Post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined in the F-1 regulations as “temporary employment authorization for practical training directly related to a student’s major field of study.” Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months of employment authorization per higher degree level completed in the U.S.
- Pre-Completion OPT: Off-campus work authorization during a student’s degree program. Most CU students participate in Curricular Practical Training work authorization during their degree program instead of pre-completion OPT.
- Post-Completion OPT: Off-campus work authorization after completion of all degree requirements or after completion of all coursework (excluding thesis or dissertation credits).
An extension of OPT is available for students who have earned certain qualifying STEM degrees and whose employer is enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program. This webpage reviews information related to post-completion OPT and does not address the STEM Extension of OPT.
Below is information that will guide you through each step of the OPT application and authorization process. A printable version of this information is available here.
Introduction to OPT
This section will review eligibility requirements, the application timeline, and the OPT start date. Students will better understand the general OPT process after reading this section.
- Currently be in the U.S. in valid F-1 status;
- Have a valid passport and I-94 record indicating F-1 and D/S (duration of status);
- Have been continuously enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (fall and spring semester) before your requested OPT start date;
- Be enrolled full-time at CU Boulder (or an authorized equivalent) with an on-campus presence in the semester in which you apply for OPT;
- Have not completed more than 365 days of full-time CPT at the current degree level or a higher degree level;
- Have not previously completed a higher degree level in the U.S.;
- Have not previously been approved for 12 months of OPT at the current degree level or a higher degree level; AND
- Only pursue employment directly related to your major field of study.
Please note: You must be registered for credits that require on-campus presence in your final semester. Temporarily waived: See ISSS COVID-19 Maintaining Immigration Status.
- For students graduating in the Fall 2020 semester, your last day of enrollment is December 13, 2020. The first day you can apply for OPT is September 14, 2020. The last day that USCIS can receive your materials to apply for OPT is February 11, 2021.
- For students graduating in the Spring 2021 semester, your last day of enrollment is May 5, 2021. The first day you can apply for OPT is February 4, 2021. The last day that USCIS can receive your materials to apply for OPT is July 4, 2021. Since July 4th is a holiday and a weekend, USCIS needs to receive your materials on or before July 2, 2021.
- For students graduating in the Fall 2021 semester, your last day of enrollment is December 15, 2021. The first day you can apply for OPT is September 16, 2021. The last day that USCIS can receive your materials to apply for OPT is February 13, 2022.
- Students graduating in Fall 2020 can choose a start date that is anywhere between: December 14, 2020 and February 11, 2021.
- Students graduating in Spring 2021 can choose a start date that is anywhere between: May 6, 2021 and July 4, 2021.
- Students graduating in Fall 2021 can choose a start date that is anywhere between: December 16, 2021 and February 13, 2022.
Applying for OPT
This section provides a material guide to applying for OPT. Included in this section are detailed instructions, a list of documents and materials that you need to compile, and information about what happens after you fill out the OPT I-20 Request Form.
ISSS has a list of OPT resources on the right-hand side of this page. Please check out these resources and allow us to highlight the ISSS OPT Application Presentation as a valuable resource.
- You will have to enter your academic advisor's name and email address on the DocuSign form. Once you complete your section of the form, it will automatically be emailed to your advisor based on the information you have provided.
- After your academic advisor completes their section of the form, it will automatically be emailed to ISSS for processing. You will receive a copy of the request when ISSS is reviewing it. After ISSS receives your request form, please allow 2-5 business days for processing.
- ISSS will review your application materials and email you if any questions arise.
- ISSS will shorten your I-20 program end date based on your last date of enrollment (if necessary). Sometimes, a student’s I-20 program end date already matches the last date of enrollment.
- ISSS will issue you an I-20, sign it, and email it to you. You must sign this I-20 by hand and include a copy of it in your application that you mail to USCIS.
- Please note that ISSS only REQUESTS that your OPT application be approved; the final decision is made by USCIS.
