F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is 12-month work authorization available to F-1 international students who have been full-time students for at least two consecutive semesters and plan to seek employment in the United States in their fields of study. Looking for information about the 24-month STEM OPT Extension? Click here.
STAGE 1: KNOW THE OPT BASICS
OPT is an employment benefit of a student's F-1 status and is generally applied for in a student's last semester.
To be eligible for OPT, students must...
- be in full-time F-1 status for at least one academic year. Some students who have changed their visa status to F-1 and who have been continuously enrolled in a full-time degree program for at least 1 academic year may qualify for OPT prior to 1 year in F-1 status. See a Berkeley International Office (BIO) adviser for more information.
- be seeking employment in the major field of study listed on their current UC Berkeley I-20.
- be completing their program of study at UC Berkeley. See BIO's OPT tutorial for more information.
- be physically present in the United States at time of the application to USCIS.
- NOT have used more than 1 year of full-time CPT during their current degree level (part-time doesn't count).
Do I need a job to apply for OPT?
No, a job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, be aware that during your 12-month OPT period, you are only allowed a cumulative total of 90 days of unemployment (see more information below in the Employment section). You must also report your employment to Berkeley International Office (see Reporting Requirements).
What visa status will I have while waiting for OPT? And while I am working on OPT?
During your pending OPT application and after the OPT approval by USCIS, F-1 students will remain in F-1 status under the I-20 sponsorship of UC Berkeley. OPT is a benefit of your F-1 status and extends your ability to remain in the United States for the purpose of seeking employment in your field of study. This means that you will continue to use your UC Berkeley OPT I-20 and F-1 documents to travel and you will still need to get fresh travel signatures from BIO (every 6 months). This also means that BIO is still responsible for reporting changes about your status to SEVIS and helping you maintain your F-1 status while you are on OPT.
Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the U.S.?
Yes, you will need a Social Security Number (SSN) for any paid employment in the United States. Students can actually apply for their SSN as part of their OPT application to USCIS, but will not receive their SSN card until after their OPT is approved.
STAGE 2: APPLY FOR OPT
The application process involves both BIO and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and can take months. OPT applications must be received in a specific time frame and the application can be rather complex. We require all students to carefully review BIO's OPT tutorial for full details on applying for OPT. Once a student is approved for OPT, they will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS.
When to Apply
The OPT application process involves two major parts. First you must apply to BIO for an OPT recommendation on your I-20. Then you must submit an OPT application packet, including a signed copy of your OPT I-20, to USCIS.
- You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after your expected program completion date*.
- USCIS must receive your full and complete OPT application no more than 60 days after your expected program completion date*
- In addition, USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of when BIO recommends your I-20 for OPT.
- You must be physically present in the United States at the time USCIS receives your OPT application. More details are available in the OPT tutorial.
Generally, BIO recommends applying for OPT as early as possible. Waiting can cause further delays and you may not get a full 12 months of OPT. Additionally, applying early increases your chances of being able to reapply if your application is rejected or denied.
*Expected completion date:
- Undergraduates: The last day of enrollment in the semester in which program requirements are completed.
- Graduates: The last day of enrollment in the semester in which program requirements are completed, OR the date the thesis or dissertation is filed with the Graduate Division. Speak with a BIO adviser if you have a job offer beginning before the last day of the semester. Graduate students who only have a dissertation/thesis remaining may be eligible to begin their post-completion OPT before filing.
Note: If you are applying for OPT after your expected program completion date, you must submit your OPT application to USCIS before making any exit from the United States. If you exit the United States after your program completion without applying for OPT, you will be ineligible to return in F-1 status to apply for OPT.
How to Apply
Step 1. Review the OPT tutorial [pdf] for a complete overview of the process. This is required and very important. Failure to fully review the tutorial may result in application errors and cause OPT denials or violations of F-1 status.
