Optional Practical Training

Practical Training

Practical training refers to employment in your field of study. Practical training authorization may be obtained both during studies and after the completion of studies. You must be in full-time F-1 status for one academic year (2 semesters) before becoming eligible.

Attendance at an IPS Employment Workshop is required.

Optional Practical Training

OPT provides the opportunity to find employment in your field of study, which adds to what is learned in class.  All international students are eligible for a total of one year (12 months) of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in addition to Curricular Practical Training of less than 12 full-time month’s duration.  If you have been authorized for Pre-completion OPT, please use the OPT Date Calculator to determine how many days remain for Post-completion OPT. 

Please note that to obtain OPT an application is made to the USCIS and it may take as long as 3 or more months to have it approved. You may not work until the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is received by mail and the start date on it reached.

Application packets with forms and instructions for all F-1 employment authorization categories are available at the IPS Office and are provided during the required weekly Employment workshops.

You are eligible for another 12 months of OPT if you undertake a degree at a higher educational level.

Your OPT will be cancelled if you enroll in a new degree program while still on OPT; it is considered to be a violation of F-1 status to take classes during Post-completion OPT.

Pre-completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT is OPT authorized to be worked before the student’s program end date. It can be authorized:

  1. full-time during the summer break, if intending to register for the following Fall semester,
  2. part-time while still taking courses while school is in session, and
  3. full-time for graduate students after completion of all course requirements with only a thesis or project remaining.

If you decide to use Pre-completion OPT for three months, full-time during summer vacation, then you would only have nine months left available for Post-completion OPT. Practical training during the school year, while taking courses is authorized for ½ time (20 hrs/wk maximum). If, for example, you decide to have Pre-completion Optional Practical Training part-time for four months during the semester, then 2 months would be subtracted from the 12 total available months.  Please use the OPT Date Calculator to determine the exact time remaining.

Please note that an application is made to the USCIS to obtain OPT and it may take as long as 3 months to have it approved. You may not work until the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is received by mail and the start date on it is reached.

You may apply for Pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before your requested start date.

Post-completion OPT

Post-completion OPT is authorized for full-time work

  1. after all degree requirements have been completed, or
  2. after completion of all course requirements with only a thesis or project remaining

Please note authorization for Post-completion OPT requires an application to the USCIS; approval may take as long as 3 months. You may not work until the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is received by mail and the start date on it is reached.

Application time frames:

You may apply for Post-completion OPT 90 days before the completion of all degree requirements. Post-completion OPT applications will be accepted if received at USCIS within 60 days after graduation.

Application Steps After Obtaining Your New OPT I-20 from IPS:
  1. Your completed I-765 Form
  2. Your two passport photos
  3. A $380 personal check made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (Do not write USDHS)
  4. Photocopy of your new I-20, with the Post-completion OPT recommendation* (and signed by you)
  5. Photocopies of all endorsed SJSU I-20s and photocopies of any previous I-20s from other schools
  6. Photocopy of both sides of your I-94 card
  7. Photocopy of passport biography page and F-1 visa page
  8. Photocopy of old EAD card(s), if applicable
Mail documents (stapled together in the order listed above) via US Postal Service certified return receiptto:
USCIS-Phoenix Lockbox**
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
**If sending within one week of the deadline, we recommend sending it by express mail or courier delivery to: USCIS--Attn: AOS, 1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100; Phoenix, AZ 85034.

*Please note that USCIS will only accept the new OPT I-20 within 30 days of IPS issuing it.  You must mail the OPT Application packet with sufficient time for it to be received before the 30 days expire.  Make sure to keep copies of all documents for your own records before sending to USCIS.

Steps After You Have Mailed Your OPT Application To USCIS
  1. When you receive the USCIS "Notice of Action" letter (Form I-797A) confirming receipt of your OPT application, make sure to keep it for your records.  You will need to refer to the WAC # to check the status of your application online.
  2. After receiving your EAD card for your authorized period of Post-completion OPT from USCIS, you must provide IPS a copy of it.  You may drop off a copy at the office or email it.
  3. F-1 regulations require you to inform IPS of the name and address of each employer during Post-completion OPT, to report any periods of unemployment, and any changes in your address.  Please make sure to submit this information via our Post-completion OPT Student Employment Report Form.
  4. IPS will continue to sign your I-20 (for travel) every 6 months during Post-completion OPT.  Please allow 2-3 days for processing.

Post-completion and Unemployment Information

Students who are on Post-completion OPT and are unemployed for more than 90 days will be considered in violation of status. You must average at least 20 hours a week of paid/unpaid/volunteer work while on Post-completion OPT. Averaging less than 20 hours a week in a month will require you to report days of unemployment.  Go to our Guide to Unemployment (pdf) for additional information.