Required for the Application to USCIS but optional to upload in the OPT I-20 Request that ISSS reviews:
I-765 Instructions and Sample
This section contains an in-depth guide to the Form I-765. It is your responsibility as the F-1 applicant to ensure that you have filled out your I-765 correctly. ISSS will review your I-765 for completeness, not accuracy. Included in this section is also an example of a completed I-765.
- Please review the I-765 instructions on the USCIS website and prepare a complete OPT application.
- Below are I-765 instructions written by ISSS.
- Here is a sample I-765. Please note that this is one example. Student circumstances may differ and require different answers. Please be sure to review the USCIS I-765 instructions, read the I-765 carefully, and reach out to ISSS if you are still unsure.
- Mark “Initial permission to accept employment” as the reason for completing the form
- Item 1: Enter your full legal name in the applicable boxes. See Part 6 if you require more space to enter your name.
- Item 5: Utilize an address you will continue to receive mail at for at least 120-150 days
- Do not use the ISSS office address
- If you move, update your address with USCIS Online Change of Address System
- 5.a.: If your name is not on the lease or you do not live at the mailing address you are providing, enter the name of the official person living at this address
- Item 13.a: Enter “Yes” if you have been issued a SSN and include it in 13.b.
- Enter “No” if you need to apply for a SSN and complete 14-17.b. Item 21.a: Enter your complete I-94 number
- Electronic I-94—Enter the Admission (I-94) Record Number from your electronic I-94
- Paper I-94—Enter the complete number found on the upper left corner of your paper I-94 card
- Item 21.c: If you entered your passport number in 21.b, write N/A in 21.c
- Item 22 Enter the date of your last entry to the U.S. This will most likely be the date indicated on your I-94 unless you traveled to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island for less than 30 days and did not obtain a new I-94.
- Item 23: Enter the city and state where you last passed through U.S. Customs.
- Unless you utilized the automatic visa revalidation program or completed preclearance outside the U.S., it should be the port of entry indicated in your electronic I-94 travel history.
- Item 26: Enter your SEVIS number. The SEVIS number is located on your Form I-20 (N00...)
- Item 27: Please enter the appropriate eligibility category based on the information below:
- (c) (3) (A)– Pre-completion OPT: Requested employment start day is prior to degree completion
- (c) (3) (B)– Post-Completion OPT: Requested employment start date is after degree completion or after all course requirements with thesis/dissertation remaining
- Items 28-31b: You can leave all of these fields blank as they do not apply to pre and post-completion OPT applications
- Part 3, 7.a: Sign (original ink signature) in the box and date
- Part 4: Write N/A in all blanks unless you used an interpreter to complete the I-765
- Part 5: Write N/A in all blanks unless someone else prepared your I-765 (e.g. immigration attorney)
- Part 6: Complete this section IF:
- You have been approved for CPT in the past
- You have been approved for OPT in the past
- You have used a different SEVIS number in F-1 status in the U.S.
- Your SEVIS ID can be found in the top right corner of your I-20. It starts with N00…
- Example: You attended school in the U.S., left the U.S. to take a break from school, and returned with a new I-20. Your SEVIS ID from your initial attendance is different than your current SEVIS ID.
- You need extra space to provide any other additional information that would not fit on the previous pages of the I-765
- If you need to complete section 6 for any of the above reasons, complete item 1
- For each of the items listed above, complete one box in Part 6.
- It is recommended that you use Page 3, Part 2, Item 27 for each box that refers to previous CPT, OPT, or a different SEVIS number, as this information is required specific to Category (c)(3)(B) per the I-765 instructions, page 4.
- CPT: Please list your CPT approvals. We suggest this format: CPT Authorizations (as a title to the section). Employer Name; start date-end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD). You can find your CPT details on the I-20 that was approved for each period of CPT
- OPT: Please list your past OPT approvals. We suggest this format. OPT Authorizations (as a title to the section). Start date-end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD). Please also include a color copy of each OPT EAD card with your application
- Previous SEVIS numbers: Please list the other SEVIS numbers you have used in the past. We suggest this format: Previous SEVIS numbers (as a title to the section). SEVIS number: N00…; program start date-program end date; degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD). Please also include a copy of a previous I-20 for each different SEVIS number you have had.
