Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of employment authorization for F-1 students. It is an opportunity to pursue a 12-month period of work experience in your major field of study. The authorization can be used for a paid position located on-campus or off-campus, both before (Pre-Completion OPT) or after completion of course requirements (Post-Completion OPT).

To access the OPT Update Form, please click here.

Important Note:

As of 2/21/18, ISPO has been made aware of some OPT cases where USCIS is taking 120 days to process EAD cards. OPT Applications still must be submitted within the 5 month window and cannot be submitted sooner. Please reference the OPT Application Guide (slide 7) for more information about your 5 month window. Please plan accordingly.

Applying for OPT:

Step 1: Educate Yourself About OPT

Are you just getting started? Here is what you should do to make sure that you are prepared to apply for OPT:

  • Review the OPT Application Guide! Learn what OPT is, if you’re eligible, and when you should start the application process!
  • Review these videos!

    •  "What is OPT?"

    • "OPT Timeline"

    • "OPT Application Process"

  • Attend an “OPT Information Session”

    • When: Wednesdays, 2-3:30pm AND Thursdays, 8-9:30am.
    • Where: Student Center B, Large Conference Room (please enter from outside door at the top of stairs facing Gilman Drive)
    • What: The “OPT Information Session” is a presentation of the Application Guide (found in Step 3) and an opportunity for Q&A. You can attend this session to get basic information about the OPT application process, to participate in a “self-check” of your documents, and to have any last questions answered before mailing your complete application to USCIS.

Step 2: Request Your OPT I-20

Request an OPT Recommended I-20 from ISPO:

  • Complete the entire OPT I-20 Request Form.
    • Submit your request no more than 2 business days before the first day of your 5-month window; please review the OPT Application Guide (slide 7) for exact dates. OPT I-20 Requests submitted to ISPO too early will not be processed.
    • The top half is completed by you and the bottom half is completed by your College Academic Advisor or your Graduate Program Coordinator.
    • If you are planning to work on campus past the last day of the quarter, please make sure your graduate coordinator indicates this on the OPT I-20 Request Form by filling in your actual last day of work.
    • If you are planning on applying for CPT or applying for part-time/half time status (reduced course load) for your final quarter, you must have these steps approved before applying for an OPT I-20.
  • E-mail the OPT I-20 Request Form to OPTrequest@ucsd.edu with the subject line "OPT I-20 Request, LAST NAME, First Name, PID." (General OPT questions can be sent to iemployment@ucsd.edu. Only OPT I-20 Request Forms should be sent to OPTrequest@ucsd.edu).
    • Only submit your OPT I-20 Request Form. Application materials will not be reviewed. You are invited to attend the OPT Information Session (see Step 1) to do a self-check of application materials.

Step 3: Compile Your OPT Application

Gather and complete all required documents for the OPT Application.

Review the OPT Application Guide which details each document required for a complete application.

Step 4: Mail Your OPT Application To USCIS

Mailing Instructions:

  • Applications received more than 90 days before or 60 days after your program completion date, or more than 30 days after the OPT recommendation date will be denied by USCIS.
  • If your mailing address (#3 on your Form I-765) is in California:

Regular U.S. Postal Delivery

(Certified Mail/Return Receipt)
  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  PO Box 21281
  Phoenix, AZ 85036


Express Mail Delivery

(Federal Express, UPS, etc.)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  Attn: AOS
  1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
  Phoenix, AZ 85034 


  • If your mailing address (#3 on your Form I-765) is outside of California:

Send your package to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox Facility in your area (either Phoenix or Dallas). Please review the Lockbox facilities table here

  • Please remember that USPS will not forward mail from USCIS. Before sending your complete OPT Application to USCIS, please confirm that the mailing address you listed on your Form I-765 (#3) must be an address where you are living and can receive mail for the next 3-5 months OR must be a friend/family member's address with the required "c/o" notation. Please review the OPT Application Guide (Step 3) for further guidance.

