F-1 students are eligible to apply for off-campus work authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows for a total of 12 months of employment that is directly related to the student's field of study and may be used after graduation. Students must apply to graduate, complete an online application in Axess for preliminary processing, obtain an OPT endorsed I-20 from Bechtel International Center, and then apply by mail to USCIS for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
A job offer is not required in order for apply for Optional Practical Training. Employment is permitted only after you receive the EAD card, and only during the period specified on the card. Employment must begin within 90 days of the EAD start date to avoid violation of F-1 status.
Employment must be directly related to the major field of study. Employment must be at least 20 hours a week and can be paid, self-employed, internship, or unpaid/volunteer (in accordance with US labor laws). Multiple employers are permitted, provided all employment is directly related to the major field of study.
It is extremely important that you carefully plan the filing of your post-completion OPT application.
When to Begin and Submit Application
You may apply to graduate on Axess and begin the process with Bechtel International Center (also on Axess) 100 days before your program conferral date. You may submit your post-completion OPT application to USCIS no earlier than 90 days before your program conferral date and no later than 60 days after conferral date provided you do not depart the US. All OPT must be endorsed by Bechtel International Center and approved by USCIS.
Most students will apply as early as allowed for post completion OPT since the employment authorization processing time are often lengthy.
USCIS must RECEIVE the OPT application within 30 days of issuance of the OPT endorsed I-20, or the application could be denied.
It takes 5-10 business days for Bechtel to endorse your OPT I-20 and approximately 90 or more days for USCIS to adjudicate your application. If approved, USCIS says it can take up to 30 days to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD); however, we find 5-10 business days to be more common. You must have your EAD and it be the start date on the EAD before you can begin work.
We are hearing that processing times with USCIS are delayed this year and it is likely to take over 90 days from point of application receipt to point of EAD arrival.
Choosing an OPT Start Date
When choosing your OPT start date, the earliest start date of post-completion OPT can be the day after degree conferral and the latest start date can be up to 60 days after the degree conferral date.
Once your application is received by USCIS, you cannot make edits to your application or to your proposed dates. Please choose your employment dates carefully.
Consequences of Delayed Graduation
Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their application risk violating their visa status and could forfeit their practical training. Do not submit paperwork for post-completion OPT to Bechtel International Center until you are absolutely sure of your graduation date. If you find that you will not graduate on time, please contact an International Student Advisor immediately.
PhD students: There is a special regulation for PhD students that allows the continued submission of the post OPT application while finishing the thesis. However, this does impact TA/RAships, travel, and employment. You will need to speak with an International Student Advisor to discuss your options.
Applying for OPT
USCIS will be releasing a new edition of the I-765 on Oct. 2, 2020. Use the Form I-765 edition dated 08/25/20 if your application is postmarked before Oct. 2, 2020. Only use the Form I-765 edition dated 10/02/20 if your application is postmarked on or after Oct. 2, 2020.
USCIS has increased the OPT filing fee to $550 effective Oct. 2, 2020. Any application postmarked on or after this date must include payment of the new fee amount.
Once the Post-Completion OPT period is over, students have a 60-day grace period in which they are required to depart from the US or change status.
**Please do not apply for an OPT I-20 in Axess if you are not planning to mail in the application within 30 days of receiving the new OPT I-20.
Does the new presidential proclamation announced on June 22, 2020 affect OPT or STEM OPT?
The proclamation has NO affect on OPT or STEM OPT. Students are still permitted to apply for and be approved for OPT and STEM OPT.
Can I apply for OPT from outside of the US?
No, USCIS has made no announcements changing the rule that you must be in the US when you apply.
Do I need a job offer when applying for OPT?
A job offer is NOT required when applying for or being granted OPT.
What if I am graduating in June and have not applied for OPT yet but have already left the US?
USCIS is still requiring students to be inside the US when they mail in the OPT application. If you are unable to return to the US by June 14 (program end date on your I-20) you will not be able to apply for OPT.
Can I depart the U.S. after applying for OPT?
Typically we tell students that have applied for OPT that they should be back in the US before their degree conferral date (June 14, 2020) and should stay in the US until their OPT is approved. If you were not able to get back to the US by June 14th there could be negative consequences. Please see the scenarios below.
a. It is rare, but if you were to be denied OPT you could not reapply if you were outside the US after June 14th
b. USCIS could send you a Request for Evidence asking for further information. You would want to make sure that someone is checking your mail in the US everyday.
c. Some students have a friend mail them the EAD card once it has been sent to their US address. This is an option, but there is a risk it could be lost in the mail, which would cause an issue for the student when trying to return to the US.
If I am not certain that I will graduate should I apply for OPT?
We recommend students wait to apply for OPT if they are unsure if they will graduate.
Will COVID-19 affect USCIS processing times?
USCIS has made no announcements regarding delays at this time. Bechtel will alert students of any announcements USCIS makes in the future.
Is there a way to expedite the processing time?
Can I change my OPT dates after I have sent in my application to USCIS?
Will choosing an earlier start date help my application get processed sooner?
No, applications are processed in the order they are received by USCIS. The start date you choose does not affect the order applications are processed in.
Can I work or volunteer while waiting for the EAD card?
You can NOT work or even do unpaid volunteering (unless it is for purely humanitarian reasons) until you have the EAD card in your hands and the start date on the card has arrived.
I already submitted my OPT to USCIS and reported a graduation date of June 2020. Can I cancel my OPT application since I will be graduating in September 2020? What are the consequences of doing that?
- If you are a PhD student on TGR you may have a few options, please contact Bechtel immediately.
- You will need to extend your I-20 and withdraw your OPT application as soon as possible. Please contact Bechtel to discuss the withdrawal procedure. A withdrawal takes 1-2 months to be approved by USCIS. You cannot reapply for OPT using your new Summer graduation date until the withdrawal has been approved.
If my OPT is not approved by June 15, 2020 (the start date I requested) and my EAD card is delayed, can I get an extension for my start date?
No, but the EAD start date will reflect most likely the date that the OPT was approved. So, if the OPT was approved on July 15th, the EAD most likely will have a start date of July 15, 2020 and the end date will be July 14, 2021.
What happens if I can't find a job once my OPT starts?
Students on OPT have 90 days of unemployment they can use while looking for a job. Some students find volunteer employment to stop the clock. Keep in mind all employment or volunteering must be in your field of study and at least 20 hours per week.
Can I work outside the US for a short time while on OPT?
The rule of thumb here is that OPT is meant for you to stay in the U.S. and work. The longer you are outside the U.S. the more likely it will be that you get challenged by a CBP officer at the port of entry as to why you are entering the U.S. and using OPT if you've been away for so long. This is one of those "common sense" criteria. Two weeks sounds reasonable. More than that be prepared with documentation at the port of entry to back-up an explanation as to why you need OPT and what you were doing outside the U.S. for so long.
Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means.