Optional Practical Training
- What is Optional Practical Training?
- How much OPT is allowed?
- Do I need OPT if I will be participating in unpaid internship?
- Who is Eligible to apply for OPT?
- When Should I apply for OPT?
- What should I indicate as my OPT start date?
- What if I can't find a job while I am on OPT?
- What kind of employment is allowed while on OPT?
- What is H-1B cap-gap?
- What are my reporting responsibilities while I am on post-completion OPT?
- Are there OPT Information Sessions?
- Can I re-enter the U.S. while my OPT request is pending with the USCIS?
- Can I re-enter the U.S. after my OPT request is approved?
- What if my OPT EAD is lost or stolen and I need to apply for the replacement card?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as a practical work experience for students in valid F1 visa status that is directly related to your degree program and is intended to enhance and supplement the formal, classroom education. OPT can be authorized during or after completion of studies including:
1) Pre-completion during official school vacation periods - full-time or part-time employment
2) Pre-completion while school is in session – limited to part-time (20 hours per week or less) employment only
3) After completion of studies also called post-completion OPT - must be full-time
How does a student show that employment is directly related to his or her degree program?
The student should maintain evidence for each job documenting the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student's degree, the student should obtain a letter from his or her supervisor stating how the student's degree is related to the work performed.
Standard OPT: F-1 students are allowed an aggregate period of 12 months of full-time OPT for each degree level (Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate). You may use portions of your 12-month OPT during studies or vacations or you wait and use the entire 12 months after graduation. Pre-completion part-time OPT accrues at a rate of 50% (example: 6 months of pre-completion part-time OPT is counted as 3 months toward the total 12 months you are allowed. So if you did 6 months of part-time pre-completion OPT, you would have 9 months of OPT remaining for use after completion of your degree.)
STEM OPT Extension: Students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) may be eligible for an additional 17-months post-completion OPT if they meet the required STEM OPT criteria.
As long as the internship meets the unpaid internship criteria set by the U.S. Department of Labor, an employment relationship doesn't exist and therefore you are not required to apply for OPT. Please consult the Department of Labor Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standar Act for detailed information about guidelines for individuals seeking an unpaid internship.
1. Make sure that your prospective supervisor is aware of these federal regulations and that you have assurances (preferably written) to that effect before you accept the internship.
2. We also recommend that you obtain a letter confirming that there was not any type of compensation provided in any form during the dates you were participating in the unpaid internship.
3. Just like with paid internship, you should obtain approval from your academic advisor to participate in the internship because the unpaid internship must also be directly related to your major field of study.
NOTE: Visiting Student Research Collaborators (VSRC's) and visiting/exchange students are not eligible to apply for OPT. Only students pursuing a degree (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD) at Princeton are allowed to apply.
- Students in valid F1 student visa status
- Application must be submitted from within the U.S. - not from abroad. The F-1 regulations require a student to be in F-1 status to apply for OPT, and a student outside the U.S. is not in any nonimmigrant status while abroad (even though their SEVIS record is active). Also, the questions on Form I-765 assume that a student is residing in the U.S. If you are studying abroad and wish to apply for OPT, you must return to the U.S. to apply for OPT.
- Students enrolled for at least one full academic year
- A job offer is not required to apply for OPT, but during post-completion OPT, you are expected to work or be actively seeking employment in your field of study after the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued.
Post-completion OPT for Undergraduate Class 2014
Graduating students may apply no earlier than 90 days BEFORE your program completion date and your application must be received by USCIS NO LATER than sixty days AFTER your program completion date. While most of you will want to attend Commencement Day (June 3rd) and therefore use that day as your completion date, please note that for immigration purposes, you may also use May 24th as your completion date. You will only use May 24th as your completion date if you wish to start working earlier than June 3rd.
Post-completion OPT for Graduate Students:
- If you are a Master's student, your completion date is June 30.
- If you are a PhD student, the last day of the month in which FPO occurs is your program completion date.
- If you are a PhD student and your FPO occurs between May 1 and June 30, your program completion date is June 30.
- If you are a Master's student in the 18-month program in Architecture, your program completion date is January 31.
NOTE FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS: For immigration purposes, FPO date can also be used as your program completion date and your OPT may start immediately following your defense.
Apply Early: The USCIS currently takes between 60-90 days to process and approve OPT so we recommend that you apply for post-completion OPT as early as possible within the 95-day period before your academic program completion date. Although it is allowed according to the F-1 regulations, we strongly recommend that graduating students DO NOT apply during the 60-day grace period following your completion of studies. Doing so may result in your losing some OPT employment time due to the USCIS application processing delays. Students who choose to apply during the 60-day grace period following graduation must submit the application from within the U.S. and must remain in the U.S. until the OPT application is approved.
Pre-completion OPT during summer vacation or during studies: You may bring your OPT application to the Davis IC no earlier than 95 days prior to your projected or desired employment start date.
Freshmen and First Year Graduate Students: The F-1 regulations require that you complete one full academic year in order to be eligible for OPT. You may bring your pre-completion OPT application to Davis IC no earlier than 95 days before your desired OPT start date.
