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).
Changes as of 3/6/2017:
ISPO will implement a new OPT I-20 Request process that will lead to expedited processing times. On and after 3/6/2017 students applying for OPT will scan or take a photo of their completed OPT I-20 Request Form and will e-mail it directly ISPO (see Step 2 instructions below). Also, as of 3/6/2017, there will no longer be OPT Review or OPT Submission Sessions. (The final OPT Review Session will take place 3/1 and the final OPT Submission Session will take place 3/2). These sessions will be replaced with OPT Information Sessions, occurring twice a week, as detailed in Step 1. Please view this updated OPT page, which is easier to navigate.
Applying for OPT: Steps
Are you just getting started? Here is what you should do to make sure that you are prepared to apply for OPT:
Review these videos!
"What is OPT?"
"OPT Application Process"
Attend an “OPT Information Session” beginning the week of March 6, 2017.
- 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.
Request an OPT Recommended I-20 from ISPO
Reference the OPT Application Guide in Step 3 for assistance completing the OPT I-20 Request Form. When you are ready, complete the OPT I-20 Request Form. Submit this form to ISPO to request your new OPT I-20 no more than 7 business days before the first day of your 5-month window.
How to Submit OPT I-20 Request:
- Comple the entire OPT I-20 Request Form. The top half is completed by you and the bottom half is completed by your College Academic Advisor or your Graduate Program Coordinator.
- Please e-mail the OPT I-20 Request Form to email@example.com with the subject line "OPT I-20 Request, LAST NAME, First Name, PID."
- ISPO will only accept your OPT I-20 Request Form 7 business days before the first day of your 5-month window, based on your program end date.
- 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.
Gather and complete all required documents for the OPT Application.
Review the OPT Application Guide which details each document required for a complete application.
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)
Express Mail Delivery
(Federal Express, UPS, etc.)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
If your mailing address (#3 on your Form I-765) is outside of California:
Send your package to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox Facility (i.e. Texas) in your area. Addresses are listed on the I-765 application instruction form at www.uscis.gov.
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.
While your OPT Application is pending, you will receive the following documents:
I-797 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.
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.
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.
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 Employment Reporting 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.
Social Security Number
All persons must have a Social Security number to be employed in the USA. This is not the Campus ID number assigned by UC San Diego. To apply for a Social Security number, you will need to present a valid passport, I-94, I-20, EAD card, 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. Visit www.ssa.gov to find the nearest Social Security office to you.
Maintaining F-1 Status During OPT
Types of Employment
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.
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.
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. 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:
- Transfer your SEVIS Record from UC San Diego to a new Institution
- Change from F-1 Status to Another Status*
- Depart the USA* and report your departure date on the OPT Employment Reporting Form
F-1 OPT Employment Reporting Form
The OPT Employment Reporting 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 (If you require a reprinted OPT I20 that reflects your employer change, please submit an I-20 Request Form to firstname.lastname@example.org after submitting your Employment Reporting Form.)
- 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 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.
*If you cannot drop your I-20 off at ISPO for a Travel Signature, you can mail it to ISPO:
International Students & Programs Office
Student Center B
9500 Gilman Drive #0018
La Jolla, California 92093-0018
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.
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. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
With questions regarding OPT, please e-mail email@example.com. Please allow for 2-5 business days (not including weekends or holidays) for an advisor to review your message and respond.