:
1. A 24 month extension rather than a 17 month extension for STEM OPT.
2. Use of prior, qualifying STEM degrees to apply for the 24-month extension.
3. Benefit from two periods of STEM OPT Extension based on higher degree levels.
4. Prohibits volunteering, self-employment, and in most cases, temporary agency and contract work.
5. Extended amount of unemployment, allowing for 150 days of unemployment for the full duration of their STEM OPT.
6. Now required to fill out the Form I-983 to be eligible for STEM OPT.
7. Now required to regularly report to the DSO every six months and must now complete two self-evaluations throughout the duration of the extension.
8. DHS now reserves the right to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the STEM OPT student and employer are following the conditions laid out in the Form I-983.

Application Process

NOTE: Students interested in participating in the STEM OPT extension must still find employers who are in good standing with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceís (USCIS) E-Verify system and must train with the employer for a minimum of 20 hours per week. If your company does NOT have an E-Verify number, then you are NOT eligible for STEM OPT.

  1. DHS now requires students to fill out the Form I-983, or the ďTraining Plan for STEM OPT StudentsĒ form. This form requires students to outline learning objectives that will be achieved in their work. The form and instructions are available below:
  2. Once filled out with your supervisor, please send a photocopy is sent to DigiPenís International Student Services.
  3. International Student Services will then send you the I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation.
  4. Once received, you will submit the following to USCIS:
    • Completed Form I-765
    • Check or money order made payable to "Department of Homeland Security" for the amount of the current filing fee
    • Photocopy of signed I-20 with STEM recommendation
    • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
    • Photocopy of your I-94 Photocopies of your I-94
      Note: If your I-94 was stapled into your passport, please make a copy of the front and back of the I-94
    • Photocopy of the biographical (picture) page of passport
    • Two passport-style photos (see photo specifications below)
    • Photocopies of any previously issued EAD cards
    • Photocopy of visa page in passport
    • Photocopy of your diploma or proof that you have completed your degree program.
  5. Make a copy of your entire packet before sending it to USCIS for your records.
  6. Be sure to mail your application to the USCIS Service Center serving the area of your current residence.

Frequently Asked Questions

When can I work?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) permits employment:

  • During an annual vacation semester
  • While registered for a full course of study (part-time work only)
  • While registered for thesis or dissertation credit (after completing all course requirements)
  • After completion of studies (graduation)
  • After you complete one full year of courses

How many hours can I work per work on OPT?

Generally, you may work full-time (more than 20 hours per week). The only exception is for students who are registered courses during a required semesteróthey may only work up to 20 hours per week.

When should I apply for OPT authorization?

You may apply as early as 90 days before you complete your degree, and up to 60 days after your program end date listed on your I-20. It can take U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) three to four months to approve your application. Remember that you cannot begin employment until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

For the STEM OPT Extension, you may apply as early as 120 days before the end of your OPT. Should you submit your OPT or STEM OPT application late, this may impact your full OPT eligibility.

I donít have a job offer but Iím planning to work in the United States. Can I still apply for OPT?

Unlike CPT, OPT does not require you to have a job prior to applying. If you wish to work in the United States, we absolutely recommend that you apply for OPT.

How much time am I eligible to work under OPT?

USCIS allows students to work for a maximum of 12 months* at the full-time rate, per academic level (once after completion of bachelor's degree and once after master's degree). Part-time OPT (while registered as a student for a full-credit load) accrues at half the full-time rate. For example, for every two months you work on part-time OPT (while registered for a full course of study), you deduct one month of full-time OPT.

*Students in the BS in Real-Time Interactive Simulation; BS in Computer Science and Game Design; BS in Computer Engineering; BS in Engineering and Sound Design; BFA in Digital Art and Animation; BA in Game Design; MFA in Digital Arts; or MS in Computer Science are eligible to apply for an OPT extension. This extends employment for an additional 17 months, for a total of up to 29 months. This is called a STEM OPT extension and is only available to students in science, technology, engineering, and math majors (animation was added to the eligibility list in 2011).

If you have worked under Curricular Practical Training (CPT):

  • For less than 12 months full-time, you are eligible for 12 months full-time OPT
  • For more than 12 months part-time, you are eligible for 12 months full-time OPT
  • For more than 12 months full-time, you are not eligible for any OPT

How can get email or text notifications regarding my OPT application status?

You may complete the Form G-1145 and include it in your OPT application in order to get email and text notifications regarding your OPT application status. This form is optional and does not need to be included in your OPT application. In addition, a paper receipt will be sent to your address with the receipt number that will allow you to track your application status.

What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application?

The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. Please contact USCIS for your options.

How long does it take to get approved for OPT?

Typically, it takes three to four months.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?

The answer depends on your situation.

  • If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must contact International Student Services to notify the school about your change in plans.
  • If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored.
  • If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel authorization, cancellation in this case is highly unlikely.

OPT applications are not meant to be cancelled! Please plan carefully and apply for OPT only if you are sure that you want to work in the U.S.

Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the U.S.?

Yes. Contact International Student Services for procedures and assistance.

When I receive my EAD card, should I give a copy to DigiPen International Student Services?

Yes. International Student Services needs a copy of your EAD card for your file.

What happens if my EAD card has incorrect information on it?

Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. Since the correction process may require to mail your EAD card, it is better to wait until after the hiring process to send your EAD card to USCIS. Corrections may be done through the USCIS website.

Where can I work?

You may accept any job that is directly related to your field of study and appropriate for your level of education.

Is it possible to extend my practical training beyond 12 months without applying for the STEM extension?

No, you cannot extend practical training beyond the 12-month limit. However, you may qualify for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training for each degree level you complete. For example, you may qualify for 12 months of practical training after you complete your bachelorís degree, 12 months after you complete your masterís degree, and another 12 months after you finish your doctorate degree.

What happens if I can't find a job?

During the OPT authorization period, you should be either working in your field of study, or actively seeking suitable employment. If you are unable to find a job after an aggregate of 90 days, you should make plans to go home, return to school for another degree, or change to a different immigration status.

Can I leave the United States while my OPT application is being processed?

If your OPT application is pending, it is not recommended you travel out of the country. Once your OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you may not re-enter the United States unless you have evidence of employment.

Can I travel abroad and return to the United States after receiving my EAD card?

Yes, as long as you have the following documents with you.

  • I-20 signed for travel by a DSO within the last six months
  • EAD card
  • Valid U.S. visa
  • Valid passport
  • Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer which includes specific employment dates)

Can I continue to work an OPT after my EAD card expires?

No. When your EAD card expires, you must:

  • Prepare to leave the United States within 60 days, or
  • Be issued an I-20 for a new program of study, or
  • Change to a different immigration status.

What if I lose my EAD card?

If you lose your card, you need to apply for a replacement by completing Form I-765 again and resubmitting it with all supporting documents, including the fee, to the USCIS.