Step 2. Pay $185 Post-Completion Services Fee to Berkeley International Office via credit/debit card. Click here to make your payment online via our secure portal. You must print your receipt/proof of payment and attach it to your OPT I-20 Request form (see Step 3).
Step 3. Submit the OPT I-20 Request Form [doc] signed by your academic adviser and attached proof of payment (see Step 2) to Berkeley International Office, either in person or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (If paying by check or money order, you must submit all documents in person.) The OPT I-20 Request Form will not be accepted without proof of payment.
Step 4. Advisers at Berkeley International Office will review your request form and OPT eligibility. If eligible, you will be issued a new I-20 with the OPT Recommendation notated on page 2. This takes 5 business days. While you wait, prepare your OPT application documents as instructed in the OPT tutorial [pdf].
Step 5. You may pick up your new OPT I-20 at Berkeley International Office in 5 business days after submitting your application. (You will NOT receive any email notification to pick up the I-20 unless there is a delay).
Step 6. Review the OPT tutorial [pdf] to fully prepare all documents and application forms for USCIS. Applications can be submitted via E-FORM online or by MAIL. (E-filing is much more common.) If you would like to go over your application with a BIO adviser, sign up to attend one of the OPT Document Check Workshops. To view upcoming workshops and RSVP, visit our events page. Note: You are responsible for submitting your OPT application to USCIS and USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the Issue Date listed on page 1 of your I-20 and within 60 days of your completion date. You must submit the I-765 while you are physically present in the US. If filing by MAIL: Also be sure the check the USCIS I-765 webpage on the date of mailing to be sure you are using the correct USCIS form and fee.
How do I choose my OPT start date?
As part of the OPT I-20 request process, you must request a particular OPT start date. This is the day on which you would like to start your OPT work authorization. Some things to consider when choosing your requested OPT start date:
- The requested start date must be within 60 days of your program completion date. It can be as early as the day after your completion date and up to 60 days after that.
- It is not guaranteed that you will be approved for the start date you request. Your approved start date will appear on your EAD card and may be later than your requested start date, depending on when you apply for OPT and how long it takes USCIS to approve it. Please note that you may not begin working until your approved EAD start date, regardless of the requested date on your I-20.
- Do you have travel plans? If you plan to travel, especially internationally, you may not want to select a start date during this time.
- If you have a job offer, discuss with your employer an appropriate start date based on when you have applied for your OPT (consider the 2.5 to 5 month processing time).
- If you don't have a job offer, you should consider where you are in your job search and when jobs typically start in your field and make your best estimate of when you'd like to begin working.
- Days of unemployment only begin after the approved start date listed on your EAD.
- Weigh the pros and cons of an early vs. late start date. If you choose an earlier start date, you may be able to begin your employment earlier, BUT if you don't find a job, you will begin accruing unemployment days sooner. If you choose a later start date, your unemployment days will begin accruing later, BUT you'll have to wait longer to begin employment.
Processing time for an OPT I-20 from Berkeley International Office is 5 business days. Expedites are not available.
Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)
USCIS almost always denies F-1 student expedite requests for OPT. You can find USCIS expedite criteria here..USCIS may consider expediting if the request meets one or more of the following criteria:
- Severe financial loss to a company or person, if expedite is not due to applicant’s failure: (1) to file the benefit request in a reasonable time frame; or (2) to respond to any RFE in a timely manner;
- Urgent humanitarian reasons;
- Compelling U.S. Government interests (such as urgent cases for the Department of Defense or DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
- Clear USCIS error.
NOTE: 1) Severe financial loss to a company means the company would be at risk of failing. 2) The need to obtain employment authorization, standing alone, without evidence of other compelling factors, does not warrant expedited treatment.
I forgot to send my OPT application to USCIS within the 30-day deadline.