Mailing your OPT Application
This section provides instructions for mailing your complete OPT application materials to USCIS.
- Make any edits that ISSS has recommended to your OPT application materials and review all your materials completely.
- Compile all the USCIS application materials that were listed in in the Applying for OPT section above. Ensure that your materials are complete, accurate, and all forms are signed by hand with black ink.
- Mail your complete application to USCIS (see below for instructions)
- You MUST submit your application to USCIS while you are still in the United States. You are not eligible to apply for OPT if you have already graduated and have left the United States.
- USCIS must receive your complete OPT application within 30 days of the date ISSS enters the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record. This means that you should not delay mailing your complete application to USCIS once you receive the I-20 recommending OPT.
- You must have your EAD in your possession before beginning work.
- Take note of your new OPT request I-20 program end date (see “Program of Study” section on p. 1 of your I-20). It reflects the semester you complete all academic program requirements.
- You are NOT eligible to work on-campus (e.g., assistantship, hourly job) or off-campus (e.g., CPT, economic hardship) after the I-20 program end date on your OPT request I-20 unless you meet ALL of the following criteria:
Please note: If you do not complete your degree coursework by your I-20 end date as expected, please contact ISSS immediately to discuss your options.
- The address depends on the mailing service you choose to use to mail the application
- ISSS recommends that you use a mailing service that provides detailed tracking information (FedEx, UPS, or DHL). You can also use the U.S. Postal Service.
- I-765 filing addresses are available the USCIS website.
- Remember that USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the date ISSS enters the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and no later than 60 days after the program end date indicated in the “Program of Study” section of p. 1 on the I-20 with your OPT request (whichever occurs first).
While your OPT Application is Pending
This section provides an overview of what to expect while your OPT application is pending. Included is a checklist of what to be watching for, reminders, and travel information.
There are a few things to be aware of if traveling with a pending OPT application:
- If your OPT application is denied while you are outside of the U.S., you cannot re-enter the US in F-1 status to re-apply for OPT. It may be possible to re-enter the US in another visa category (for example, ESTA or tourist visa), but you would no longer be eligible for OPT.
- If additional information is needed for your OPT application, USCIS would mail you a request for evidence (RFE). If you receive an RFE you would need to respond in a certain amount of time and you may have difficulty responding to any request(s) for evidence from USCIS while you are outside of the U.S. which could result in an OPT denial.
- Future travel restrictions could impede your ability to return to the U.S.; travel restrictions may change at a moment’s notice. You will need to carefully consult both the airline and the travel restrictions for the country to which you will be returning to the U.S. from.
If your OPT is approved while you’re abroad, you should have your EAD card with you on your return. Please review the International Student Travel FAQ for students on OPT.
OPT Reporting Requirements
This section reviews your reporting requirements while on an approved period of OPT. Included in this section is a review of the SEVP Portal, unemployment, and different types of employment that are allowed while participating in OPT.
- Explanation of how employment is directly related to your major field of study (OPT Employment Relevancy Form)
- Whether employment is self-employment
- Employer/Company Name
- Employer Identification Number (EIN)—highly recommended
- Job Title
- Employment Start Date
- Whether employment is full-time or part-time (full-time employment is defined as 20 hours or more per week)
- The employer’s address and, if applicable, any alternative work addresses
- Your supervisor’s name, telephone, and email address
- Previous employment end date (if applicable)
In other words, you can accrue no more than 90 days of unemployment. The unemployment days start on your OPT authorization start date (the start date listed in SEVIS and on your EAD card). To stop the unemployment days from accruing, you need to enter your employment information into the SEVP Portal.
