F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a work authorization benefit for which eligible F-1 students may apply. It may be used prior to or after completion of studies. OPT taken prior to completion of studies is commonly referred to as “pre-completion OPT.” OPT taken after completion of studies is called “post-completion OPT.” This section discusses both types of OPT in detail. Important Note: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approval is required for Optional Practical Training.
Clinical house staff employment is allowed on this visa ONLY if the student has used this F-1 visa to obtain a medical degree from a U.S. medical school. Foreign medical graduates whose F-1 visas are for Ph.D. programs may not use their practical training for clinical house staff employment. Students must have obtained an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS before the start date of employment.
Requirements for Pre and Post-Completion OPT
- The employment must be directly related to student's major field of study.
- OPT can be used only during the following times:
- During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and intends to register for the next session.
- While school is in session, provided that OPT (in combination with any other authorized employment) does not exceed twenty hours a week.
- After completion of all course requirements (but before formal graduation), excluding a thesis or the equivalent.
- After completion of the course of study.
- For most students, the maximum total time available for OPT will be 12 months of full-time employment. NOTE: A student becomes eligible for another 12-month period of OPT when s/he moves to a higher educational degree level. Additional OPT time may be available if s/he becomes eligible for the H-1B "Cap Gap" extension or the 24-Month STEM degree extension.
- All OPT requires prior approval from the USCIS. DO NOT BEGIN ANY EMPLOYMENT WITHOUT USCIS APPROVAL. The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is the evidence of USCIS approval. The earliest start date one may begin working will be printed on the EAD.
- Students are eligible for OPT if they are in F-1 status and have been studying full-time for at least one academic year.
- OPT can only be approved for the student’s major field of study verified in DukeHub.
Pre-Completion OPT Restrictions
- Any time used in pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the initial 12-month allotment. Note: Part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted at 1/2 the full-time rate.
- Students may not engage in full-time employment during the school year unless all course requirements have been met.
- Students may supplement a teaching or research assistant-ship or other on-campus employment with OPT only if the total employment does not exceed 20 hours per week when school is in session and full-time during annual school holidays.
- Students may file up to 90 days before being enrolled for one a full academic year, provided the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year.
Post-Completion OPT Restrictions
- Available AFTER completion of studies graduation date.
- May be authorized initially for up to 12 months (minus time spent in pre-completion practical training).
- Can be filed without a job offer.
- Student must complete OPT within 14 months of graduation. The only exceptions are the H-1B "Cap Gap" extension and the 24-month STEM degree extension.
OPT Application Process (Pre and Post-Completion)
- Complete the Optional Practical Training Application and Follow-up Information Form.
- Complete Form I-765. Form I-765 is in PDF format. You may fill them out from your keyboard. Print, sign, and present them with other required documents at your appointment. All instructions are related *only* to completing the forms for OPT purposes. Please remember to record your name exactly as it appears in your passport and on your Form I-20.
- Obtain a letter from your academic advisor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, or Director of Graduate Studies indicating the following: your major, degree level, expected date of completion, and a recommendation for OPT. Here is a sample OPT Recommendation Letter.
- Obtain two (2) passport-style photographs (see photo specifications). The photos should be taken within 30 days before submission of the OPT application to Duke Visa Services (DVS).
- Schedule an appointment with your International Student Advisor in DVS and bring the following to your appointment:
- Optional Practical Training Application and follow-up information form.
- The completed Form I-765.
- A recommendation letter from your academic advisor.
- Two (2) passport-style photographs that meet USCIS specifications.
- The current Form I-20.
- All prior Forms I-20.
- Your valid, unexpired passport.
- Your I-94 card.
- A personal check, Certified Check from your bank or a U.S. Money Order for $410 made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. USDHS will not accept U.S. dollars.
- A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, if you do have a job you should bring the job offer letter and the information on our SEVIS Reporting Requirements For Students On Optional Practical Training webpage with you to your appointment.
- G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance-Complete this form to receive email updates on the OPT application.
- Your International Student Advisor will review your application and, if all criteria are met, will issue a properly annotated Form I-20 to be submitted with the application.
- The OPT application will be submitted to USCIS in Texas.
Students requesting updated I-20s reflecting employer information should use our New I-20 Request Form.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, OPT is a benefit of F-1 status. While engaging in OPT you are still considered to be an F-1 student under the visa sponsorship of Duke University.
If the internship is not required, and if there is no class which requires all students taking the class to do an internship, you are ineligible for CPT. Your only option is to file for pre-completion OPT.
The application fee for OPT is $410.
Pre-completion students may file up to 90 days before they complete a full academic year or up to 90 days in advance of the requested employment date if a full academic year has been completed.
Post-completion students may apply up to 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date. Applications must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date the International Student Advisor's recommendation OPT in SEVIS. The initial 12-month period of OPT can begin no later than 60 days AFTER graduation.
Example: If graduation is May 14, you can file for OPT as early as February 15. If you want to postpone the start date as long as possible, your period of OPT can begin no later than July 14.
