Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional practical training (OPT) is one type of temporary employment authorization available for eligible F-1 students. It allows students to get real-world work experience related to their field of study.

Important Dates for Spring, Summer and Fall 2019 Graduates

Date Spring 2019 Summer 2019 Fall 2019
Grades Available on SF State Gateway June 5, 2019 August 22, 2019 January 6, 2020
First day to request OPT recommendation March 7, 2019 May 24, 2019 October 8, 2019
Last day to request OPT recommendation from OIP July 15, 2019 September 30, 2019 February 17, 2020
USCIS deadline to receive OPT application August 4, 2019 October 21, 2019 March 6, 2020
Requested OPT start date must begin between June 6, 2019 to August 4, 2019 August 23, 2019 to October 21, 2019 January 7, 2020 to March 6, 2020

*You may not receive a full 12 months of OPT if you apply for OPT less than 30 days before program completion. 

OPT Facts

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students who have been maintaining F-1 status in the U.S. Eligible students can apply to receive 12-months of OPT.  Many students work under OPT after program completion.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reviews and approves OPT applications.  There is a $410 processing fee and an average 90 - 120 days (or longer) processing time.  USCIS will mail you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)card once your OPT application is approved. The EAD is your official work authorization in the U.S.  

While you are on OPT, you are required to report your personal contact and employment information directly to Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) at SEVP Portal.  Since you will remain in F-1 status while on OPT, you should also update your contact information at SF State Student Center.  You can continue to contact F-1 International Student Advisor at OIP for travel signature and OPT related advising.  

Here is glance of timeline from the day OIP receive your request to apply for OPT:

OPT Timeline

To be eligible for OPT, you must:
  • Be in valid F-1 status
  • Have maintained full-time study for at least one academic year (two consecutive semesters excluding Summer and Winter session)
  • Be physically attending in-person classes in the U.S. at the time you apply for OPT
  • Have not completed more than 364 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), nor have been approved for 12 months of OPT at the current degree level

You do not need a job offer or Social Security Number to apply for OPT.  

You may be eligible to participate in OPT in two different ways:
pre-completion opt (Pre-OPT) post-completion opt (Post-OPT)
  • Vacation OPT (part-time or full-time).  Takes place during summer or winter vacation.

  • While School-in-Session OPT (part-time only).  Takes place during Spring or Fall semester while you are studying full-time

  • Start Date takes place within 60 days of the day you complete your program.  The program completion date is the "Grades Available on SF State Gateway" posted by SF State Registrar's Office
  • Graduate students can apply for full-time Post-Completion OPT if they have completed all of the course requirements except for the Culminating Experience course.  Graduate students on approved Post-Completion OPT can not work on campus.

Full-time OPT authorization: You are allowed to work more than 20 hours per week.

Part-time OPT authorization: You are allowed to work no more than 20 hours per week.

OPT time used before completion of studies will be deducted from the total 12 month period available.  Two months of part-time OPT equals to one month of full-time OPT.  For example: If you have been approved for 4 months of part-time pre-OPT, you will have 10 months of full-time post-OPT remaining.

Your jobs must be directly related to your current major(s), not minor. You are also required to work minimum 20 hours per week if you have been authorized full-time OPT. It is your responsibility to be able to connect your OPT job to your major. If the relationship between your job and your major(s) is called into question by SEVP in the future, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate the relationship. The F-1 International Student Advisor at OIP won't be able to advise you on specifically what jobs do/do not qualify as we are not experts in your field of study.

The types of employment allowed during the OPT include:
  • Paid employment. You may work part time or full time
  • Multiple employers. You may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to your major.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). 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. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting companies.
  • Self-employed business owner.  You may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must work full-time. You must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to you major.
  • Employment through an agency. You must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment. You may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. If requested by DHS, you must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
It is recommended that you maintain evidence for each job: the position held, duration of that position, the job title, contact information of your supervisor or manager, and a description of the work.
You are expected to work during your 12 month Post-OPT period and cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during this period.  According to 8 C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations) § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(E): “During Post-Completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.  Students may not accrue an aggregate of  more than 90 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial Post-Completion OPT authorization.” 
  • The 90 days starts counting from your actual EAD start date, not the day you applied for OPT, your initial requested OPT start date (if different from EAD start date), or the program end date on your I-20.
  • If authorized full-time OPT, you must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed and have maintained F-1 status.
  • To avoid violating F-1 status, prior to reaching the 90-day unemployment limit, you should depart the U.S., or transfer your SEVIS record to another school.

