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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Frequently Asked Questions | OPT Application | OPT Extension | OPT Reporting | H1-B Cap-Gap

Frequently Asked Questions

What is optional practical training?

OPT is off-campus employment that is related to your major field of study.

Who is eligible for OPT?

Students who are in F-1 status and have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year are eligible for optional practical training:

  1. After completion of a course of study
  2. Before completion of studies if engaged in thesis or dissertation research and all other courses are completed

When can I apply?

The Office of International Programs suggests applying for OPT approximately 90 days before you expect to begin your OPT employment; however, you MUST apply BEFORE you graduate.

Do I need a job offer in order to apply?


How do I apply for OPT?

  1. Read this FAQ.
  2. Follow the instructions for completing the OPT documents.

How do I know My OPT I-20/OPT card is ready for pickup?

Students will recieve an email from the office notifying them their OPT I-20/OPT card is ready for pickup.

Please choose one of the following ways to collect your documents:

  • Students can stop by the office and collect their documents in person.
  • Students can make arrangements to send a friend to the office to collect documents on their behalf, to do this, please make sure email giving permission to release the documents to a friend. The emial should include the first and last name of the friend. To protect student confidentially, staff will not release any documents without students' permission. 
  • Students can have their documents mailed to them by using Eshipglobal.         

Can I go in person to an USCIS office to apply for OPT?

No. OPT applications must be submitted to the USCIS by mail, as the instructions in this packet indicate. (The Office of International Programs recommends OPT permission; the USCIS must approve it.)

When can I start to work under OPT?

You may only begin employment when you have received the EAD card and the beginning date of employment authorization (shown on the EAD) has arrived.

What's the difference between OPT and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

CPT permits employment before completion of required coursework only. CPT requires the offer of a specific job.

If I had CPT, can I still have OPT?

Yes, as long as you did not have full-time CPT for more than one year.

Can I take classes if I have OPT?

According to federal regulations, students should contact the Office of International Programs regarding this issue.

Can I change employers if I have OPT?

Yes. There is no immigration-related procedure required for doing so. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any employer.

Can I travel outside the USA if I have OPT?

If your OPT is pending (not yet approved), you will need the following upon reentry to the U.S.:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and recent travel signature (within past 6 months)
  • OPT Receipt Notice (proof of application) 
  • Proof of pending employment (job offer letter from employer)

If your OPT is approved, you will need the following upon reentry to the U.S.:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and recent travel signature (within past 6 months)
  • Unexpired EAD card
  • Proof of employment (job offer letter from employer) 

Is OPT a different visa?

No. A person with OPT authorization is an F-1 student holding an EAD for OPT. You still need a signature from the International Student Adviser on your I-20 if you want to re-enter the United States during your time on OPT. The signature should be no more than six months old at the time you re-enter.

How long can I stay in the United States after my OPT expires?

Sixty days.

Can I return to school after completing OPT?

Yes. You need to obtain an I-20 for the next program of study, and complete the USCIS procedure for moving to a "new level of studies" (if you resume studies at SIUE) or the procedure for school transfer (if you go to a different school). Please note that you are only allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 5 months between the time your OPT ends and the new program of studies is to begin; if the time period is greater than 5 months, you will be required to leave the U.S. and can only re-enter within 30 days of the start of your new program of study.

If I have OPT for a year and return to school for another degree, can I have another year of OPT?

You will be eligible for another year of OPT if your new degree will be at a HIGHER level of study. For instance, if you obtained a Master's degree, did 12 months of OPT, then enter a PhD program, you will be eligible for another 12 months of OPT following the PhD program.

If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back?

If the USCIS has not yet sent you an EAD at the time you decide you do not want OPT, you may request to withdraw your application. Please make an appointment with the International Student Adviser by telephoning 650-3785. If the EAD card has been issued, it is not possible to cancel and the USCIS will consider you to have used up your OPT even if you did not work. Hence, decisions to cancel MUST be made early before the EAD has been issued.

Must I remain in contact with the Office of International Programs while I am participating in authorized OPT?

Yes, the USCIS regulations now require the Office of International Programs to report certain information on students participating in OPT.

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