• International Students

  • Optional Practical Training

    Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    Optional practical training (OPT) is defined as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study." A student who is maintaining valid F-1 status may apply for OPT to pursue off-campus employment for one year following completion of degree. Average waiting time after application is three (3) months.

    *For best results, apply three (3) months before graduation!

    Eligibility for OPT

    • You must have been enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year before applying for OPT.
    • You may apply up to 90 days before, or up to 60 days after, your program end date. Your program end date is the last day of the semester during which you are finishing your course work. Please refer to Hamline's academic calendar if you are unsure of this date. Your I-20 will be shortened to reflect this date if you complete your program early. 
    • Undergraduate students must complete all degree requirements before starting OPT. Graduate students must complete all required coursework before starting OPT, and may complete thesis/culminating project requirement either before beginning OPT or during OPT. If you apply for OPT before completing thesis you must continue to make normal academic progress, and the thesis requirement must be complete before the OPT ends. 
    • You may apply for OPT only once per academic level. For example, if you study two masters degrees, you may only apply for OPT once.
    • Students who exceed 12 months of full-time CPT or 24 months of part-time CPT for the same academic level are not eligible for OPT.  

    OPT Application Process

    1. Thoroughly read all information on this web page.
    2. Complete the OPT Application/Checklist.  
    3. Schedule an appointment with the IOCP office after collecting all documents listed on the OPT Application/Checklist. 
    4. After meeting with IOCP and obtaining all required documents, send the OPT application packet to USCIS. We strongly recommend that you make a copy of OPT application before sending to USCIS.  

      For standard US Postal Service (including US Postal Service Express), send documents to:    
      USCIS
      PO Box 21281
      Phoenix, AZ 85036


      For Express mail and courier deliveries (including UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, etc.), send documents to:     
      USCIS
      Attn: AOS
      1820 Sky Harbor Circle S
      Suite 100
      Phoenix, AZ 85034
             
                                                                                     
    5. When you receive your EAD card, please check your card for accuracy, then scan and email a copy of your card to the IOCP office.
    6. Review the reporting requirements for students on OPT (below), and notify IOCP of any changes throughout the duration of OPT. 

    Employment during OPT

    • Employment must be related to the student’s program of study. 
    • Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment.
      • Volunteering regularly (recommended 20 hours per week) in a position that is related to your program of study may count for unemployment reporting purposes during post-completion OPT. However, please be careful that the position is a true volunteer position that will not violate labor laws. See the US Department of Labor website or contact IOCP if you have questions about this.
      • It is recommended that you maintain evidence for each position (paid or unpaid) of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, job title, supervisor’s contact information, and a job description.  This could be used in the future as proof that you did not exceed the 90-day limit on unemployment.
       
    • Employment authorization is active for the exact dates listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You must wait until you receive your EAD card before starting work. 
    • There are two types of OPT: pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. Almost all students apply for post-completion OPT. Students approved for pre-completion OPT are limited to part-time employment during the academic year. For questions about pre-completion OPT, contact the IOCP office.

    Reporting requirements during OPT

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now requires all students in F-1 status who have been granted Optional Practical Training employment authorization to report the location of the OPT experience, including name and address of their OPT employer or organization.  The IOCP is required to report this information to DHS through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Students must begin reporting this information by the start date of their OPT and report changes or interruptions in employment (within 10 days) during OPT.  If your OPT begins and you have not secured an OPT location/employer, then you still must report information to DHS through the IOCP. 

    It is your legal obligation to report this information.  If you fail to report OPT activity/employment information to the IOCP, you could be considered in violation of your F-1 immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security. 

    While on OPT, students must notify the IOCP office within 10 days of any changes in the following information:

    • New employment - scanned offer letter, employer's name/address, employment dates
    • Personal information - name, contact information 
    • Change of employer - employer's name/address, employment dates
    • Change of immigration status 
    • If you leave the country permanently  

    Frequently Asked Questions about OPT

    Q: Can I take classes while I’m on OPT?  While engaged in post-completion OPT, students are eligible to engage in coursework as long as it is incidental to their OPT employment (limited to part-time enrollment.) OPT is effectively cancelled by official SEVIS transfer to another school or change in academic level. Students interested in changing schools or academic levels should consult with OIS about their OPT employment. 

    Q: When is the best time to apply for OPT? You should try to apply approximately 90 days before you want to begin working. Remember, you may apply up to 90 days before your program end date or up to 60 days after your program end date (during your "grace period"), but it may take 2-3 months for USCIS to process your application. If you wait until your grace period to apply for OPT, you may be authorized for less than one full year of OPT because you must complete OPT no later than 14 months after the academic program end date.

    Q: On the OPT application, I am asked to choose my OPT start date. Which date should I choose? It is up to you to decide when you would like your OPT to begin, but you must choose a date between 1-60 days after your program end date. When choosing your OPT start date, keep in mind the following information:

    • If you have a pending job offer and/or want to begin working immediately after your program end date (the last day of the semester in which you are finishing required course work), then choose an OPT start date close to your program end date. All employment authorization (on-campus and CPT) will end on the last day of the semester in which you are finishing your program.
    • You are given up to 90 days after your OPT starts to find a job. The earlier the OPT starts, the earlier you will need to have a job. This is one reason that some students choose a later start date (to allow more time for the job search).
    • You must wait until the OPT start date that is printed on your EAD card to begin working, even if you receive your EAD card before the requested start date.
    • It may take up to 2-3 months to receive your OPT card. This can sometimes be expedited if you provide a letter showing that you have a pending job offer.
    • As an example you may refer to this sample OPT application timeline.