If BIO recommended you for OPT more than 30 days ago and you have not yet sent in your application to USCIS, you'll need a new OPT I-20 from BIO. If you are still within your 60-day grace period and otherwise eligible to apply for OPT, submit another OPT I-20 Request Form [doc] to BIO. You are only required to complete the top half of the form and no new payment is needed. It will take us 5 business days to process the new I-20. Once you get the new I-20, you can send your application to USCIS. This is very important as USCIS will deny applications submitted after the 30-day deadline.
What if I applied for OPT but didn't actually complete my degree program?
If this is your situation, please contact BIO to speak to an international student adviser as soon as possible.
STAGE 3: AFTER APPLYING FOR OPT
After you apply for OPT, you will wait for USCIS approval. During your post-completion OPT period, you will have new F-1 rules regarding employment and unemployment, reporting personal and employment information to BIO and SEVIS, as well as options when you come to the end of your F-1 12 Month OPT period.
Waiting for Your OPT EAD Card
It can take months for USCIS to process your OPT application and it is not possible to expedite the process. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times to see the current timelines. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)
What to Expect
The first week: E-FILE: You should receive your receipt notice online through your USCIS account. If there are any errors in the receipt notice in your name, address, or application type, contact a BIO adviser.
Within 30-45 days: You will also receive an I-797c receipt notice at your mailing address confirming the date of receipt and your receipt number. Keep this notice safe as it is your official proof that your OPT application was submitted. You may need it for travel or other purposes.
Around 1-3 months: You should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter and EAD card at your mailing address. (If E-FILING you will also receive the notice in your USCIS account.) These can come separately or at the same time. Check your EAD card to make sure all information is correct and upload it to BIO's SSU Hub. You can start working on your EAD start date! If there are any errors on the EAD, contact a BIO adviser. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)
2 Weeks after receiving EAD card: You should receive your Social Security Card (if you requested one) in the mail.
Checking your OPT application status
If you E-FILE, you will be able to track your Case Status via your online USCIS account.
Note that your application will most likely stay in received status for the entirety of the processing time until it is approved. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)
Making changes to your OPT application after submission to USCIS
Generally, after your OPT application is submitted to USCIS, you cannot change any of the information except for your mailing address. Click here for information about making changes to your OPT application, including withdrawing your application.
Can I work on or off campus while waiting for my EAD?
Once you complete your degree, you cannot work on or off campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your selected start date has arrived, even if your USCIS case status indicates that your application is approved.
Can I start working without pay while waiting for my EAD?
No. Work that is normally paid requires employment authorization. To begin working, you must have the card in hand and the start date must have arrived.
Travel while OPT is pending
Travel during the OPT application process is allowed, but not recommended as it poses certain risks. See our OPT Travel page for for information on these risks as well as to learn about other requirements for travel while OPT is pending.
Problems with my OPT Application
There are several types of probems that may occur during your OPT application:
- Delayed processing
- Not receiving your I-797c Receipt Notice
- Not receiving your EAD/EAD (lost in the mail)
- Request for Evidence, Denial, or Rejection (CONTACT BIO ADVISOR BEFORE RESPONDING TO USCIS!)
- Lost EAD or Incorrect EAD
See Issues with OPT Application for further information and instructions. Please contact your BIO Advisor if you are experiencing issues.
Employment & Unemployment on OPT
During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment. There are limits to what jobs count as employment and to the number of days you may remain unemployed.
When can I start working ?
On the start date of your approved EAD card. You must have the EAD card in hand to start working.
What counts as "employment" on OPT?
Employment must be:
- a job that is directly related to the student’s degree program; if the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship.
- at least 20 hours per week; if total work is less than full-time, it counts toward a student's 90 days of unemployment. (If you have multiple part-time jobs the cumulative total work hours should be 20 hours per week or more, and you're responsible for carefully documenting work hours.)BIO recommends that students have at least 1 position that is 20 hours per week or more to avoid increased scrutiny of your employment.)
- paid or unpaid.
Note: Cannabis Industry - be aware that the use and sale of cannabis is illegal at the federal level, although it may be legal in some U.S. states. To avoid possible deportation or inadmissibility from the US, students should avoid positions related to federally illegal substances.
