What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is authorization for temporary employment with any U.S. employer that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. An F-1 student can be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. Additionally, those granted a degree in a so-called STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may be able to apply for a 24-month extension of the initial 12-month allotment. 

Pre-completion OPT: 

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he/she has been enrolled for at least two full academic terms. The pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study (i.e. a summer internship in his/her field). Students authorized to participate in precompletion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full-time on breaks. 

Post-completion OPT: 

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies. The post-completion OPT employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.

What is the application process to participate in OPT?

Students must initiate the process by attending an OPT information session held by the OGSSE throughout the semester. When a student has completed the steps required in the application packet, a Designated School Official (DSO) in the OGSSE must recommend the student for OPT by endorsing the student’s Form I-20. Students then file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD)), with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

If approved, the USCIS will issue an EAD to the student. Per regulations, an F-1 student seeking OPT may not begin employment until he/she has been issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card by the USCIS.

Who is eligible to apply?

  • A student who has been enrolled full-time at his/her current level for at least two academic terms.
  • For post-completion OPT, a student who plans to complete all the necessary requirements of his/her
    program (i.e. planning to graduate) BEFORE his/her requested start date for the OPT period.

Who decides if my OPT position is right for me?

A student does NOT need to have a specific job offer in-hand in order to apply for OPT. 

This means in the end, it is entirely up to the student and the employer to decide if the position is right BEFORE employment commences. (If a student or employer has any questions about whether or not their position can be considered “related” to a specific field of study, please feel free to contact the Office of Global Support & Student Engagement).

Can I start my OPT period before I complete my courses?

If a student is requesting full-time, post-completion OPT, the answer is: NO. 

However, if a student has completed all of his/her program requirements except for a thesis, dissertation, or final research project, he/she may apply for full-time post-completion OPT. The student must make normal progress toward completing his/her thesis, dissertation, or final research project during the OPT period. 

Remember: if your OPT period ends and your thesis/project is not approved, you risk having to leave the U.S. without the degree/certificate you have worked so hard for!

How long does OPT last?

The total “working” period of OPT employment for most students cannot exceed twelve (12) months at each degree level. Any pre-completion OPT used before graduation will be deducted from any postcompletion allotment. 

Some F-1 students in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may be able to apply for a 24-month extension. This requires a second application to the USCIS after an official job offer with an E-Verify employer has been obtained. 

After the regular or extended OPT period ends, a student has 60 days to depart the U.S., transfer to another institution, or change to another status. 

An F-1 student is NOT allowed to work after the expiration date on their EAD card. 

Students who are the beneficiary of an approved H1-B petition should consult with the OGSSE about a “Cap-Gap” extension.

When do I apply?

For post-completion, the student may apply 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date. 

Note: It may take up to 90 days or longer for the USCIS to process and approve OPT applications. (Often additional documentation is requested, which delays the receipt of an EAD card.) Therefore, we recommend that you APPLY EARLY.

I want to cancel my post-completion OPT application and stay another term, is that OK? Can I apply again?

If a student has not yet mailed in his/her OPT application packet to the USCIS, he/she should see a DSO in the Office of Global Support & Student Engagement to discuss his/her plans for staying another semester. The DSO can go into SEVIS and cancel an OPT request that has not been mailed, and then extend a student’s program of study, if necessary (and not after the student’s program end date). There will most likely not be any negative repercussions on a later OPT application, as long as the student is eligible for a SEVIS program extension. 

If a student has already mailed in his/her OPT application packet, the Office of Global Support & Student Engagement can contact the USCIS Service Center and ask to withdraw the application. If the application has not been adjudicated, the USCIS may cancel the application. This cancellation prior to adjudication should not affect a later OPT application; however, please note that the $380 application fee will not be refunded and must be paid again for a later application.

 For OPT applications that have already been approved by the USCIS Service Center, a student cannot withdraw or cancel his/her OPT. A student does not have to use the approved OPT period, but he/she cannot apply again for the same degree-level after having an application approved. 

Always speak with a DSO about the specific details of your application BEFORE applying

What happens if my EAD is taking a long time to arrive?

You must allow 90 days for processing, no matter what time of year it may be or how late you have
applied. The OGSSE may contact the USCIS only after 90 days from the issuance of a Receipt Notice
regarding the delayed processing of an EAD application. If this is your situation, please speak to a DSO
in the Office of Global Support & Student Engagement at your earliest convenience.

Once you have a Receipt Number for your OPT application from USCIS (Form I-797) you will be able
to check your status at www.uscis.gov. You may also submit an inquiry about the status of your
application after 60 days.

Once I’m in my post-completion OPT period, am I still a student of Gannon University?

No…and yes. For academic and student services, you are no longer considered a student after
graduation. You will be considered an official alumnus of Gannon University. Congratulations!

However, for U.S. immigration purposes, post-completion OPT is an extension of your F-1 student, nonimmigrant visa status; and thus, you are a student in the eyes of the U.S. government. Therefore, you
must comply with many of the same F-1 regulations you followed during your studies. During the OPT
period, a student must notify the DSO of personal name or address changes, and the name and
address of his/her employer, including supervisor contact information and how the employment
relates to the student’s field of study. The student must notify the OGSSE anytime he/she changes
employer or if the student wishes to discontinue training.

In addition, a student engaged in OPT must have a Form I-20 endorsed within the last 6 months by
the DSO for reentry into the U.S. The DSO and student must continue to communicate in order to
ensure that the student does not take any action that would adversely affect his/her non-immigrant status.
The OGSSE will help you in anyway they can, but you are ultimately responsible for maintaining
your own status.