Pre-completion OPT: Your OPT employment start should be the date your employment offer begins. In order to avoid processing delays, you may choose to apply for OPT before you have an offer of employment. In this case, you will need to estimate the date your desired employment will begin. You may not start working earlier than May 25.
Post-completion OPT: Your OPT employment start can be any date between your program completion date and 60 days following your program completion date. When indicating your start date, you will need to consider the date your employment offer (if any) begins and the date in which you apply for OPT since it is currently taking USCIS about 90 days to process OPT applications. You may not begin working until you have the OPT approval in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Pre-completion OPT periods of unemployment: A job offer is not required to apply for pre-completion OPT. There is no penalty if you do not actually work during pre-completion OPT except that you will lose that time from your 12-month OPT eligibility and you will lose your $380 filing fee.
Post-completion OPT periods of unemployment: Although a job offer is not required in order to apply for post-completion OPT, students are advised that "during post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment," and there is an aggregate limit 90 days of "unemployment" that can be accrued while on post-completion OPT.
Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. OPT authorization begins on the employment start date as shown on the student's EAD.
For the students reaching the limit of unemployment time, the SEVP Policy Guidance (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) suggests that, "prior to reaching the limit on authorized unemployment the student should prepare to transfer to another SEVP-certified school, change educational level, depart the United States, or take action to otherwise maintain status in the United States".
The Guidance also states that "a student who exceeded the period of unemployment while on post-completion OPT has violated his or her status unless he or she has taken one of the following actions:
- Applied to continue his or her education by a change of educational level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school;
- Departed the United States;
- Taken action to otherwise maintain legal status
All OPT employment must be in a job that is related to the student's degree program. This employment may include:
Paid employment: You may work part time (at least 20 hours per week while on post-completion OPT) or full time.
Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to your degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
Work for hire: This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contacting company.
Self-employed business owner: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must work full time. You must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
Employment through an agency or consulting firm: Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Unpaid employment. Students on OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. the work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, you must be prepared to provide evidence from the employer that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
The "H-1B cap-gap" is the period of time between the end of your OPT and the beginning of your H-1B status. If you have authorized OPT and have filed a timely application for change of status to H-1B with an employment start date of October 1, your OPT employment authorization will be automatically extended while the change of status application is pending through October 1 or is approved.
You are eligible for H-1B cap gap if:
- Your employer files an H-1B petition for you on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.
- You are still within your OPT authorization period when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).
If your change of status application is denied, rejected or revoked, your work permission will expire on the OPT EAD end date or the USCIS Notice date, whichever comes first.
To apply for a cap-gap extension I-20, please do the following:
- Update your employment and address information through Davis IC website.
- Send an e-mail to email@example.com and include "Cap-Gap Extension" in the Subject line. Attach a scanned copy of the USCIS receipt or approval and indicate the following in the e-mail: confirmation that you updated your employment and address information through Davis IC website and provide your SEVIS number.
- Davis IC will print a new I-20 for you that indicates the extension of your F-1 status and extension of your OPT employment authorization. Please allow up to five (5) business days for processing
Notes: The 90-day unemployment limit continues during the cap gap extension period.
Traveling abroad during Cap-Gap
You must have a valid EAD CARD, along with a valid passport, F-1 visa, signed I-20 and employment letter, to re-enter the U.S. during the Cap-Gap extension. If your EAD card has expired, you will not be eligible to re-enter the U.S. during the cap-gap extension period.
Traveling abroad during this time, even if your EAD card is still valid, may interfere with the processing of your H1B petition. Make sure that you consult with your employer and/or immigration attorney regarding any travel abroad during this time.
Official Customs and Border Protection advisory about traveling outside the U.S. during Cap-Gap is available here.
During the post-completion OPT dates, all students must report to the Davis International Center:
- Any change in your name or address
- The name and address of your employer
- Any change in the name and address of the employer
- If the employment ends and you do not plan to resume employment in the U.S.
Yes, the Davis International Center strongly encourages you to attend any of the several OPT information sessions offered each year.
Pre-completion OPT: You may travel and re-enter according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students.
Post-completion OPT: According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, students should be able to re-enter the U.S. during this time, but website also advises that traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution. The Davis IC does not recommend that students travel abroad while their OPT applications are pending. USCIS may send you a request for additional evidence while you are away, so you would need to submit requested documents.
Pre-completion OPT: Students may travel according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students.
Post-completion OPT: Students are advised to take caution when traveling outside the U.S. and reentering to begin or resume post-completion OPT. The following documents are required to reenter the US for post-completion OPT:
- Valid Passport
- An unexpired F-1 visa in the passport (Canadians are exempt from the visa requirement)
- Valid I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 3 not older than 6 months from the date you reenter the U.S.
- Proof of work authorization in the form of an approved EAD (Employment Authorization Document) for F-1 student
- Proof of OPT employment in the form of a letter from your employer stating the job title, job description, beginning/ending dates, and salary.
