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Home > International Students (F-1, J-1) > International Student Employment Categories > Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional practical training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off campus. OPT is authorized by USCIS. This authorization generally takes 90 to 120 days to obtain. The maximum time granted to work in F-1 OPT status is 12 months, not to exceed 14 months after completion of studies. You may use some or all of the available 12 months of practical training during your course of study or save the full 12 months to use after graduation.

While on optional practical training, you will be required to provide your current address to Cal State L..A./IPS, along with the name and location of your employer(s).

What are the eligibility requirements for OPT?

  1. You must have been in legal status and a full-time student in a degree program for one academic year (9 consecutive months).
  2. You must be in valid F-1 status at the time you apply.
  3. You intend to work in a position directly related to your major field of study.
  4. You must maintain health insurance coverage during OPT.
You may be eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level, i.e., 12 months after your Bachelorís degree, another 12 months after your Masterís degree, and another 12 months after the Ph.D., whether you complete your degree program at one school or at different schools.

See the IPS Immigration Counselor for details.

How can I use OPT before I complete my academic program?

Students meeting the eligibility requirements listed above may apply for OPT

  1. Part-time (20 hours per week or less) while school is in session,
  2. Full-time during annual vacation periods if you are eligible to continue and intend to register at Cal State L.A. for the next quarter, and/or
  3. Full-time after you have completed all course requirements for the degree and have a thesis; or
  4. Its equivalent requirement remaining.
Any periods of OPT used before the completion of your studies will be deducted from the total allowable period of 12 months. Part-time OPT will be deducted at one-half the full-time rate. For example, four months of part-time OPT will result in two months deducted from the 12 months total.

When should I apply for OPT?

It is important that you apply for OPT authorization well in advance of the date you wish to begin working. You may submit your application up to 120 days before your program completion date. You may not apply for OPT after you have completed your studies. If you apply for OPT too late to receive approval to begin work on your desired start date, you must still wait until USCIS has approved your OPT to begin work. This loss of time will not be added to your period of work authorization or otherwise made up. You will not be authorized for any OPT beyond 14 months after completion of your studies.

After you apply for OPT, Cal State L.A. will issue a new I-20 reflecting your OPT status. This new I-20 must be signed by you prior to its mailing.

Do I need to have a job before I apply?

You do not need a job offer before applying for OPT. However, if you are applying for OPT during your course of study or vacation periods, you will want to have either a job offer or a firm job prospect because periods of OPT cannot be rescinded once the period requested has been authorized.

How will I know if my OPT application has been approved?

Two to four weeks after IPS submits your application, you will receive a Notice of Action (Form I-797) from USCIS. Keep this letter; you will need it. Your Notice of Action will tell you to expect to wait about 80 days to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD is a small photo identification card which states the type and length of the period of employment authorized. The authorized work period on your EAD cannot be extended. When you receive this card, check to make certain all the information is correct. This is a crucial document: be sure you keep it in a safe place.

What if I donít receive my EAD card in 90 days?

Ninety (90) days after the receipt date listed on your Notice of Action, you may apply for a temporary EAD. Your Notice of Action (I-797) will outline this process for you. You must go in person to USCIS, where you will be issued a temporary EAD in person, or you may request an appointment time and date through the National Customer Service Center listed on your Notice of Action.

Can I begin working before I get the EAD?

You may not begin employment before you receive your EAD from USCIS, even if your desired start date has passed. Working before OPT has been authorized by the USCIS constitutes illegal employment and will jeopardize your legal status in the U.S. You may begin work only after receiving a temporary or original EAD card.

Can I travel abroad and re-enter the U.S. before I receive my EAD?

Yes, if:

  1. You are applying for pre-completion OPT and will continue as a full-time student at Cal State
  2. L.A. or
  3. You are applying for post-completion OPT and will re-enter the U.S. before completing your studies for the degree in progress. To re-enter the U.S., you will still require a valid travel signature on your I-20 and a current F-1 visa.
No, if:

You have completed your studies but have not received your EAD card. If you leave the U.S. after your completion date (item #5 on your I-20) and before you receive your EAD, you may be turned away at the port of entry.No, if you have completed your studies but have not received your EAD card. If you leave the U.S. after your completion date (item #5 on your I-20) and before you receive your EAD, you may be turned away at the port of entry.

Can I travel abroad while I am on OPT?

Yes, you may travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, provided

  1. You hold an EAD card, and
  2. IPS has signed page 3 of your I-20, permitting re-entry to the U.S. IPS will sign your I-20 only
after seeing your valid EAD card.

How do I apply for OPT?

Yes, you may travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, provided

    First, pick up an OPT Application Packet in IPS office. Then, attend one of the OPT Mandatory

    Information Workshops held throughout the quarter. The workshop schedule is posted on the IPS

    website and at the office.
  1. Student must attend one of the mandatory information workshops; and
  2. Submit the required documents to IPS.
IPS must review and certify all applications for OPT that are submitted to the USCIS.

Who decides if I am approved for OPT?

The USCIS adjudicates the Form I-765 and issues your EAD on the basis of IPSís recommendation unless USCIS finds the student otherwise ineligible. USCIS will notify the applicant if OPT is denied and will give the reason(s) for the denial. The student applicant may not appeal the decision.

Termination of OPT

Authorization for practical training is automatically terminated when you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level. You cannot reapply for any lost time.

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Last Update: 09/2/2014