Step 5: Receive Documents from USCIS

While your OPT Application is pending, you will receive the following documents:

  • I-797C Receipt Notice
    • USCIS will send a receipt (Form I-797) within 30 business days confirming they received your application. Your receipt will have a case number (beginning with three letters followed by 10 numbers). If you do not receive this notice within 30 business days, contact USCIS Customer Service to confirm your mailing address.
    • Keep the original receipt in a safe place. This is the only way you can track your application at the USCIS Service Centers. You can check the status of your application at www.uscis.gov.
    • Go to the Customer Tools menu of the website, select “Check Case Status”, and enter your case number.
    • REMEMBER: You cannot work until you have the EAD card. If your program completion date has passed, you will also need a valid EAD card to continue on-campus or summer employment at UC San Diego. Please plan accordingly.

  • I-797 Approval Notice
    • USCIS will usually send an Approval Notice within 90 days after receiving your OPT Application to confirm that your OPT request has been approved. USCIS will then process and mail the Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card). If you receive an Approval Notice, keep it for your records.

  • Request for Further Evidence (RFE)
    • In some cases, USCIS may request additional documentation from you by sending a Request for Further Evidence (RFE). You will also receive an RFE if your application is not complete.
    • If you receive an RFE, please read the letter thoroughly. USCIS will explain why you are receiving the RFE and what documentation you need to provide. It is important that you reply to the RFE immediately to ensure that your OPT Application is still adjudicated.
    • Receiving an RFE will delay the processing time.

Step 6: Wait For USCIS To Adjudicate Your Request

While your OPT Application is Pending with USCIS, you are eligible to do the following:

  • Travel within the US
  • Participate in volunteer opportunities


If you would like to travel outside of USA while OPT is pending, please consider the follow information:

ISPO highly recommends that students not travel outside of the USA while OPT is pending. Here are two potential scenarios:
  • Scenario 1: Zhe has mailed her OPT Application to USCIS. Her program completion date is still in the future. She decides to go to Mexico with friends for an extended weekend trip. Zhe is able to reenter the USA without a problem because her current I-20 end date is still in the future. However, the OPT Application that is pending with USCIS contains her I-94 (reentery document) and an I-765 with reentry information. This reentry information is no longer current and correct. Zhe may receive an RFE which could prolong the adjudication of the application.
  • Scenario 2: David has mailed his OPT Application to USCIS and he has already completed his academic program. To celebrate his graduation, he flies home to Australia to visit friends and family. If David tries to reenter the USA, he will likely have problems at the port of entry. David’s I-20 reflects his program end date, which is in the past. Without the EAD card showing OPT approval, the officer at the port of entry may not allow David to reenter the USA, even if he has the receipt notice.

If you must travel outside of the USA while your OPT Application is pending with USCIS, please meet with an ISPO Advisor.


If you need to withdraw your OPT Application, please review the following scenarios:

  • Delays in Completing Academic Program at UCSD: To authorize post-completion Optional Practical Training, your I-20 was shortened to reflect your new program end date. If you cannot complete your program on time, you must meet with an ISPO advisor immediately.
  • Cancelling OPT Application: Students may cancel their application as long as it has not been approved by USCIS. Contact USCIS directly and provide your case number (on your Receipt Notice). All cancellations must be in writing and mailed to USCIS. If you need to cancel your application, please contact ISPO immediately so we can assist you with this process. Once an EAD card is issued, the OPT cannot be cancelled so please plan accordingly.

Step 7: Receive Your EAD Card

Receiving Your EAD Card

When you receive your EAD card, your employer will request a copy for their records to verify your eligibility to work in the USA. In addition, please submit a copy of your EAD card to ISPO by submitting an OPT Update Form.

If you do not receive your EAD card within 90 days of USCIS receiving your application (noted on the I-797 Receipt Notice), please contact the ISPO so we can follow up with USCIS.

