F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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 who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their fields of study. Looking for information about the 24-month STEM OPT Extension? Click here.

The Basics

OPT is a benefit of a student's F-1 status and is generally applied for in a student's last semester.

Eligibility

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 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 the 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 U.S. 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 to report changes about your status to SEVIS and help you maintain your F-1 status while 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 U.S. 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.

Applying for OPT

The application process involves both BIO and United States Citizenship and Immigration Servicess (USCIS) and can take 3+ months. OPT applications must be received in a specific time frame and the application can be rather complex. We require that all students carefully review the 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 2 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 U.S. at the time that USCIS receives your OPT application. More details 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. 
  • GraduatesThe 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 US. If you exit the U.S. after your program completion (without applying for OPT), you will be ineligible to return to the U.S. in F-1 status and apply for OPT.

How to Apply

Step 1. Review the OPT Tutorial [pdf] on the left for a complete overview of the process. This is required and very importantFailure to fully review the tutorial may result in application errors and cause OPT denials or violations of F-1 status.

Step 2. Pay/prepare your $100 Post-Completion Services Fee to Berkeley International Office via credit/debit card, check or money order (no cash).

  • 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).
  • Check or Money Order: Make check or money order payable to order of "UC Regents" and write your Student ID Number in the notes/memo section; attach your check or money order to the 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. 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 3 business days. While you wait, prepare your OPT Application documents as instructed in the OPT Tutorial [pdf] on the left.

Step 5. You may pick up your new OPT I-20 at Berkeley International Office in 3 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. Directly prior to mailing, review the OPT Application Checklist (short video) before mailing your application to USCIS. Note: You are responsible for mailing 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.

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 90+ day 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 employerment earlier, BUT if you don't find a job you will begin accruing unemployment days sooner. If you choose a later starting date, your unemployment days would begin accruing later, BUT you'd have to wait longer to be able to begin employment.

Processing Time

Processing time for an OPT I-20 from Berkeley International Office is 3 business days. Expedites are not available.

The average USCIS processing time to issue the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is 90 days. However, it can take longer, especially during busy processing times. Visit the USCIS Processing Times website for the most up to date processing times. There is no way to expedite an OPT application.

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 3 business days to process the new I-20. Once you get the new I-20, you can sent 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 may be your situation, please contact BIO and speak to an international student adviser as soon as possible.

While You Wait for your OPT EAD Card

It can take around 90 days for USCIS to process your OPT application and it is not possible to expedite this process.

What to Expect

The first week: After mailing your OPT Application to USCIS, you should receive confirmation of delivery via text or email if you completed and included the G-1145 form in your application. This should also include your Receipt Number, which you can use to check your status online. 

Within 30-45 days: You will receive an I-797c Receipt Notice to 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.  If there are any errors in the receipt notice in your name, address, or application type, contact a BIO adviser.

Around 90-120 days: You should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter and EAD card to your mailing address. These can come separately or at the same time. Check your EAD card for the correct information and upload it to our SSU Hub. You can start working on your EAD start date! If there are any errors on the EAD, contact a BIO adviser.

2 Weeks after receiving EAD card: You should receive your Social Security Card (if you requested one).

Checking your OPT application status

When you receive your USCIS I-797 Notice of Action (receipt notice), go to USCIS Case Status Online and enter your receipt number. Note that your application will most likely stay in received status for the entirety of the processing time until it is approved. BIO strongly recommends that you sign up for an account with uscis.gov to track your case status more closely.

Making changes to your OPT application after submission to USCIS

Generally, you cannot change anything 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-campus 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. You must have the card in hand and the start date must have arrived to begin working.

Travel while OPT is pending

Travel during the OPT application process is allowed, but not recomended as it poses certain risks.  

You will need the appropriate documents to re-enter the U.S. Please see our OPT Travel page for more information regarding what you need to travel while OPT is pending. You should also keep in mind the following

  • You will need to have someone monitor your mail and let you know if you receive any communications from USCIS.
  • If you receive a Request for Evidence, you will need to respond by a certain deadline.
  • If you are denied for OPT while outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter or reapply.
  • If you are approved for OPT while outside the U.S., you will need your EAD card sent to you to re-enter.
  • If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to re-apply for an F-1 visa with your EAD card and proof of employment.

Note: If you are a currently enrolled student and wish to travel before the end date of your F-1 I-20 (i.e. Spring Break), you may do so with your normal F-1 travel documents.

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 or Denial
  • Lost EAD or Incorrect EAD

See Issues with OPT Application for further information and instructions.

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 numbers of days you may remain unemployed.

When can I start working ?

On the start date of your approved EAD card.

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 work is less than full-time, it would count towards a student's 90 days of unemployment.
  • paid or unpaid.

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 part-time (minimum 20 hours per week) or full time in a job related to their field of study.
  • 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, 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 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/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 starts counting from your approved OPT/EAD start date (not the recommended start date nor the program end date on your I-20) and is 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 less than 20 hours per week will count towards the 90-day unemployment limit.

How do I know if my job is related to my degree?

OPT is intended to further the knowledge gained in your area of study and all jobs while on OPT must be directly related to your UC Berkeley major. It is your responsibility to be able to connect your OPT job to your major.  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 what 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 Berkeley International Office online through our Student SEVIS Update (SSU) form. See OPT Reporting Requirements.

Changing Employers / Multiple Employers

Students may have multiple jobs and may 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 to Berkeley International Office within 10 days of the change through our online Student SEVIS Update (SSU). 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:

  1. You may only work from the start date of your EAD card to the end date of your EAD card.
  2. All employment must be related to your major field of study.
  3. You must report all employment and address changes to BIO within 10 days of any change (see Reporting Requirements).
  4. You are limited to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
  5. The travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 is valid only 6 months while on OPT.

Reporting Requirements

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 U.S. 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.

Health Insurance

Students who complete a program of study are no longer eligible to purchase the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). The Tang Center has information about insurance plans that can be purchased after graduation. Health insurance is highly, highly recommended due to the high cost of health care in the U.S.

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

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 U.S. during the "gap."

24-Month STEM Extension

Students who have received a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields 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 U.S., change your status, or transfer your F-1 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 US 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, you may begin accruing days of Unlawful Presence, which has serious consequences depending on the legnth of the overstay.

Leaving the U.S.

If your plan is to depart the U.S. 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 U.S. before the end date on your EAD, you must report this in your SSU Hub so we can update your SEVIS record. See OPT Reporting Requirements about how to report your early completion. You will complete report your early completion in your SSU Hub.

Changing Visa Status

During OPT: If you are approved for a change your status during your OPT, you must report the early end of your OPT. See Reporting Requirements

After OPT: If you have a pending or approved change of status when/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 US past the end of your 60-day grace period without accruing days of Unlawful Presence.

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 U.S.

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. Students tranferring to another U.S. school do not need to report their early completion via SSU, but 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. 

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 an adviser at Berkeley International Office 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.