Students on post-completion OPT who need a new F-1 entry visa must schedule an appointment at the U.S. Consulate in their home country to apply for an F-1 visa to return to the U.S. to begin or resume OPT. The documents listed above will be required for the F-1 visa application. It is important to NOTE that it may be more difficult to obtain a student visa while on OPT as the issue of non-immigrant intent with the intention to return to the home country at the completion of the OPT could be more difficult to prove once the student has obtained a degree and is working in the U.S. Therefore, you should be prepared to honestly answer a question related to this issue if you are asked by the Consular official. If the Consular officer determines that you have intention to abandon your home country and remain in the U.S. to work permanently, he/she may deny your application for renewal of the F-1 visa.
STEP 1: Submit all items on the OPT Application checklist below to the Davis International Center (87 Prospect Avenue). DO NOT staple documents. Submit only single-sided copies. We regret that incomplete applications cannot be accepted.
STEP 2: Within 5 business days, the Davis International Center will process a new I-20 Form that has been generated especially for your OPT application. We will notify you by email when your OPT I-20 has been processed. You must then come in to sign this I-20 Form. Your OPT application cannot be mailed to USCIS until you sign the OPT I-20 Form.
STEP 3: The Davis International Center will mail your complete OPT application to USCIS.
STEP 4: UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS : When we receive confirmation that your OPT application has been received by USCIS, the Davis International Center will notify you via email of your USCIS receipt number with which you may view your OPT application Case Status on the USCIS website. GRADUATE STUDENTS: The confirmation that your OPT application has been received by USCIS will be mailed to the mailing address you provided on the I-765 form.
STEP 5: UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS When your OPT has been approved and your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been received, the Davis International Center will notify you by email to come and pick it up. NOTE: You must have your approved EAD card in order to begin employment. GRADUATE STUDENTS: When your OPT has been approved, USCIS will mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the mailing address your provided on the I-765 Form. NOTE: You must have your approved EAD card in order to begin employment.
Submit the following OPT Application forms and documents during the OPT Application
drop-off times: Monday - Thursday 2:00-4:00P or Friday 9:00-12 Noon
1.) Form I-765 (.pdf) (Complete items 1-16, date and signed the form in blue ink). Tips for completing Form I-765: Item #3 - (Important - Undergraduates only - be sure to write the address of the Davis International Center (Davis International Center, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544) - DO NOT write your campus address. This will ensure that the OPT approval is safely received in our office after which we will notify you; Item #10 - Alien registration number is your 11-digit I-94 card number; If you traveled abroad and re-entered the U.S. after April 30th, 2013, you probably no longer have a paper I-94. If that's the case, you will retrieve your I-94 number from www.cbp.gov/I94 Item #16 - Enter the appropriate eligibility code: Pre-completion OPT is (c)(3)(A); Post-completion OPT is (c)(3)(B).
2.) Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (This form is optional. If you include it, you will receive an email or text message informing you they have received your application.)
3.) OPT Advisor Recommendation Form completed and signed by your academic advisor.
4.) OPT Student Certification Form completed and signed by the student.
5.) Photocopies of the following:
- Your current SEVIS I-20 Form and ALL previous I-20s that have been issued to you.You must inform the Davis International Center if you are missing any of your previous I-20s issued by Princeton. If you were an F-1 student at another U.S. institution prior to starting your program at Princeton, but you don't have your old I-20s, you should write a letter stating that you did not keep the old I-20s.
- Your passport identification page(s) with the passport expiration date.
- The front and back pages of your I-94 card (small white card in your passport) if you still have one, OR If you traveled abroad and re-entered the U.S. after April 30th, 2013, a photocopy of the most recent I-94 admission stamp from your passport and an electronic I-94 printout that you may retrieve from www.cbp.gov/I94
- Your most recent F-1 visa stamp (except Canadians who are exempt from visa requirements)
6.) Bank check, money order or personal check (from a U.S. bank and your name and address must be pre-printed on it) in the amount of $380.00. Make check or money order payable to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
7.) Two (2) U.S. passport-style photographs taken within 30 days of your application. You must write your name and your I-94 number on the back of each photo LIGHTLY, in pen. You may refer to the US Department of State website for acceptable photo criteria. Photos may be obtained on campus at: U-Store, 36 University Place OR TigerCard Office, New South Building, A floor.
8.) A copy of your previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD), if any. If you previously engaged in OPT, you will need to submit a photocopy of your previous EAD card(s) - front and back. If you no longer have the card, submit a letter stating that you no longer have it.
Once you have compiled and completed all of the appropriate forms, drop them off at the Davis International Center, 87 Prospect Avenue.
IMPORTANT: Notify your International Student Advisor about a lost or stolen card immediately.
To apply for the EAD replacement card, you must follow the OPT instructions, including the fee payment, with the following exceptions:
1. Check box for Replacement of lost Employment Authorization Document at top of Form I-765;
2. In addition to all I-20s previously issued to you, including the I-20 issued after your applied for OPT, the Davis IC must issue a new I-20.