Can I move while my OPT application is being adjudicated?

The USCIS Service Center will not forward mail if it is delivered to the wrong address. The EAD card may end up being returned to the Service Center and it can take up to an additional 3-4 months to obtain a replacement EAD card.

 The OGSSE recommends that all students use the mailing address for Gannon University’s Office of Global Support & Student Engagement when applying for the 12-month OPT authorization.This should prevent problems with lost/missing mail.

Can I leave the country while my OPT is pending?

Yes, if it is before your program end date. A student may leave the U.S. for a short trip as long as
he/she has coursework to complete, warranting a return to the U.S. However, be careful! If a student
does not have coursework to return to, then his/her program of study is considered complete and there
will be no reason for the border officials to allow him/her to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.

Please note that a student with a pending OPT application may receive communication from the USCIS
requesting additional information in order to approve the application. These requests usually have a
deadline for responses, and if a student is outside of the country, he/she may miss the required deadline
to respond and have his/her OPT application denied (which he/she cannot appeal).

Not recommend, if after your program end date. The Office of Global Support & Student
Engagement does not advise leaving the U.S. until a student has received his/her EAD card and secured
an employment letter from his/her new employer. According to regulations, an F-1 student seeking to reenter the country after the program end date may be admitted only to resume employment under the
appropriate authorization.

However, some students have applied for post-completion OPT and having received a USCIS notice of
receipt, have successfully re-entered the U.S. after traveling abroad for a brief period. As long as all
other immigration documents are in good order and students have a copy of the I-797 Receipt Notice to
document that the OPT authorization is still pending, F-1 students have been allowed to re-enter the U.S.
after the program end date. The OGSSE recommends that you bring an offer letter of employment, or
other documentation showing you are actively seeking employment, to support your reentry to the U.S.
while your OPT application is pending. If you are considering this travel option, please contact the
OGSSE immediately. Traveling after your program end date, but before you have an EAD card is
risky.

Can I leave after my post-completion OPT is approved?

Yes, ….. if you do have a job or job offer, you may travel outside the country while on OPT. We recommend that you present to border officials upon your return: an employment letter, a signed I-20 within the last 6 months (required), a valid visa stamp in your valid (for at least six months from the time of re-entry) passport (required), and your EAD card.

I hate my job and want to take a position at another company, can I do that on OPT?

A student may work for more than one employer or change employers. A student should keep in mind, however, that any periods of prolonged unemployment may jeopardize his/her F-1 status.

 Students are not allowed to accrue over 90 days of unemployment while authorized to work under OPT. The SEVIS system will calculate 90 consecutive days of unemployment and your record may automatically terminate if you fail to secure employment, or fail to report employment information to the OGSSE.

I can’t find a job. What should I do?

The job search process is a daunting and difficult task. The OGSSE advises that you begin the process at least a year to three months before graduation and that you contact Gannon Career Development and Employment Services to gain assistance and advice on your job hunt. 

If are having trouble finding a job, be sure to document all of your efforts in searching for a job. Copy your resumes, mailings, emails, online applications, letters of rejection, etc. and keep them. Documenting your failed job search may help you support your case if questioned by an immigration official.

 If you obtain a 24-month extension, you are not allowed to accrue more than a total of 150 days of unemployment throughout the entire OPT period (this includes the initial 12-month and 24-month OPT extension). Therefore, you are granted 60 days of unemployment in addition to the original 90 days if awarded the 24-month OPT extension.

Can I work for more than one employer?

Yes, as long as the positions are in your field of study.

What happens if my application is denied?

There is no formal appeal for a denial, but the student may file a motion to re-open or reconsider the decision if such a motion has merit. A student should contact the Office of Global Support & Student Engagement as soon as possible if his/her application is denied.

I have a STEM degree. When can I apply for a 24-month extension?

A student with a STEM degree may apply for a 24-month extension no earlier than 90 days before his/her current OPT period expires. The student cannot apply after the 12-month initial OPT expiration date. 

Students should contact the OGSSE when they are ready to apply for the 24-month extension to receive detailed information regarding the application process.

What are the eligibility requirements for the 24-month extension of post-completion OPT?

  • The student must have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that isaccredited by a U.S. Department of Education and is certified by SEVP.
  • F-1 students participating in 12-month OPT based on a non-STEM degree, may be eligible to use a
    prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution to apply for a STEM OPT extension. (Contact the
    OGSSE or USCIS.gov for more information.).
  • The student must work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below:
    • Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing.
    • Report material changes to the STEM OPT employment to the DSO within 5 business days.
    • Implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning throughpractical experience.
    • Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers
      in duties, hours, and compensation.
    • Complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.
  • The student must apply on time (i.e. before the current post-completion OPT expires).

What is the E-Verify program?

The E-Verify program is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The E-Verify program determines employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers.

I do not have a STEM degree. What can I do to extend OPT?

Currently, only students with STEM degrees are eligible for a 24-month extension to OPT. However,
any F-1 student whose employer files an H-1B petition on his/her behalf may be able to extend his/her
OPT period. If a cap-subject H-1B petition on his/her behalf is accepted by the USCIS in the April
lottery, the OPT period and F-1 status is automatically extended while the case is pending. If the
petition is denied, OPT ends immediately or when the current EAD expires, whichever is later. If the
petition is approved, his/her OPT and F-1 status is automatically extended until September 30th, the day
before H-1B status will start.