Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If you are an F-1 student, then Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows you to work off-campus in your field of study for 12 months. OPT typically takes approximately 90 days to process because the application is sent to a USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) center for adjudication.
You will need to schedule a time to meet with the International Student Support Coordinator to discuss OPT requirements, restrictions, and review your application. International Student Support will issue an OPT I-20 for you after meeting to confirm that you are prepared to apply for the OPT process. Send an email or call 303-352-7243 to schedule a time to meet and review your application. You cannot apply for OPT without an OPT I-20, so please contact International Student Support with any questions you may have about the process.
Additional important information about OPT:
- OPT usually takes 90 days (3 months) to process, plus mailing time, so make sure to apply as soon as possible!
- OPT employment must be directly related to your field of study/major.
- In order to be eligible for OPT, you need to be a degree-seeking student who has been in full-time student status for at least one academic year.
Review information about the different types of OPT, how to maintain your status while on OPT, STEM OPT extensions, and additional frequently asked questions:
What is it?
- Optional Practical Training is a benefit of the F-1 visa status.
- OPT is off-campus work authorization that permits work experience in your field of study at a U.S. company or organization.
- Employment is limited to your field of study.
- Maximum authorization is 12 months.
- If you are eligible for a STEM OPT Extension, you may be able to request an additional 24 months of OPT (total of 36 months).
What type of employment is considered OPT?
- Working in a position that is directly related to the degree you received from MSU Denver is permitted.
- Example 1: Maria graduated with a degree in Chemistry at MSU Denver. She is hired by Coca Cola to work in the Research and Development department. This is an example of acceptable OPT since the work that Maria will be doing is directly related to her degree in Chemistry.
- Example 2: Bader graduated from MSU Denver with a degree in Marketing. He is hired to work as a Senior Buyer at Amazon. Bader can easily justify how his job at Amazon is directly related to the Marketing degree he received from MSU Denver.
What type of employment is NOT considered OPT?
- Working at a job that is not related to your degree is not permitted on OPT and is considered unlawful employment.
- Example 1: Sultan majored in Biology at MSU Denver. He is having trouble finding a job related to his degree, so he wants to begin working as a server in a restaurant. This is NOT an example of acceptable OPT. Sultan would not be able to justify how being a waiter would be related to his Biology degree.
- Example 2: Salima graduated with a degree in Social Work. Her friend works at King Soopers and offers her a job as a bakery clerk. This is NOT an example of acceptable OPT. Being a bakery clerk is not directly related to Salima's degree in Social Work.
What is Employment?
- You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week
- Working at multiple jobs is permitted (a minimum of 20 hours per week total)
- Volunteer/unpaid work of a minimum of 20 hours per week
- Musicians: maintain a list of all performances
- Contract hire: keep a list of 1099's and duration of employment
- Self-employed: you must have proper business licenses and keep record of time worked
- You should be able to provide proof of employment and hours worked in case USCIS asks for this information.
When can I use OPT?
- During school vacations (full-time)
- During school year (part-time)
- Useful only if you already have an employment offer
- Part-time completion counts at a half-time rate (6 months of part-time OPT = 3 months of full-time OPT)
- After completion of studies date
- Always full-time
- NOTE: You will only be authorized for 12 months of pre-completion and post-completion OPT total.
- If you are applying after your completion date, you will be applying for Standard Post-Completion OPT.
- If you are applying beforeyour completion date, you will be applying for Pre-Completion OPT.
- You may work part-time during the school year and full-time during school breaks.
- This time will be subtracted from the standard 12 months of post-completion OPT allowed.
When is my Completion Date?
- Your completion date is when your I-20 expires.
- Usually, this is the last day of the semester in which you will graduate.
- Graduate students may have a different completion date if you defend your thesis or dissertation early in the semester.
How do I choose a start date?
- Post-Completion: The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your completion date. You must choose a start date within the 60 day grace period after your I-20 expires.
- Pre-Completion: You should discuss the desired start date with your employer or choose the day that you want to start work. Contact International Student Support for more guidance.
- You CANNOT start working between your completion date and your OPT start date.
- You must physically have your EAD card in order to begin work.
When can I apply?
- The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your program completion date. It is recommended that you apply no later than 30 days before your program completion date.
- To remain in status, USCIS must receive your application before the end of your 60 day grace period.
- Your requested OPT start date needs to be within 60 days of your program completion date.
What if I change my mind after applying?
- Your OPT can be canceled without losing any time IF it has not been approved by USCIS.
- NO REFUNDS: You lose the $410 application fee paid to USCIS.
- Your OPT cannot be canceled once it has been approved - if you cancel, you lose OPT eligibility.
- Any change to your OPT application is not recommended once it has been submitted. Talk to International Student Support for more information.