- Copies of offer letters and agreements/contracts with all OPT employers including: start/ end dates, pay rate, and number of weekly work hours
- Copies of job descriptions including job title, duties, location, and supervisor’s contact information
- If you worked for an agency or consultancy, keep evidence of the projects you worked on
- Keep copies of your pay vouchers/pay stubs for all periods of employment, copies of your bank statements that show direct or corresponding deposits from your employer(s), and associated W-2 tax forms
If you engage in employment that is not paid while on OPT, it is recommended that you keep the following:
- Copies of employment agreement or contracts with the employer including: start/end dates, trainings (on location, online, etc.), responsibilities and training objectives, location of the internship/unpaid training, and supervisor’s contact information
- Copies of all diplomas, completion certificates and/or certifications that you received related to the training program; If you worked/trained as an unpaid employee for a third party, keep evidence of the projects you worked on
- Copies of company time and attendance records that document your daily tasks in detail for all employers during the unpaid internship or training.
- Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's major program of study.
- For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week. However, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. SEVP considers students participating in OPT activities less than 20 hours per week as maintaining status.
- Students may work for multiple employers, as long as the employment is directly related to the student's major field of study
- Payment by multiple short-term employers. SEVP guidance states "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration."
- Work for hire. SEVP explains, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment individual relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."
- Self-employed business owner. SEVP indicates, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."
- Employment through an agency. SEVP guidance states, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
- Please note, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, SEVP considers students participating in OPT activities less than 20 hours per week as maintaining status.
- Volunteers or unpaid interns: Standard OPT. SEVP OPT Policy Guidance states that, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week** for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
- Please note, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, SEVP considers students participating in OPT activities less than 20 hours per week as maintaining status.
- Students should exercise caution when undertaking volunteer activity as a form of OPT employment. Should this volunteer activity be seen as a violation of U.S. labor law, then the activity will not stop the accrual of days of unemployment and the activity could result in loss of status.
Travel, Extension, and Changes while on OPT
24-Month Extension of OPT (with Qualifying STEM Degree and E-Verify Employer)
F-1 students in a current period of OPT with qualifying STEM degrees (previous U.S. degree or current U.S. degree) and an employment offer with an E-Verify employer in the STEM field may be eligible to apply for a STEM extension of OPT. Students must meet all of the eligibility requirements including submitting the OPT STEM Extension I-20 Request Form with a complete I-983 Training Plan to ISSS.
An F-1 student is eligible for a cap-gap extension of OPT if they:
- are the beneficiary of a H-1B petition
- have requested a change of status
- have an employment start date of October 1 of the current year
If eligible, your duration of status (D/S) and any post-completion OPT work authorization is extended to September 30 or until the H-1B petition is withdrawn or denied. An automatic cap-gap extension of an F-1 student's record also applies to the duration of status of any dependents in F-2 status. To request an I-20 with a comment indicating the H-1B is pending or has been approved, complete the Cap-Gap I-20 Request.
During post-completion OPT, employment in your major field of study is the basis for maintaining F-1 status. If you do not have a job, travel outside of the U.S. is not recommended.If you exceed the 90-day limit on unemployment while outside the United States, you will not be eligible to re-enter the United States in F-1 status.
If you seek re-entry to the U.S. in F-1 status while authorized for OPT, carry the following documents:
If you are using automatic visa revalidation to re-enter the U.S., have your printed I-94.
Things to keep in mind if you choose to travel while authorized for OPT:
- A temporary absence from the U.S. should be less than 5 months. Even with a job offer and valid EAD, an absence greater than 5 months may not be considered temporary and you may be denied re-entry.
- Do NOT leave the U.S. if you have a pending change of status application as it will likely be considered abandoned. Please consult an immigration attorney if you have questions about this.
- Do NOT re-enter the U.S. in another status (e.g., B) if you intend to work on OPT. You must be present in the U.S. in F-1 status to work on OPT.
Additional Travel Resources:
I-94 Arrival Record
Review your I-94 arrival record every time your re-enter the U.S. to ensure that your entry was recorded properly. Check your biographical information as well as your Class of Admission (F-1) and Admit until Date (D/S).
Travel to Third-Country Destinations
Depending on the country you are traveling to and/or through, you may require a transit visa (to travel through an intermediary country on your way to your final destination) or a tourist visa to enter your final destination. Please consult the appropriate embassy or foreign consular office to determine if an additional visa is necessary. ISSS cannot give advice on visa procedures or application requirements for other countries.