Applying for OPT

You must request a new I-20 with OPT recommendation from the F-1 International Student Advisors at OIP.  You will then file the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization along with the photocopies of this new I-20 and other supporting documentation to USCIS.  

The standard processing time for USCIS to approve and mail your EAD is 90 - 120 days or longer.  See current USCIS Service Center Form processing time.

pre-completion opt (Pre-OPT) post-completion opt (Post-OPT)
You can apply as early as 90 days before your requested OPT start date.  
For example, if you wish to start OPT on April 15, you should request a new I-20 with OPT recommendation on or after January 15.

You can apply as early as 90 days before your program completion date.  The program completion date is the same as the  “Grades Available on SF State Gateway”  posted on the Registrar's Office website.

pre-completion opt (Pre-OPT) post-completion opt (Post-OPT)
You can pick any date as long as your Pre-OPT period ends before your program completion date.
The requested OPT start date must be within 60 days of the program completion date.  For example, if your program completion date is June 3, your requested OPT start date must begin between June 4 to August 2.  
The requested Post-OPT end date will end 12 months from the requested start date, assuming you have never apply for Pre-OPT.  For example, if you have never been approved for Pre-OPT during your study, and you requested Post-OPT to start on June 4, it will end on June 3 next year.
If you have been approved Pre-OPT and wish to apply for Post-OPT, speak to an F-1 International Student Advisors at OIP to confirm your remaining OPT time.
Submit the following documents to OIP. Do not staple your documents and do not print double sided:
  1. A blank envelope (at least 9 inches by 11 inches)
    • the envelope must be big enough to fit all your OPT application materials. You will be using this envelope to mail your OPT application to USCIS.
  2. OPT Application Cover Sheet (Fillable PDF, 1 page, 125KB)
  3. TYPED, completed and signed Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request Form (Fillable PDF, 259KB).
    • Click on the link to review the detailed instructions (PDF, 311KB)
  4. TYPED, completed and signed Form I-765,Application for Employment Authorization (Fillable PDF, 7 pages, 432KB).
    • Click on the link to review the detailed instructions (PDF, 766KB)   
  5. Original or photocopy of your most current I-20.
    • OIP will return this back to you.
  6. Photocopy of the identification page(s) in your passport.
    • The photocopy must include name, current expiration date, and photo.
  7. I-94 admissions verification printout from http://www.cbp.gov/i94.
Additional documents, if applicable:
  • Photocopies of any SF State I-20 which shows Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization
  • Photocopies of your previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
An F-1 International Student Advisor will review your application materials and issue a new I-20.  If eligible, you will be issued a new I-20 with the OPT Recommendation notated on page 2.  Pick up your new I-20, the application materials, and an OPT application mailing instruction (PDF, 240KB) at the OIP front desk within 10 business days (excluding weekends and holidays).  Follow the instruction on the mailing instruction and mail your application to USCIS.
You must mail your application within 30 days of the new I-20 issuance date.  USCIS will reject your OPT application if they receive your application 30 days after the I-20 issuance date.  If you didn't mail the OPT application within 30 days of the new I-20 issuance date, you must contact OIP and request a new I-20.


Keep your OPT Application Cover Sheet, OPT Request Form, original I-20 with you.  Do not send them to USCIS.



