Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT?

OPT is a temporary off-campus employment authorization to gain practical work experience in the student’s major field of study. Students who are authorized OPT continue to be in F-1 status with reporting requirements to IPI. Eligible students may apply for pre- or post-completion OPT.

Regulatory Requirements 

  • Student must have been enrolled in an academic program for at least one academic year;
  • Student is maintaining valid F-1 status;
  • A job offer is not currently required to apply for OPT;
  • OPT authorization is available for a maximum of 12 months at each higher degree level;
  • Employment must be directly related to the student’s major field of study;
  • The student may not begin employment until the start date indicated on employment authorization document (EAD, also called OPT-card);
  • The student must complete post-completion OPT within 14-month period following the program completion date;
  • Pre-completion OPT authorized during the academic program is counted against the 12-month post-completion maximum;
  • Students who receive one year or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for post-completion practical training (OPT).

When to Apply for OPT

Pre-Completion OPT:

Up to 90 days prior to completion of the first full academic year of study, provided the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the full academic year.

Post-Completion OPT:

Up to 90 days prior to the program completion date and within the 60-day grace period following the program completion. Information about the program completion date can be found here.

How to Apply for OPT

OPT applications must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Students can submit an OPT application to USCIS online or by mail (paper application).

IMPORTANT: Do not pay the I-765 filing fee or submit your application online or by mail until you have an I-20 endorsing OPT from IPI.

Paper Application Process:
  1. Collect and prepare the following documents:
    1. Undergraduate Student: UAOnline Degree Works course printout.
    2. Graduate Students: Complete the UAF Graduate School OPT Request Form for the OPT letter. The Graduate School staff will deliver the letter and a copy of your advancement to candidacy directly to our office.
    3. Recommendation letter for OPT from your academic advisor. Sample letters are available here
    4. Completed OPT Request Confirmation Form.
    5. Signed Guidelines while on OPT in F-1 Status.
    6. Completed Form I-765 and signed with black ink.
    7. Completed Form G-1145.
    8. Two (2) passport photos taken within the last 30 days. Photos must look different from your visa or passport photos.
  2. Schedule an OPT appointment by emailing your International Advisor. In addition to the documents listed above, bring all original immigration documents (I-20s, passport, visa, previous employment authorization documents… etc.) and the Form I-765 filing fee to the OPT appointment. Currently the filing fee is $410. Postal or personal money order is preferred but a personal check is also accepted. Payment must be payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”.
  3. After the OPT appointment, an I-20 endorsing OPT will be issued. Student will be informed when the new I-20 is ready for signing and the OPT application package is available for shipping.
  4. Student is responsible for mailing the OPT application package to USCIS in a timely manner. The package must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the I-20 issue date with the OPT endorsement. If it is received later, the application will automatically be denied.

Students should receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action from USCIS after it has received the OPT application. It may take 3-4 months for USCIS to process an OPT application. Once approved, a Form I-797 Approval Notice and OPT employment authorization document (OPT card) will be sent to the student to the mailing addres used in the application. 

Important: Students must send copies of the documents recieved from USCIS to IPI.

Students must have a valid OPT employment authorization (OPT card) before starting employment.

Online Application Process:
  1. Submit the following documents to your International Advisor:
    1. Undergraduate Student: UAOnline Degree Works course printout.
    2. Graduate Students: Complete the UAF Graduate School OPT Request Form for the OPT letter. The Graduate School staff will deliver the letter and a copy of your advancement to candidacy directly to our office.
    3. Recommendation letter for OPT from your academic advisor. Sample letters are available here.
    4. Completed OPT Request Confirmation Form.
    5. Signed Guidelines while on OPT in F-1 Status.
  2. An I-20 endorsing OPT will be issued. Student will be informed when the new I-20 is ready for signature and pick-up.
  3. Students prepares and submits OPT application online:
    1. Create an account with USCIS. A tutorial can be found here.
    2. Form I-765 information and a link to file online can be found here.
    3. Make sure to follow instructions carefully and read through every page.
    4. Do not submit your application until you have uploaded all required documentation, including the signed I-20 endorsing OPT.

Students should receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action from USCIS after it has received the OPT application. It may take 3-4 months for USCIS to process an OPT application. Once approved, a Form I-797 Approval Notice and OPT employment authorization document (OPT card) will be sent to the student to the mailing addres used in the application. 

IMPORTANT: Students must send copies of the documents recieved from USCIS to IPI.

Students must have a valid OPT employment authorization (OPT card) before starting employment.

Student Reporting Requirements While on OPT

Students must report the following to IPI while on OPT:

  • Any changes in personal contact information (name, physical and mailing addresses, phone, email).
  • Any changes in employment (start/end date, employer address, work location address, position changes… etc.).

All changes must be reported to IPI within 10 days of the change using the OPT Update Form.

Travel on OPT

If you are planning on traveling outside the U.S. while on OPT, you must still have your I-20 signed for travel. If you are not located in Fairbanks, ship the original I-20 to IPI for signature. Please email before shipping so we know to expect your I-20.

Unemployment Days

Students on OPT can accumulate only 90 days of unemployment. Each day (including Saturday and Sunday, national holidays, days outside the U.S.) 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 start date and end date are shown on the student's EAD.

If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment you SHOULD plan on leaving the U.S. on day 91 or before. If you were hired on day 90 you must be working on day 91. It is important that you keep track of your unemployment days since you are considered out-of-status after exceeding 90 days of unemployment, and this could impact future immigration benefits.

 

See OPT Frequently Asked Questions here.