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 address changes to the DigiPen International Student Services department.

*Students in the BS in Real-Time Interactive Simulation; BS in Computer Science and Game Design; 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 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).

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
    • After the completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or dissertation credit)
    • After completion of your DIT degree
  • 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)
    • Available to students with F-1 status who have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year

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

1. Read all of this text before beginning the application process.

2. Bring the following to International Student Services:

  • Completed Employment Authorization Request Form
  • Completed Form I-765 (if you are submitting an online Form I-765, it must not be submitted before the DSO inputs the official OPT endorsement in SEVIS)
  • Photocopy of current I-20 with the OPT endorsement from International Student Services
  • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
  • Photocopies of both sides of your I-94
  • Photocopy of the biographical (picture) page of your passport
  • Two passport-style photos (see photo specifications below) taken within 30 days of application
  • Photocopy of visa page in passport
  • Photocopies of any previously issued EAD cards
  • Photocopy of diploma or official proof of graduation (if applying for STEM extension)

3. After reviewing the items listed above, International Student Services will recommend to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, through the online SEVIS system, that practical training permission be authorized. The advisor will print a new I-20, then sign and date the I-20.

4. After all forms are reviewed and signed, the student mails 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 signed I-20 with OPT recommendation
  • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
  • Photocopies of both sides of 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
  • Do not send your original passport to USCIS.
  • Make a copy of your entire packet before sending it to USCIS.
  • Mail the application to the address below. Request a tracking number from the Post Office so that you will know when USCIS receives your application, but do not request delivery signature confirmation as it is being delivered to a PO Box.

For U.S Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:

For Express Mail and Courier deliveries:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85034

USCIS
Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S.
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

5. 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 three months. 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.

6. 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.

7. When you receive the EAD, please bring, mail, or fax a photocopy of the card to DigiPen's International Student Services.

8. Remember to tell ISS if you change your address at any time during your OPT authorization.

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)

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 for a full-time credit loadóthey 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. 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).

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

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.

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

Yes. Contact ISS for procedures and assistance.

When I receive my EAD card, should I give a copy to the DigiPen ISS department?

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

Where can I work?

You may accept any job that is 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?

Practical training is not a vacation. 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.

STEM Extension

Application Process

Step 1:

  • Submit the following to International Student Services:
    • Name and address of current employer
    • Your job title
    • Your supervisor's contact information: name, email address, and phone number
    • Your email address
  • The DSO will issue a new I-20 with a recommendation for the extension and will mail it to you.

Step 2:

Mail to USCIS the following:

  • 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
  • Photocopies of both sides of 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.

Make a copy of your entire packet before sending it to USCIS. Be sure to mail your application to the USCIS Service Center serving the area of your current residence.