Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training

Post-Completion Optional Practical Training is United States Immigration & Citizenship Service (USCIS) work permit for F-1 individuals that have completed their coursework. If you are an F-1 visa-holding student, you are allowed to work 12 months with a full-time OPT, and extensions are possible for students in limited categories. 

To view all OPT forms and OPT application instructions, click on the tab below.

OPT Forms

Eligibility Requirements

  • The student must maintain F-1 status for a minimum of one academic year.
  • The student must not have had previous OPT approval for the same degree level that they are currently seeking OPT in
  • The student must not have accumulated 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training for the degree level that they are currently seeking OPT in

Obtaining Work Permission

First, read all instructions and fill out the form I-765. Please submit your application on the International Portal using the link above. Collect all the required documents on the checklist and get photos made as described below.

Secondly, you need to sign the new I-20 that will be made as a part of your OPT application. If you are not in Memphis, please contact us at TheWorld@memphis.edu to arrange for alternate document imaging for the OPT packet.

Finally, it would be best to mail the completed packet to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The address for sending the packet is provided with the new I-20.

Photos: The application requires two color photographs that are:

  • No smaller than 1.5 inches and no larger than 2 inches.
  • On a white or very light-colored background.
  • No hats or scarves, unless it is required by the religious order to which you belong.
  • Taken within the last 30 days. 

Your name or I-94 number should be written on the back of the photographs.

Do not staple the photographs.

Application Fee

There is a fee to mail the completed packet. You may use a personal check, money order, or credit card (be sure to complete form G-1450). Please refer to the USCIS website for specific instructions on how to fill your check and acceptable payment forms: www.uscis.gov/forms/filing-fees

(Do NOT leave your check at the International Students Office!)

After Completion of the Checklist

Upload scanned copies of your completed I-765, additional OPT information, review the learning content, and departmental confirmation to your UofM OPT application in our International Portal.  Departmental confirmation is obtained by having the academic department send an email confirming they have met with the student and how the student will complete their studies by. The International Student Services unit must review your materials and then enter the data into SEVIS to produce a new I-20. A signed copy of the new I-20 will be needed for your final packet to be mailed to the government.

                                                                 Remember to make sure that your application is complete!

Sending the Completed Application

The ISS Office must process your I-765 information and verify your final enrollment academic department's estimate. These forms must be processed to produce a new I-20. Most OPT applications take 4-5 days to process before they are ready to be mailed.

Once prepared, you should pick up the new I-20 or email theworld@memphis.edu if you are not currently in Memphis. 

Please refer to the USCIS website for the filing address, as it can be changed without notice. Select the "foreign students" tab on their filing address website here: www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses

Applying for OPT

You should apply no earlier than 90 days before completing your coursework and no later than graduation. It would be best if you did not wait for a job offer to apply, as there is no expedited processing available for OPT. 


Starting Work

You must wait for the USCIS to respond to your request for work permission. Until you have the card, you are not legal to work. 

Work Permission Extension after a Degree is Completed

International students are allowed 12 months of full-time Optional Practical Training per degree level. This means that a student may be eligible for 12 months of OPT after a bachelor's earned inside the U.S.,12 more months of OPT after a U.S. master's degree, and then 12 more months after completing a Ph.D.

                                        The regulations do not allow for more OPT after a second Master's Degree.

Unemployment on OPT

F-1 visa holders are allowed a maximum of 90 days of unemployment while on their initial 12 months of OPT. Any student who is not employed within the first 90 days of their OPT card start date will be considered in violation of their status. Volunteer jobs do count as employment but make sure to get documentation of the volunteer work. The government can ask to see proof of employment.

F-1 Status While on OPT

F-1 status continues while on OPT, which means that the ISS Office must report your status to the government while on OPT.

Extensions to OPT

There are TWO types of OPT extensions available. Each extension has restrictive policies that may not apply to all students. You should check with the ISS Office to determine if you qualify for either type of extension. 

I. STEM- 24-month extension. OPT extensions are available for some F-1's who have completed coursework in a government-selected list of approved majors. These STEM-category majors are listed here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/eligible-cip-codes-for-the-stem-opt-extension

  • Additionally, the F-1 must be employed with an E-Verify registered company.
  • A form I-983 must be completed by both the student and the company, signed by the company, and submitted to your International Students Office to produce the new I-20 needed for the 24-month extension application.