The types of employment allowed during the initial 12-month period of OPT include (these DO NOT apply to the STEM Extension):
- Paid employment. Students may work in a job related to their field of study at least 20 hours per week (if work is less than full-time, it counts toward a student's 90 days of unemployment).
- Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). 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, including the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- Work for hire (commonly referred to as "1099 employment"). This is a type of employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must 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. Students may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time (at least 20 hours per week). The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program.
- Employment through an agency. Students 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. Students on the initial 12-month OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Unemployment 90-day Rule/When should I find a job?
During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment. If you decide to quit your job, or if you do not find a job, keep the unemployment rules in mind.
- Students on post-completion OPT may have up to 90 days of unemployment. The 90 days start counting from your approved OPT/EAD start date (not the recommended start date nor the program end date on your I-20) and are cumulative.
- If you accumulate 90 days or more of unemployment, you are in violation of your F-1 status. You are expected to leave the U.S., transfer to another school, or change your visa status before the 90th day. See After OPT options below.
- Students who are granted a 24-month extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT and STEM periods.
- Approved vacation from a job does not count as "unemployment" if you are still considered an employee there.
- Jobs that are fewer than 20 hours per week may count towards the 90-day unemployment limit if the total cumulative employment of all positions is not more than 20 hours per week. If you have multiple part-time jobs the cumulative total work hours should be 20 hours per week or more, and you're responsible for carefully documenting work hours. BIO recommends that students have at least 1 position that is 20 hours per week or more to avoid increased scrutiny of your employment.
How do I know if my job is related to my degree?
Federal regulations require that all employment that you engage in while on OPT be directly related to your UC Berkeley majorAs part of your OPT reporting requirements, you must provide a description demonstrating a logical connection between your regular job duties and your major area of study. Further information and sample descriptions are available on the OPT Reporting Requirements page.
If the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship. BIO won't be able to advise you on specifically which jobs do/do not qualify as we are not experts in your field of study. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic adviser, the Career Center, or others in your field.
What documentation/records should I keep about my employment?
It is recommended that students maintain evidence for each job: the position held, duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. Students must always report employment to BIO online through our Student SEVIS Update (SSU) form. See OPT Reporting Requirements.
Changing Employers / Multiple Employers
Students may have multiple jobs and change jobs as many times as they wish during OPT, provided that all employment is directly related to their field of study and the work is a minimum of 20 hours per week. No special permission is required to change employers. However, you must update your employer information in BIO's online Student SEVIS Update (SSU) within 10 days of the change. See OPT Reporting Requirements.
Rules and Reporting Requirements on OPT
While on OPT, students must follow certain rules and regulations to maintain their proper F-1 status in the U.S.
Rules to follow while on OPT
During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment.
The top 5 rules to remember while on OPT are:
- You may only work from the start date of your EAD card to the end date of your EAD card.
- All employment must be related to your major field of study.
- You must report all employment and address changes to BIO within 10 days of any change (see Reporting Requirements).
- You are limited to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
- The travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 is valid only 6 months while on OPT.
All students on OPT are required to report their current address and employment information within 10 days of any change. They are also required to report if they end their OPT early. Please see OPT Reporting Requirements for more information regarding your reporting obligations during OPT.
Taking classes while on OPT
Time spent going to school should only be an incidental part of your stay in the United States. You must be maintaining the primary purpose of OPT. Beginning a full-time or degree-seeking program of study while on OPT is not allowed.
If you decide to go back to school full-time, you will need to transfer your SEVIS Record and I-20 to the new school. If returning to UC Berkeley, you'll need to obtain a new I-20 to reflect your new degree. See below.
Paying & Reporting Taxes
While on OPT, you are subject to all applicable federal, state, and local taxes and must file a tax report. See more information at Taxes in the U.S.