It is important to note that you are NOT required to begin working on the start date of your authorized OPT period. However, the 12-month clock starts ticking down from that first day, and if you don’t actually work on the first day, you simply forfeit that one day of authorized work. If you don’t begin work until one month later, then you have lost that entire amount of time and accumulated 30 days of unemployment time. Please see question #18 below regarding days of unemployment.
No, OPT regulations prohibit this. Two separate applications and fees would be required.
Currently, the processing time for OPT applications can take 2-4 months.
You may wish to file for the latest possible start date. Your latest possible start date will be 61 days after graduation. While you still may not have a job, you must understand that the 12-month clock starts ticking down beginning with the first day of the OPT period. Any unworked days are lost and count as accumulated unemployment time. See question #18 below.
After USCIS has processed your application, most Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will be sent directly to Duke Visa Services, and you will be contacted by us to come in and claim your EAD. When your EAD arrives, you can claim it in person, make prior arrangements to have it express mailed to you at your expense, or you may authorize in writing another individual to claim it.
Allow 2-4 months. This can change at any time. If you must start work immediately after graduation, then you need to give USCIS as much time as possible to process your application.
NOTE: DVS has no control over nor an ability to influence USCIS processing times.
There is nothing else you can do to affect this process. USCIS adjudicates applications on a "first-come first-serve" basis with no exceptions. There is no expedited processing option.
Unfortunately, nothing. USCIS does not offer same-day processing at local offices nor does USCIS provide any mechanism for processing urgent requests. Students should, therefore, plan to apply for work authorization well in advance of their projected start dates.
After submitting your application to the USCIS, DVS will receive an official receipt notice, a copy of which can be shared with you upon request. In the upper left corner of the notice is your receipt number (SRC number). You will need this number to check the USCIS on-line status web site. Follow the instructions on that page.
Applications for OPT rarely are denied to eligible students.
For OPT, you may begin work only after you have received your EAD from USCIS and after the start date printed on the EAD. For Example: If your work authorization begins on July 1, but your employer asks that you begin on June 23, you CANNOT work before your EAD start date. If your employer asks that you postpone your start date until July 15, and your EAD start date is July 1, you can wait and start July 15, only you will lose 15 days of work authorization that you cannot recover. These will also be considered 15 days of unemployment time, see question #18 below.
Under no conditions can you begin before obtaining appropriate work authorization. Additionally, USCIS has a very rigid interpretation of what activities constitute employment. Volunteering for a position which normally provides compensation is considered employment and is, therefore, not permitted without appropriate authorization. For more information, please see our Volunteer Activities webpage.
Paid employment permits multiple employers, short-term multiple employers (performing artists), contract work, or hire by an agency. If hired by an agency, you must be able to show you have worked an average of 20 hours per week. If you desire self-employment, you must be employed full-time, have proof of proper business licenses, and be working in an area related to your degree program.
Unpaid employment permits work as a volunteer or unpaid intern where this does not violate any labor laws. You must work at least 20 hours per week and you must have evidence from your employer to prove this.
Under OPT, most F-1 students can work only a maximum of 12 months. For exceptions, see questions #25 and #26 below.
Yes, students on post-completion OPT may be unemployed no more than a total of 90 days during the approved period of OPT. Unemployment greater than 90 days means your OPT is cancelled and you will have violated your F-1 status unless you have done one of the following:
- Applied for a new degree program at your current school or transferred into another SEVIS school.
- Departed the United States.
- Taken some other action to maintain legal status (e.g. filed a change of status application).
No, you may change employers without obtaining permission from your International Student Advisor or from USCIS. But, you must provide the DVS with the new employer’s name and address.
As stated above, unpaid employment is allowed for OPT. You can therefore look for work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, so long as this work will not violate any labor laws. You must work at least 20 hours per week and you will need some type of documentary evidence from the employer to prove the employment (such as an offer letter).
Special Note for STEM extensions: During the STEM extension period, students are allowed to volunteer, incidental to their status. This means that volunteer work is allowed but does not count as employment for the purpose of maintaining F-1 status.
Unfortunately, once your application has been approved and the OPT start date reached, it is impossible to regain the period of OPT for which you have been authorized. Students should be very sure that they want employment authorization before submitting their applications. It may be possible to cancel your OPT if the request can be submitted before the OPT start date. Please consult with your International Student Advisor.
The most risk-free answer to this question is do not travel until you have the EAD in your possession. If you have submitted your OPT application and wish to travel outside the U.S while you are awaiting the approval AND you will return before you have completed your degree program, you may do so without any impact upon your OPT application. Of course, you will need to have a valid visa stamp and properly validated I-20 in order to return. You must make absolutely certain that when you reenter, your I-94 card reflects that you were admitted as an F-1 student. If you travel outside the U.S. after graduation, but before the EAD is approved, then you must wait outside the U.S. until you obtain the EAD. To successfully reenter the U.S. you must present your EAD, a new I-20, a valid passport and visa stamp, and your job offer letter. The risk in traveling abroad prior to approval means that if anything goes wrong with the application process or if the application is delayed for a lengthy period of time, you have no recourse other than to wait outside the country until the OPT is approved. Note: If before the OPT is approved you choose to enter in a status other than F-1 (such as WB, WT, B-1, B-2, etc.), it is a violation of status to use the I-766 to accept employment. It also may be viewed by USCIS as committing visa fraud. We will not be able to issue you a new I-20. Canadians should pay extra attention to how they are readmitted to the U.S. during OPT – check the I-94 card be sure it says "F-1, D/S".