- If you start a new degree program, or transfer your SEVIS record to a new school during your OPT period, this will cancel your OPT work authorization.
- OPT is awarded again ONLY at a higher degree level. For example, if you graduate with a Bachelor's degree from MSU Denver and use your 1 year of OPT after graduation, you will not be permitted to use OPT again if you graduate with another Bachelor's degree in a different area of study. You can only use OPT again if you get a higher degree, such as a Master's or PhD.
- OPT is still part of your F-1 status.
- You still need your I-20 and a recent travel signature on your I-20 before you leave the U.S. We recommend you get a travel signature every 6 months.
- You will also need a valid F-1 visa to return to the U.S.
- If your application is still pending during the 60 day grace period after your program completion date, travel is NOT recommended.
- If your application is approved and you have a job, always travel with a written support letter from your supervisor.
- If your application was approved and you DO NOT have a job, leaving the country is risky and not recommended. If you travel, carry proof of your job search.
- Be cautious of traveling if you are unemployed on OPT. It is always best to carry any employment documentation with you when traveling. A check stub, letter from your supervisor, an offer letter, or an interview invitation.
What do I need to apply?
- Review the Post-Completion OPT and Pre-Completion OPT sections below to review the required documents for OPT.
- Schedule a time to meet with the International Student Support Coordinator to review your application and issue an OPT I-20 for you.
What happens after I submit my application for OPT?
- After submitting your application to USCIS, you will receive a Notice of Action (receipt letter) within a few weeks of submitting your application (usually 2-3 weeks).
- You can use your Notice of Action receipt to track your application using the receipt number at www.uscis.gov.
- Your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) will arrive within 90 days.
- You MUST work while on OPT
- Your work MUST be in your field of study.
- In order to maintain your status, you cannot be unemployed more than 90 days (total) while on OPT.
- You must report changes in your home address, employers, and periods of unemployment to International Student Support within 10 days of any changes. You must complete the OPT Update Form to report these changes.
- Your I-20 cannot be extended while you are on OPT. You need your EAD card and your OPT I-20 for proof of your status.
What happens when my OPT time ends?
- Extension of your OPT work authorization is available if you have a pending non-exempt H-1B petition. Contact International Student Support for this type of extension.
- If your degree is in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math), you may qualify for a 24 month OPT extension.
- Contact International Student Support 120 to 90 days BEFORE your current OPT ends.
- You have a 60 day grace period after your OPT expires. You can use this time to:
- Apply to change your visa status
- Prepare to leave the U.S.
- Begin a new degree program
- A higher degree equals 12 additional months of OPT
Post-completion OPT is the most common type of Optional Practical Training. Post-completion means that your OPT will begin after your I-20 end date. Please note the specific requirements necessary to apply for post-completion OPT:
- You can apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your I-20 end date. International Student Support recommends that you apply as early as possible.
- Your OPT start date needs to be within your 60 day grace period that begins the day after your I-20 ends.
- Your degree requirements should be completed by the time your post-completion OPT begins.
- You do not need a job offer to apply for post-completion OPT.
- You cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT.
List of Documents Necessary for the Post-Completion OPT Application
- Copy of Passport
- Copy of visa
- Check for $410 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Two passport-style photos (please review the OPT Photo Requirements prior to having photos taken) with your full name and I-94 number written on the back
- Previous OPT and CPT I-20s, if applicable
- Previous EAD cards, if applicable
When you have readied these documents, please contact International Student Support to schedule a time to review your OPT application.
Pre-completion OPT is Optional Practical Training utilized before the I-20 end date and the completion of your studies. Pre-completion OPT is counted towards the 12 months of OPT available. If you do part-time pre-completion OPT, it is counted at half the rate of full-time OPT. Please note the specific requirements necessary to apply for pre-completion OPT:
- You must have a job offer to apply for pre-completion OPT.
- While school is in session, you are limited to part-time pre-completion OPT, unless you are exempt from full-time enrollment. You can take part in full-time pre-completion OPT during summer and winter breaks.
- You must have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year. You are eligible to apply for your pre-completion OPT to start the summer after your first academic year.
Reporting Requirements while on OPT:
While you are on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status, and MSU Denver still manages your immigration record. Therefore, you must keep us updated on your physical location/address and employment information while on OPT. You will need to complete the OPT Update Form as soon as you receive initial employment, and complete it again if anything changes regarding your employment. Even if nothing changes, please update International Student Support every 6 months. If you do not report employment within 90 days of your OPT start date, your immigration record will be terminated. If you have more than 90 days of unemployment, your immigration record may also terminate.