Mail the following documentation to USCIS: 

  • Form I-765 (all 7 pages)
  • Photos: Two U.S. passport-style photographs (See USCIS photo requirement, PDF, 106KB).  Write your full name and I-94 number gently at back of your photos and place the photos in a small envelope.
  • Filing Fee $410: Fee can be paid by personal check. Make check payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”. Your photos and the personal check should be paper clipped on top of the Form I-765.
  • Photocopies of the I-20: DO NOT MAIL THE ORIGINAL I-20 to USCIS.  Make photocopies of your new I-20 and sign it in BLUE ink. Sign under the “Student Attestation” section at the bottom of page 1.
  • I-94: Print from http://www.cbp.gov/i94 or attach photocopies of both the front and back sides of your I-94 card.
  • Photocopy of your passport: The photocopy must include name, current expiration date, and your photo.

Additional Documents (if applicable) 

  • Photocopies of the I-20(s) with Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization.
  • Photocopies of your previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance: If you would like to receive a receipt notification of your application electronically either via email or text, complete this form. 

USCIS Mailing Address:

If your address is IN California, mail the above documents to:

For U.S. Postal Service: Private Courier (FedEx, DHL or UPS)
USCIS, PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
(If you choose this option, send your application by U.S. Postal Services' Priority Mail - additional fee will apply for tracking)

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

If your address is OUTSIDE California, visit USCIS Phoenix and Dallas Lockbox facilities page for the appropriate USCIS lockbox to send your OPT application.
Keep your tracking number after mailing as proof.

Application Sent! What's Next?

While your OPT is pending, you are in valid F-1 status to wait in the U.S. You are not using your 60 day grace period and you are not using your 90 day unemployment days.

The standard processing time for USCIS to approve and mail your EAD is 90 - 120 days or longer. See current USCIS Service Center Form processing time.

I-797C Notice

USCIS will mail a paper I-797C noticeto your address after they received your fee and OPT application.  Your receipt number (usually starts from or “YSC”) is printed on the I-797C notice. The “Received Date” on the notice is the date when the USCIS begins processing your application.  If you do not receive any I-797C notice within 3 weeks after mailing your application, request the receipt letter to be sent to you by using the USCIS online tools.

Request for Evidence (RFE)

If there is a problem with your application, USCIS will send you “Request for Evidence (RFE)” to ask more supporting documentation.  An RFE does not mean that your application has been rejected.  It simply means that you need to provide the missing documents before your EAD can be issued.  USCIS give applicant 30 days to respond to the RFE.  Your OPT application will be denied if you fail to respond to the RFE.  Unfortunately, receiving an RFE will delay the processing of your OPT application. 

Approval Notice and Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

USCIS will mail you an I-797 Notice of Approval (It is different from I-797C notice) letter and EAD card at your mailing address.  These can come separately or at the same time.  Do not start working until you receive the EAD, and the “Valid Date” on the EAD has started.

You can check the status of your OPT application by entering your receipt number under “Check your case status” at http://www.uscis.gov/.

Here is a scenario:

After reviewing her academic progress with her academic advisor, Jane is confident that she will pass all her classes and complete her studies. On February 18, Jane mails her application for Post-OPT to USCIS.  She is completing her program on May 18 and chooses June 30 as the OPT start date because she has a job offer beginning that day. She receives the EAD on May 15.  Jane's employer is pleased to see proof of the work permission early even though she cannot start working until June 30, as noted on the EAD. Jane is in legal F-1 status and can decide to stay in the U.S. or travel outside of the U.S. before her EAD start date. If Jane did not find a job yet, she is still in legal status to stay in the U.S. to find a job between May 15 to June 30. Her 90 day unemployment days would begin to count starting on June 30.

Here is a scenario:

John does not have a job offer or time to search for one until after he finishes school.  He chooses the latest date possible to start his Post-Completion OPT -- July 17 -- which is the 60th day after his program completion date: May 18.  He knows that he will be legal to stay in the U.S. as long as he has submitted the OPT application on time.  John finally mails his OPT application on June 15. On July 17, John still hasn’t received his EAD, so he cannot work.  He receives his EAD on September 15 and it expires the following year on July 16 (14 months from May 18).  John has lost 2 months of his 12 month OPT because his application was submitted late and approved after the latest available OPT start date.