Many things! After you receive your EAD, you must have the following things to be readmitted as an F-1 student on OPT: your EAD, a new I-20, a valid passport and visa stamp, and your job offer letter. If you must apply for a new visa stamp, this requires a new I-20. Before we can issue a new I-20, we must have a copy of your current I-20, your I-94 card (front and back), your passport identity and expiration date pages, your current/most recent visa stamp, new proof of funding and the Request for a New I-20 or DS-2019 form.
When applying for a new visa stamp, remember that the burden is upon you to convince a United States consular officer that you intend to return to your home country after completion of your OPT. If the officer believes that it is your intention to remain in the United States beyond the ending date of your OPT, s/he may deny your visa stamp and you will be unable to return to the United States Neither the DVS nor your employer can intervene should this occur.
Most Importantly, you CANNOT travel abroad and reenter the United States after graduation and during the OPT period unless you actually are returning to a job. The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has issued an interpretation of 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(13)(ii) making it clear that after your OPT is approved and the EAD issued, you only can reenter the United States to resume employment. Students are not required to start work before leaving the United States, but they must present evidence they are returning to a real job upon reentry.
The problem with leaving the United States before you have received your EAD is that you have no idea when the OPT application will be approved. If you are out of the country when this happens, you must make arrangements to obtain your EAD and provide the DVS with necessary documents to issue a new I-20. BUT, none of this will be of any good if you don’t yet have a job! Remember, OPT is authorization to work full-time, just as F-1 students are expected to be enrolled in their academic programs full-time. You also are required to begin your job no more than 90 days following the start date of your approved period of OPT, else you lose your ability to work in the United States on OPT.
The signature on your I-20 cannot be more than 6 months old as of the day you plan to reenter the U.S. You must have your I-20 revalidated for reentry on page 3. How do you obtain this signature? First, do not wait until the last minute to request this revalidation. You should mail your original I-20 (and those for any dependents) to the DVS. You must include a copy (front and back) of your I-94 card (copies for dependents as well). The I-20(s) will be signed, dated and returned to you by mail to the address you provide. If you want the documents express mailed, then you must enclose with your request a pre-addressed and pre-paid express mail envelope. The DVS cannot accept individual credit card information in order to send your visa documents by express mail.
In order to maintain valid F-1 status, a student must inform the DVS of the following within 10 calendar days of the event:
- Your legal name change (for example, if you get married)
- Residential address change
- Employer name changes
- Employer address changes
- Interruption in employment
- Report your addresses, you may do so via our Address Update form.
The rule provides an extension of stay and work authorization for students whose OPT is expiring and who are beneficiaries of receipted or approved H-1B petitions with an October 1 start date. This automatic extension of stay and employment authorization will terminate if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or revoked by USCIS. Remember that the “cap gap,” applies only to those who work for “cap subject” employers. Most businesses are “cap subject;” most colleges and universities and some research facilities are “cap exempt.” If you work for a cap subject employer and you want to benefit from the cap gap coverage, all of the following must be true:
- You already hold or will receive an EAD for post-completion OPT.
- Your employer filed an H-1B for you before your OPT expires.
- Your H-1B application was either receipted or approved by USCIS.
If all of these elements are true, then you must work with your employer to obtain either the Receipt or Approval notice, and then must work with your advisor in the DVS to formally request an “H-1B Cap Gap data fix” in SEVIS. For more information, please see the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' Extension of Optional Training Program For Qualified Students document.
To receive this benefit ALL of the following must be true:
- You must already have and be in the initial 12-month OPT status. You cannot get the full 36 months approved up front.
- Your degree must be in specific Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) fields as defined in the regulation per a Department of Education (DoEd) CIP code list. A current listing can be found on the ICE STEM Designated Degree Programs webpage.
- Your employer must be participating in the E-Verify electronic employment verification program. For more information, please see the "Student and Exchange Visitors Program" on the Study in the States website regarding the STEM OPT extension.
Recommendation for Travel
If you must travel internationally soon after graduation, then it is wise to apply for OPT early enough to have a good chance of having your work permit by graduation. If you do leave the U.S. after graduation, please know you cannot get back unless you have a job offer letter in your hand. The DVS also cannot guarantee that you won’t have trouble reentering on just an I-765 Receipt Notice. To be in the strongest possible position for successful reentry into the United States, please have the following in your possession:
- Your valid passport.
- Your valid F-1 visa stamp.
- Your valid I-20, with a signature from the DVS less than 6 months old.
- Your valid EAD.
- Your job offer letter.
For more travel information while on OPT please see our F-1 OPT Check List webpage.