    Q: Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT? No. Unlike CPT, you do not need to have a job in order to apply for OPT. You have up to 90 days after your OPT begins to find a job.

    Q: Why wasn’t my I-20 end date extended when I applied for OPT? OPT is an extension of your F-1 status, not an extension of your academic program. The start and end date on your I-20 indicate the dates that you are pursuing your academic program. The I-20 along with your EAD card show the extension of your status for one additional year. 

     Q: I haven't received my work authorization card yet, but I found a job. Can I begin working? You must wait until you have your EAD (work authorization) card to begin working. However, in some cases an OPT application may be expedited if you can provide a letter showing that you have an offer of employment. Contact the IOCP office for assistance with this. 

    Q: It has been more than 90 days since I applied for OPT, but I have not received my EAD card. What should I do? Contact IOCP and/or check the status of your case at www.uscis.gov. We may be able to contact USCIS to determine the reason for the delay. If you changed addresses after you applied for OPT and did not notify USCIS, your EAD card was probably returned as undeliverable. Government mail is not forwarded, so it is important to update your address with USCIS immediately if you move while your OPT application is pending. 

    Q: My prospective employer has questions about hiring international students. Can the IOCP office help? Prospective employers may contact the IOCP office if they have general questions about hiring international students, but we cannot answer specific questions about your situation unless you authorize us to do so by completing an information release waiver. Another resource with basic information about hiring international students is available on the NAFSA: Association of International Educators website

    Q: Can I travel during OPT? Please review the Travel page of our website for information about traveling during OPT. 

    Q: Can I take classes while on OPT? You may take part-time classes while on OPT, but if you start a full-time degree-seeking program you will need to obtain a new I-20. Transferring your SEVIS record to a new degree program will terminate any unused period of OPT.

    Q: Am I eligible for Hamline insurance while I am on OPT? You must be enrolled in at least 4 credits to be eligible for Hamline insurance. However, we strongly recommend that ALL students maintain insurance while on OPT. For important information about health insurance in the US, please refer to the Health Insurance page of our website.  

    Q: Can I have more than one employer? Yes, you may have more than one employer but all jobs must be related to your degree. Remember to report any change in employment to the IOCP office. 

    Q: If I complete a new degree can I do OPT again? Students are eligible for OPT only once per degree level. You will be eligible for another year of OPT only if you pursue a higher degree level (for example, if you complete OPT for a Bachelor’s degree, you would be eligible for OPT again if you complete a Master’s degree). 

    Q: I am currently on OPT and want to come back to Hamline for another degree. Can I continue my employment with CPT? There is no guarantee that your employment will qualify for CPT for your new degree program. CPT is case-specific and must fulfill an academic objective. Remember that as a student visa holder, employment is secondary to your primary purpose of study. All practical training must therefore be an integral part of the academic program you are pursuing. Please see the CPT page of our website for more information.

    Q: What services can I receive from the IOCP office while I am on OPT? The IOCP office should still be your point of contact for questions related to your immigration status or any other related issues while on OPT. You can still request letters or schedule an appointment with our office, or take advantage of other services provided by IOCP. We encourage you to keep in contact with the Hamline community and also consider participating in Alumni events.

    Q: How can I end my OPT early and return home? Please report your flight information to the IOCP office and specifically state that you would like to return home and end your OPT early. On the day you depart, this information will be updated in your SEVIS record. If you have other questions about this, schedule an appointment or just contact our office. We encourage you to keep in contact with the Hamline community and also consider participating in Alumni events.

    Q: What happens at the end of OPT? Students receive a 60-day grace period following completion of OPT. Employment is not permitted during this time. Before the end of the 60-day grace period you must do one of the following: 

    • Obtain a new I-20 from Hamline University for a new degree program (requires admission to the degree program and updated financial documents) 
    • Transfer SEVIS record to another institution (requires admission to the degree program and completion of Transfer Out form
    • Apply for a change of immigration status 
    • Travel and leave the country 

    Students who completed a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math degree should review the 17-Month Stem Extension of OPT application to determine whether you are eligible.  

    Q: My employer wants to file an H1-B visa on my behalf. What do I need to know if I am on OPT? If you change status during OPT, please provide a copy of the change of status approval notice to the IOCP office so we can update your SEVIS record. If you have a pending H1-B application that is expected to begin on October 1, and if you are engaged in OPT at the time the H1-B petition is filed, you may be eligible for an automatic extension of OPT. This is referred to as the “cap-gap extension.” In order for work authorization to be extended, the H1-B application must be filed by a cap-subject employer before your OPT ends, with a requested start date of October 1. If the H1-B application is filed during your 60-day grace period but after OPT ends, your F-1 status (but not work authorization) may be extended. You may contact the IOCP office and/or refer to the USCIS website for more information about the cap-gap extension.