II. Cap-Gap extension. F-1's who are currently on OPT with a pending H1B application may also qualify for a temporary extension, regardless of their major. Any major qualifies for this H1B "Cap-Gap" extension. No E-Verify is required for this type of extension, no special major required, but the H1B application must be in progress. Be prepared to show your H1B application receipt number.

Returning to School

OPT time cannot be returned or saved if you cancel the card early or decide to return to school full-time. If an F-1 student requests a new I-20 for a new degree program during the OPT time, it will cancel the OPT. F-1 visa holders are allowed to take part-time classes while on OPT but are not required to take classes. 

Requirements for Employer/Employment on OPT

Your employer needs to keep a photocopy of your OPT card to prove that you are legal for work. They also need a social security number to comply with tax laws. You are allowed to work for more than one employer and can change jobs while on OPT. Jobs must be related to your course of study and appropriate for your degree level. It would be best if you did NOT use OPT for student worker jobs or graduate assistantships. 

Traveling on OPT

F-1 students on OPT are allowed to travel inside the United States with no special paperwork requirements. HOWEVER: Travel outside of the U.S. is always uncertain. There have been a few cases of some OPT students being denied re-entry to the U.S. At some border points, OPT students have been asked to show proof of a job offer, in addition to the OPT card, their valid F-1 visa, and I-20.

                                                 Travel outside of the U.S. is at the students' own discretion.

Delaying OPT after Graduation

If not taking OPT, you have a 60-day grace period after completion of enrollment in which to:

  • Leave the U. S. or
  • Change visa status or
  • Sign for an I-20 for a new degree program

Expiration of OPT Card

You are allowed a 60-day grace period after the expiration of your OPT card. During this 60 day period, you may pack and leave the U.S., obtain a new I-20 for a new degree program, OR move to a new visa type.

Notifying the USCIS when Changing/Moving Employers

F-1 visa students using OPT must remain in contact with their International Students Office. Your International Student Advisor will update SEVIS with your address changes and employment information. Because your U of M e-mail may expire after graduation, please be sure to provide updated e-mail address information as well.

OPT Checklist for first-time OPT applications (Initial 12 months of OPT)

The Inceptive OPT packet, to be sent to the U.S. Government within 30 days, will require the following:

  1. Two (2) passport-style photographs approx. 2 inches square taken within the last 30 days. On the back, please write your I-94 number using a pencil.
  2. The USCIS filing fee. Please verify the amount on their website: uscis.gov/fees due to a history of sudden, unexpected fee increases. This fee can be paid with a personal check or money order made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" with your SEVIS ID number in the check's memo line. For credit card payment, submit form G-1450. You may only use a credit card account with a U.S. billing address - no foreign billing address is allowed. You can use cards with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover.
  3. A signed Form I-765. You have already completed and submitted this form to CIES. This must be sent to USCIS with a "wet signature." Please be certain to complete all items applicable to you, including your I-94 number, date, and place of last entry to the U.S. Entering your Social Security number is optional, but please enter all other data. BE CERTAIN THAT ITEM # 27 is completed in this way ( c ) ( 3 ) ( B )
  4. A copy of the new I-20 that our office produces recommending you for OPT. Do not mail original I-20's. Mail only signed photocopies, signed scans, or signed faxes of I-20's.
  5. Copies of your visa page, your I-94 printout, front and back (if a card in your passport), and your passport data page. Do not copy blank pages from your passport.
  6. One copy of each of all of your old I-20's. Do not copy the generic data on page 3, do copy all top pages and any secondary pages showing OPT or CPT.
  7. If you have ever changed status (such as an H-4 to F-1 change), including the F-1 approval notice.

**Use scanned or photocopied I-20s for domestic paperwork purposes only.
Do not attempt travel with a photocopy or scan of any I-20.**

  • Use paperclips to attach your check and photographs onto the top of the finalized OPT packet and ship it to the government.
  • Consider Priority Mail, Express Mail, or other delivery services with a tracking number when shipping the finalized OPT packet.

If you have questions about OPT, check out our OPT frequently asked questions page below.