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International Student Services

OPT Before Degree Completion


Optional Practical Training Before Completion of Degree

Definition - Employment related to your field of study before completion of an academic degree.

Eligibility - You must have been lawfully enrolled on a full time basis for at least a full academic year, currently be in F-1 status, and not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training or optional practical training. You are eligible for a maximum of 12 months of optional practical training employment while in F-1 status for each degree level.

You do not have to have a job offer to apply for optional practical training. However, if the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes you to work for some period of time under the provision of optional practical training and you do not find a job during that time, you will have lost the time authorized and you will not be eligible for the full 12 months of optional practical training after you graduate.

Application Deadline - You must have been in valid student status for one academic year before you may apply to the immigration service for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Remember, you may not begin employment until you have been issued an EAD by the USCIS. Requests for employment authorization must be mailed to the USCIS in Texas and may require 2-3 months for adjudication.

Procedure - The International Student Adviser can recommend optional practical training but only the USCIS can issue the Employment Authorization Document.

Step 1 - Attend a practical training workshop. These required information sessions are scheduled throughout the semester. You must attend a workshop before you will be able to apply for optional practical training. Applications for OPT will be available at the workshop.

Step 2 - Hand in your OPT application packet to the International Student office in VH 201.

The International Student Adviser will review your application and, if you are eligible, issue a new I-20 to indicate that practical training in your major field of study is recommended. In doing so, the adviser will electronically notify USCIS of your eligibility for optional practical training.

Step 3 - The International Student Adviser will contact you once your application is ready to be picked up from the Center for International Programs. You should send your application to the USCIS by certified mail with a return receipt or by a courier service.

*NOTE*:  Once your OPT I-20 has been created by our office, USCIS must receive the completed application package within 30 days or your application will likely be denied.

The USCIS will first send a receipt and then send the EAD card to the address indicated on the I-765 form. If you are graduating and moving soon, you should provide an address where you will be sure to receive your mail.

Processing time - The process for receiving employment authorization can take up to 90 days.

Special Considerations

  • Students in English language programs are not eligible for practical training.
  • Regulations allow you to change employers during the period of authorized practical training as long as the new employment continues to be directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your educational level.
  • You are not allowed to work until you receive the EAD from USCIS.
  • Students on pre-completion OPT may not work  more than 20 hours on and/ or off campus during the academic semesters, but may work full-time during the longer vacations.

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