Employment / Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training

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Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization for eligible F-1 students who wish to work in a job related to their field of study. OPT can be done during your studies (Pre-Completion OPT), after completion of your studies (Post-Completion OPT) or a combination of both.


An F-1 student is eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) if he or she meets all of the following requirements:

  1. Must have been in valid F-1 status for one academic year (2 semesters)
  2. Must be in good academic standing (GPA minimum undergraduate 2.0; graduate 3.0)
  3. Must be pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree
  4. Has not had 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training in the current degree program

Attend an OPT Workshop to find out more about OPT and obtain an OPT Application Earliest time to submit OPT application to USCIS is 90 days before graduation date (or requested start date, if applying for pre-completion OPT). Students are responsible for submitting OPT applications to USCIS.

USCIS may take as long as 90 days to process and make decisions on OPT applications. It is strongly recommended that you submit your OPT Applications to ISS Office at least 115 calendar days before your requested OPT start date. This will allow ISS office 10-15 calendar days to process your application and allow USCIS 90 calendar days to process your application.

Pre-Completion OPT Off-campus work permit for F1 students interested in working off-campus BEFORE graduation where employment is related to their field of study or major.
Post-Completion OPT Off-campus work permit for F1 students interested in working in the United States AFTER graduation where employment is related to their field of study or major.

OPT Extensions for Students in STEM Majors (STEM OPT)

Overview of STEM OPT Rule

F-1 students who earned degrees in certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and are on approved post-completion OPT may apply for an extension of their OPT.

Final Rule on STEM OPT Extension

On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a final rule which takes effect on May 10, 2016. Key changes include the following:

  • Extension period increases from 17 months to 24 months.
  • Student and OPT Employer must complete a Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan.
  • F-1 student who graduated with a non-STEM degree but who received an earlier STEM degree from an accredited institution in the U.S. may apply for the STEM extension.
  • STEM applications may only be submitted up to 90 days prior to the initial 12-month OPT end date.
  • A total of 2 lifetime STEM extensions are allowed with the second extension after earning a new STEM-eligible degree at a higher educational level and obtaining a new 12-month OPT based on that higher educational level.
  • Volunteer/unpaid employment, employment through employment agencies and self-employment are NOT allowed, as student must have a "bona fide employer-employee relationship."
  • Students with a 24-month extension have up to 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT authorized period including initial 12-month and 24-month STEM OPT period.

Resources on STEM OPT Rule

Detailed information for students and employers can also be found on the following sites:

Eligibility for STEM OPT Extension
  • Current approved OPT is based on completion of a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM field
  • Current approved OPT has not yet expired
  • Have a job or job offer from an employer enrolled in the E-Verify program
  • Employer must complete a training plan and sign agreement on Form I-983
  • Has a current, valid (unexpired) passport (not visa)

Application timeline (based on new rule)

  • Earliest time to apply is 90 days before current OPT End Date and no later than one month before OPT end date.
  • STEM OPT Extension packet must be mailed to USCIS within 60 days of STEM OPT Extension I-20 issuance date.

Step 1
Prepare your STEM OPT Extension Application Packet which should include the following: SINGLE-SIDED PAGES ONLY

  • International Office's STEM OPT Extension Request:  24-Month Extension Request Form (download to print & complete form)
  • Completed Form I-765 (www.uscis.gov to download, complete & print form).
  • Completed Form I-983 Training Plan. Refer to Form I-983 Overview (Form & Instruction guide)CSUF ISS Guide for Form I-983
  • Copy of your OPT EAD Card
  • Copy of current Post-Completion OPT I-20
  • For 7-Month Extension, submit copy of 17-Month Extension I-20
  • Copy of your STEM Degree (submit one of the following: copy of diploma, official transcript, or unofficial transcript. *One-sided copies only. Transcript must show that your degree has been CONFERRED.)
  • Copy of I-94 (front & back of card or electronic version from www.cbp.gov/i94)
  • Copy of Passport page(s) showing your Name, Photograph, Date of Birth, Passport Expiration and/or Renewal.
  • Two US-style passport photos taken within last 30 days. Place photos in a small envelope with your name & SEVIS# on the envelope.
  • $410.00 Check or Money Order payable to "Department of Homeland Security" [Write your SEVIS ID# and Date of Birth on the check].

Step 2
Submit your STEM OPT Extension Packet to the ISS office by mail, in person, or fax to (657) 278-7292. Please do not submit via email. Allow 15 business days (minimum) for processing. You will be receiving a new I-20 showing STEM Extension recommendation.

Step 3
Mail your STEM OPT Extension Application (see USCIS filing instructions for address ). You are responsible for mailing all of the above listed items to USCIS (please see mailing instructions).

Working Allowed While STEM OPT Extension is Pending?
If your STEM OPT Extension application is still pending and your Post-Completion OPT expires, you can continue working up to 180 days after post-completion OPT expires.

Traveling Internationally Allowed?
We do not recommend traveling outside the US if your STEM OPT Extension is pending AND your Post-Completion OPT has already expired.

Student's Responsibilities & Reporting Requirements

  1. Fax the following items to the International Students & Scholars Office (657-278-7292):

    • Cover letter with full name, CWID & OPT STEM EAD in subject
    • Copy of the I-797 Receipt Notice
    • I-797 Approval Notice
    • Copy of your STEM OPT Extension Card of EAD (Employment Authorization Document)
    • *For OPT STEM Extension, all employers must be enrolled in the E-Verify Program.
  2. Report any changes to the following information to the International Office within 10 days of the change using the OPT Employer Information reporting form.

    • Legal Name
    • Residential US address
    • Employer name and address
    • Status of current OPT Employment, including loss of employment
  3. Report to the International Office every six months to confirm the information listed above even if none of the information has changed.
  4. Evaluation Requirements: You must complete and submit two self-evaluations during your STEM OPT period. For more information, refer to page 5 of Form I-983 Training Plan.
    • First evaluation within 12 months of the STEM OPT start date
    • Second/final evaluation at the end of your STEM OPT period
  5. Unemployment rule: You cannot accumulate 150 days of unemployment during the entire OPT period (initial 12 months plus 24-month STEM extension).

H1B Cap-Gap Extensions

The cap-gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student can request an extension to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and the start of H-1B status. This extension can extend the student's OPT work authorization and/or stay in the U.S., depending on when the H-1B petition was filed. The cap-gap extension is reflected on the I-20.

Application for Cap Gap Extensions

To request the Cap-Gap Extension, please fax the following to the ISS office at (657) 278-7292 (subject heading "H1B Cap-Gap I-20 request") with the following information:

1. Cover page including the following information (you can download a Cap-Gap Extension Request Fax Cover Sheet here):

  • Your name
  • CWID
  • Current US residential address
  • Mailing address (even if same as residential address)
  • Phone number
  • Current employer information (company name, employer address, supervisor's name, phone number and email address)

2. Copy of current OPT EAD

3. Copy of Notice Receipt (evidence of H1B petition files)

Please allow 15 business days (minimum) for processing of your request.

ISS Office Hours

Monday through Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

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