Working Under OPT

You can start working from the "Valid From" date printed on your EAD.  You may not begin to work if you have recieved your approval notice but do not have your EAD card on hand.

OPT is a F-1 Benefit.  Although you are not attending school and working part-time or full-time, you are still in F-1 status while you are on OPT.  You are required to maintain your F-1 status in order to legally working in the U.S..
To maintain F-1 status you must:

Stay employed

You must work at least 20 hours per week to be considered maintaining F-1 status.  Your employment under OPT must directly related to your current major(s), not minor.

Fulfill reporting responsibilities

Report your address change at your online Student Center at SF State, and report your employment information at SEVP Portal.

Obtain travel signature on the I-20

Request travel signature on the 2nd page of your I-20 before you leave the US.  You will also need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport in order to return to the U.S.  Your travel signature can not be more than 6 months old.  

The SEVP Portal is a tool for you to report your employer information only.  You will receive an email from SEVP (do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov) with instruction on creating a SEVP portal account. You can report your U.S.address, phone number, email address, and employment information at SEVP Portal.  Report any changes within 10 days of change.
If your OPT is approved but you did not receive the email instruction, you should first check your spam or junk mail folder.  If you still do not see it, contact an F-1 International Student Advisor at f1@sfsu.edu with your full name and SF State student ID number.
Visit the SEVP Portal Help on Study in the States’ website for further instruction or assistance.

You can change your U.S. address, phone and email address at SEVP Portal.  However, since you are still holding an I-20 from SF State, you should also update these information at SF State Student Center.

You are not required to have health insurance while on OPT, but it is in your best interest to have health insurance while you are in the U.S..  If your employer does not provide health benefits, or you are in the process of looking for jobs, please make sure you still have health insurance coverage in case of medical emergency.
You may purchase the SF State sponsored health insurance plan to cover your OPT period, but you must purchase the insurance within 30 days after your current insurance coverage end date.  For example, if your current insurance end on August 10, you must purchase insurance by September 10.

You can receive free tax assistance (Only if your total income is below $54,000) from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) at San Francisco State University.

After OPT Ends

You will have 60-day grace period after the “Valid Until” date on the EAD.  You must leave the U.S. or transfer to another school to continue your F-1 status within the grace period.

If you wish to pursue graduate study at SF State, complete a Change of Degree Level Form and email to f1@sfsu.edu.  An F-1 International Student Advisor will tell you when you can receive a new I-20 from Graduate Studies.

If you wish to pursue study at a different U.S. institution, follow the I-20 Transfer Procedures instruction and request your SEVIS record/I-20 to be transferred to your new school.

STEM major students may qualify for a 24 month STEM OPT extension. Plan ahead and apply 90 days before your OPT end date.  See the STEM OPT information page for eligibility and application process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

No.  If your OPT application hasn't been approved, this means you do not have any authorization to work in the U.S.  Do not start working before you have the EAD in your hand.

Yes.  Make sure to report your new employer at SEVP Portal.

You can apply for OPT and SSN together (on the I-765 form).  Your SSN card should arrive within 7 business days after receiving the EAD. 

Do not enroll in any academic courses: You can only take recreational/avocational classes (Yoga or Wine tasting classes…etc) while on Post-OPT.  You cannot enroll in any academic degree nor certificate programs while on Post-OPT. 
If you plan to obtain a higher degree and your academic program will start before your OPT end date, you must request your SEVIS record to be transferred to your new school.  Your OPT will end on the date SF State transfer your SEVIS record out.
Contact an F-1 International Student Advisor as soon as possible if you believe you will fail a class after you have applied for OPT.   In some cases, you may be able to withdraw your OPT application.  In other cases, you will continue your OPT and work part-time, while you complete your studies. Your OPT time will not be extended.
The information contained in this website is provided as a service to the international students, faculty, staff, employees and administrators of San Francisco State University, and does not constitute legal advice on any immigration, tax or other matter. We try to provide useful information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site or any associated site. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Neither San Francisco State University nor the Office of International Programs is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in this website, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Last updated: June 2019