If you receive your EAD card and there is an error, please reference the USCIS webpage regarding applying for a Replacement EAD Card here.


Apply For Social Security Number (If Needed)

Social Security Number

All persons must have a Social Security Number to be employed in a paid position in the USA. This is not the Campus ID number assigned to you by UC San Diego.

You may now apply for a SSN along with your OPT application by filling out questions 10-13 on the I-765 form. For details on filling this section out, please review our OPT Application Guide in Step 3 above.

If you choose not to apply for the SSN via the I-765 form, or if you have already submitted your OPT application packet to USCIS, you will need to wait until you receive your EAD card, then present it along with a valid passport, I-94, I-20 and a verification letter from ISPO to any local Social Security Office. The nearest office to UC San Diego is located in downtown San Diego. Please visit www.ssa.gov to find the nearest Social Security office to you.

Maintaining F-1 Status During OPT:

Begin Employment

Types of Employment

OPT allows for employment IN YOUR FIELD OF STUDY (if you are an undergraduate student, the employment must relate to your major, not your minor).  If you are not sure whether the employment offered is in your field of study, you will need to review the curriculum you studied to make sure that the material you learned from your major courses is being used in the position you are being offered.

If requested by the US Department of Homeland Security, students must be prepared to provide evidence of employment and how it relates to the major field of study. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the student to maintain evidence, for each job, of the position held, proof of the duration of that employment, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager, and a description of the work.

The following types of employment allowed during OPT are:

  • Part-time employment (at least 20 hours per week)
  • Full-time employment
  • Paid employment
  • Unpaid employment (Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate US labor laws.)

While on OPT, students may work for multiple employers, short-term multiple employers (performing artists), work for hire, self-employed business owner, or employment through an agency. Freelance employment is also allowed. However, all employment must be related to the degree program.

Unemployment Limit

During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. Students may not exceed a cumulative total of 90 days of unemployment during the post-completion OPT period. Unemployment days are counted from the ‘Valid From’ date on your EAD card. Students who exceed 90 days of unemployment will no longer have an active SEVIS record as these records will be terminated by Department of Homeland Security. There is no 60 day grace period. Once a record is terminated, valid student status ends.

If you are approaching your 90 days of unemployment, you must take one of the following actions:

*Attn: Submit a Program Completion Form immediately to istudents@ucsd.edu if you have departed the United States and will not return to use your OPT or have changed your immigration status.

Report Your Employment To Maintain F-1 Status

F-1 OPT Update Form

The OPT Update Form is used to report to ISPO the approval of, or any updates to, your Employment Authorization. ISPO, in turn, updates student’s SEVIS Records. In order to maintain your status, you must comply with the Employment Reporting Requirement. See below for specific instances in which you are required to report.


SEVIS Reporting Requirements

You will continue to be in F-1 student status so you must continue to report certain information about your stay in the USA. Please submit an Employment Reporting Form within 10 days if you:

  • Change your name
  • Change your address in the USA
  • Change your employer or location of employment
  • Have interruptions in employment
  • Complete your practical training early
  • Enroll in a new degree program or transfer to another academic program
  • Decide to return home permanently
  • Use this form to report to ISPO the approval of, or any updates to, your Employment Authorization.

Travel With Approved OPT

Travel Outside of USA With Approved OPT

Students on OPT are still in F-1 student status. To reenter the USA, you must have:

  • Current passport that is valid up to six months after reentry date
  • Current F-1 visa
  • Current I-20 with valid travel signature on page 2
    • NOTE: For post-completion OPT, travel signatures are valid for only six months - unlike one year validity for continuing students.*
  • Original EAD card
  • Original job offer letter or verification of employment from employer

In addition, students with expired visas may find it difficult to renew their F-1 visa for practical training purposes. Students on OPT are advised to plan carefully before leaving the USA and contact the US Consulate in their home country regarding visa renewal processes. You can also review our general travel and reentry page.