You need to report the following information to us within 10 days of any change using the OPT Update Form:
- Physical Address (and mailing address, if different)
- Employer's Address
- Employer Identification Number/Federal Tax Identification Number
- Title of Your Position
- How your position relates to your field of study
- Your supervisor's name, phone number, and email address
- Periods of unemployment
Important Things to Keep in Mind While on OPT:
- While on OPT, you have 90 days of allowable unemployment (120 days for STEM Extension OPT).
- You need to work a minimum of 20 hours per week if you are on post-completion OPT.
- The following things are considered employment:
- Paid employment
- Unpaid/volunteer employment
- Contract Hire (keep a list of the 1099's and the duration of your employment)
- Self-employed (if you have the proper business licenses)
- Multiple jobs (as long as all jobs are in your field of study)
- It is extremely important to update International Student Support using the OPT Update Form. If you do not update us on your employment, your record will be automatically terminated after 90 days if there is no employment listed in your record.
The new 24-Month STEM Extension Rule is effective May 10, 2016. If you are enrolled in a STEM eligible degree program, this means that you are now eligible for up to 3 years of work authorization in the United States as long as your employment is based on your field of study. A STEM eligible degree means that your degree is in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, and that your degree is listed here.
Please note the specific requirements necessary to apply for STEM Extension OPT:
- The earliest your STEM Extension OPT application can reach USCIS is 120 days before the end of your post-completion OPT. The latest your application can reach USCIS is the last day of your post-completion OPT.
- USCIS must receive your STEM Extension application before your post-completion OPT ends.
- Your employer must be registered in the E-Verify program.
- You cannot be employed by a staffing agency.
- Your employment must be paid.
- You cannot have more than 150 days of unemployment total (combined with your post-completion OPT) while on STEM Extension OPT.
List of Documents Necessary for the STEM OPT Application
- Form I-983, completed by your employer
- Keep in mind that you must have a bonafide employer-employee relationship with the person who completes this I-983 with you. If you are employed by a staffing company, then you are ineligible for the 24-month STEM Extension.
- Page 5 does not need to be completed for your initial STEM OPT application.
- Copy of EAD
- Copy of OPT I-20
- Copy of Passport
- Copy of F-1 visa
- Official Transcripts from the Registrar's Office (they do not have to be sealed, and eTranscripts from your student account are acceptable)
- Copy of Diploma
- Check for $410 made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Two Passport Photos with name and I-94 number written on the back (review the OPT Photo Requirements before taking photos)
When you have readied these documents, please contact International Student Support to schedule a time to review your application and have an updated I-20 issued for you.
- Every six months: You must confirm with International Student Support that your SEVIS record is accurate.
- Annually: You are required to complete the Evaluation of Student Progress portion of the Form I-983.
- When STEM OPT ends: you must conduct a second, final assessment, and procure signatures from your employer
- Any changes in employment, including termination, must be reported to International Student Support within 5 days.
Please note that is the student's responsibility to report in a timely manner.
Summary of the 24-Month Extension Rule
The new 24-month STEM Extension Rule was effective on May 10, 2016. You can read the new 24-month STEM Extension Rule on the Federal Register Website.
- Allowable Unemployment
- Students on their 24-month STEM Extension OPT have 60 days of allowable unemployment in addition to the 90 days of allowable unemployment on post-completion OPT.
- Reporting Participation
- Students are required to report their OPT participation every 6 months using the OPT Update Form.
- 12 & 24 Month Evaluations
- In addition to an update every 6 months, students must submit a self-evaluation (located on pages 6 & 7 of the Form I-983) signed by their employers after the first year of STEM OPT, and then again after their second year of STEM OPT.
- Bona-fide Employee/Employer Relationship
- There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship. Students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.
Students and their employers are responsible for completing the Form I-983 before the STEM OPT I-20 can be created. You will submit this form to International Student Support, along with all of your other documents, so that we can review it before creating a new I-20. For more information, please see Study in the States' Students and the Form I-983 page.
I have applied for OPT and am waiting for my EAD. What do I do now?
- It typically takes 90 days for your OPT application to be processed. Please do not call or contact USCIS about your application without contacting International Student Support first. It is better to avoid calling about your application unless absolutely necessary. Requesting an expedite when it is not absolutely necessary can cause delays to your processing times. Do not request an expedite of your case without talking to International Student Support first. You can see the official expedite criteria on the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services website. Please note that there is a very high standard for proving that a case requires expedited handling.
How do I know if I am eligible for a STEM OPT extension?
- You can check the STEM Designated Degree Program List for your CIP code, which is located on page 1 of your I-20, under "Major 1."
I received a Request for Evidence. What should I do?
- Contact International Student Support immediately to set up a time to review your Request for Evidence. We can review the request together to confirm what USCIS is requesting that you do.