Students who complete a program of study are no longer eligible to purchase a Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Health insurance is highly recommended due to the high cost of health care in the United States.
The Tang Center has information about insurance plans that can be purchased after graduation. BIO is aware of the following providers that have F-1 OPT health insurance options. BIO does not endorse any particular plans, and students should research and compare plans to determine if the coverage is sufficient for their needs.
- Compass Student Insurance: https://www.studenthealthusa.com/
- Cultural Insurance Services International: https://www.culturalinsurance.com/
- International Student Insurance: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/student-health-insurance/
- International Student Protection: http://intlstudentprotection.com/
- ISO Insurance: https://www.isoa.org/
- PGH Global: https://www.pghstudent.com/
- PSI Health Insurance: https://www.psiservice.com/
Travel on OPT
Please see our OPT Travel page for more information regarding what you need to travel with while on OPT.
Extensions of OPT
In some cases, students may apply to extend their 12-month OPT.
H-1B Visa and Cap Gap Extensions
A Cap-Gap Extension extends an eligible F-1 student's status between the end of F-1 status while on OPT and start of H-1B status. This allows the student to remain in the United States during the "gap."
24-Month STEM Extension
Students who have received a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24 Month STEM Extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months of OPT). You must apply for the STEM Extension before the end date of your EAD card.
Options After OPT/Ending OPT
You are allowed a 60-day grace period following your OPT expiration date to leave the United States, change your visa status, or transfer your F-1 record to a new school or program. In some cases, you may want to pursue these options before the end of your OPT. If you remain in the United States past the end of your 60-day grace period without transferring to a new school or progam or having applied for a timely filed Change of Status, this is a violation of your F-1 status and could lead to current or future consequences to your US visa record.
Leaving the United States
If your plan is to depart the United States after OPT, you must do so within your 60-day grace period. You must stop working by the end date on your EAD card.
If you are leaving the United States before the end date on your EAD, you must report this to Berkeley International Office so we can update your SEVIS record. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions.
Changing visa status
During OPT: If you are approved for a change of visa status during your OPT, you must report this to Berkeley International Office so we can update your SEVIS record. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions
After OPT: If you have a pending or approved change of status when or after your OPT ends, check with the immigration legal counsel working on your change of status application to determine what options are available to you and if you may remain in the United States past the end of your 60-day grace period without a negative impact to your immigration status
H-1B: If you have a pending or approved change of status to H-1B, you may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension I-20. Please consult with the immigration legal counsel working on your case.
Going back to school in the United States
During OPT: Beginning a full-time program of study while on OPT is not allowed. If you wish to start a new program while on OPT, the remainder of the OPT must be forfeited before beginning classes with the new program. If you are beginning a program of study at another U.S. school, you must request a Transfer Out of your F-1 SEVIS record to another school. If you are beginning a new program of study at UC Berkeley, you must request a Change of Level I-20. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions
After OPT: If you are planning to go back to school after your OPT, you will need to request a Transfer Out of your F-1 SEVIS record to another school or request a Change of Level I-20 if returning to UC Berkeley. This must be done before the end of the 60-day grace period following the OPT end date.
Students should keep in mind the following points when deciding on when to request a Transfer Out of their SEVIS record:
- After the SEVIS transfer release date has passed, students may not continue working on OPT, even if the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has not expired. The release date, in effect, cancels the EAD.
- The SEVIS transfer release date can be within the OPT period dates listed on the EAD or up to 60 days after the expiration date on the EAD.
- Classes at the new school must begin within 5 months of the transfer release date or the end date on the EAD, whichever is earlier.
- Students may request a release date in the future and continue working on OPT until that date as long as the EAD has not expired and the new program of study has not yet begun.
- If the time period between the OPT end date and the start date of classes at the new school will be more than five months, please meet with a BIO adviser to discuss your options.
If interested in joining a program that does not have the authorization to admit F-1 students and thus cannot issue an I-20, students should discuss their options with the International Student Adviser at that school.