Actions To Take At Completion of OPT:

60-Days Grace Period

At the completion of OPT, students receive a 60-day grace period to remain in the US. During your 60-day grace period, you can remain in the USA, but you cannot work in the USA unless you obtain additional employment authorization under another I-94 status. Once you depart the USA, your grace period ends - even if you had time remaining. If you plan to stay in the USA to continue in another academic program or using a different visa status, please contact ISPO directly so the appropriate action can be made on your SEVIS Record.

Apply for an H-1B Visa Status

If you are planning to apply for a change of status to H-1B, and your OPT end date is between April 1 and October 1 during the year that you apply for the H-1B status, you may be eligible for an extension of your OPT to accommodate for the gap between the end of your OPT and the beginning of your H-1B. This extension is known as Cap Gap.

For more information, please visit the page below.

If you have received an approval notice for your H-1B, please update your immigration status by submitting our OPT Update Form

Apply for STEM OPT Extension

F-1 students who earned bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields may be eligible for an extension of post-completion OPT. If you are eligible, you may apply up to 90 days before your OPT EAD expiration date, but no later than the expiration date of your OPT.

For more information, please visit the page below.

STEM OPT Extension page

Frequently Asked Questions:


1. Can I enroll in classes while on OPT?

Students on post-completion OPT are not allowed to pursue a full course of study with a degree or certificate objective. Gaining admission to another school in the USA or enrolling full-time will end the OPT period because your SEVIS record will be transferred to the new school. However, students can enroll in classes that are incidental (i.e. one or two classes) as long as their primary purpose in the US continues to be full-time employment.

2. How do I find a job or internship?

Check out iemployment.ucsd.edu for information.

3. Am I still covered by UCSD Student Health Insurance during the OPT period?

After completing your studies at UCSD, you are no longer eligible for UCSD student health insurance. We recommend that you have adequate health insurance during your stay in the USA. Please contact your employer or a health insurance provider directly for information regarding their policies and rates.

4. Do I need to file U.S. taxes in April?

Students in F-1 status are exempt from Social Security tax (FICA), however they are generally subject to federal and state income taxes. Tax forms are available from February through April of each year. Check the Internal Revenue Service website at www.irs.gov for federal tax information and the CA Franchise Tax Board at www.ftb.ca.gov for California tax information.

Tax support information for UCSD students and scholars is available from February through April each year.

5. When can I apply for the STEM Extension

You can apply up to 90 days before your OPT EAD expirtation date, but no later than the expiration date of your OPT. Please visit the STEM OPT webpage for more information.

6. I am in a UCSD Bachelors/Masters dual program with my Bachelors program ending SP quarter and my Masters program beginning FA quarter. Can I still apply for OPT after my Bachelors program?

Yes! If you are continuing at UCSD to pursue a higher degree level, you will need to apply for a "Change of Level I-20." However, you do have the option to apply for OPT based on your completed Bachelors degree and to work on OPT until your Masters program begins. Even if you will only be working on OPT for 3 months, you can still request the full 12 months. Please come talk to an ISPO advisor for details regarding your timeline. Also, if you are pursuing a higher degree at another instituion in the US after completing a degree at UCSD, you can still apply for OPT based on completing your UCSD degree. You will then need to request a SEVIS Record Release in order to transfer your SEVIS Record to the new institution before the new program begins. This SEVIS Record Release automatically completes your OPT. Please come talk to an ISPO advisor for details. 

Contact Us

With questions regarding OPT, please e-mail iemployment@ucsd.edu. Please allow for 2-5 business days (not including weekends or holidays) for an advisor to review your message and respond. (Please only submit your OPT I-20 Request form to OPTrequest@ucsd.edu. General OPT questions submitted to OPTrequest@ucsd.edu will not be responded to.)

Contact Us

International Students & Programs Office (ISPO)
Phone: (858) 534-3730
Email: Visit our Contact Us page

Monday through Friday
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.