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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

COVID-19 Update: In order to further enforce social distancing measures and the safety of the Tulane community amidst COVID-19, we have established a new process to ensure that we are still able to guide you through putting together your OPT application. Please visit this website to learn more. At this time, please allow at a minimum 5 working days for processing.

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity for hands-on work experience in the U.S. related to your program of study. It is a work authorization granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There are two types of OPT:

  • Post-Completion OPT: This is the type of OPT most F-1 students use. It is available after you complete the course requirements for your degree, but you should apply before graduation. In general, you will be authorized for 12 months.
  • Pre-Completion OPT: Part-time OPT is available before you graduate, but a better option for working off campus is Curricular Practical Training (CPT).  If CPT is unavailable to you and you want to learn more about pre-completion OPT, make an appointment with an OISS advisor.

Link to OPT Instructions and Application PDF

Link to Specific Instructions on Filling Out Form I-765

OPT Eligibility

You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT. You must complete at least two semesters as a full-time student to be eligible for OPT. This also includes students who were enrolled in a study abroad program, provided they were enrolled for one full academic term in the U.S. prior to studying abroad.

You are eligible for 12 months of post-completion OPT for each degree level you complete, as long as each degree is at a higher level than the previous degree. For example, you are eligible for OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree, and you are eligible for OPT again after completing a master’s degree. You are not eligible for OPT twice in the same degree level, so if you earn two master’s degrees at different times, you can only apply for OPT based on one of the master’s degrees. You must use your OPT opportunity when completing each degree level; you cannot save the OPT time and use it later.

If your major field of study is in a science, technology, engineering, or a mathematics (STEM) field, you may be eligible for a STEM extension of OPT.

Applying for OPT

The OISS will help you prepare your OPT application, and you will mail it to the USCIS. The USCIS can take 3-5 months to process your application.

The earliest you can submit your OPT application to the USCIS is 90 days before your program end date, and we strongly encourage you to apply as early as possible. The latest you may submit your application is 60 days after your program end date, but due to USCIS processing times this will result in you losing some of the 12 months of time you can work under OPT.

The program end date on your I-20 is an estimate, and you may complete your program earlier than this date. Visit your academic advisor with the OPT application to obtain your actual program end date.

You decide your OPT start date as part of your application. You may choose any date between your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. This is an important decision: If you already have a job offer with a specific start date, you should choose this start date. If you are applying close to your program end date, or if you think you will need time to move or look for jobs, you should choose a later start date to give yourself time. Once your OPT start date arrives, your 12 months of OPT begins.

For OPT application instructions and forms, follow this link: https://tulane.app.box.com/v/OPT

The OPT application fee for the USCIS is $410 which you can pay with a check (see sample below), money order, or a U.S. based credit card through form G-1450 which is made available on the OPT Packet. There is an additional fee of $140 for Tulane University, to provide OPT application processing and continuing immigration support after you graduate. You can pay the Tulane fee by check, money order, or credit card as well.

When your OPT application forms and supporting materials are ready, you can visit the OISS.  We will be setting designated times three days a week where you can drop-in to submit your documents.  Check this website or our Weekly Digest to find out when the times will be.  You can also call the OISS to inquire or make an appointment if necessary.

OISS staff will review and finalize your application, and contact you when the application is ready to be picked up and mailed to the USCIS. In general it takes the OISS about one week to finalize your OPT application. You must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for OPT. If you have not applied for OPT and leave the U.S. after your program end date, you lose your F-1 status and ability to apply for OPT. 

After Applying for OPT

After you submit your OPT application to the USCIS, the OISS will receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card and other OPT-related mail. We will email your Tulane email account when we receive this mail, so make sure to check it regularly after you apply.

USCIS processing time varies from 3 to 5 months. Once you have received your USCIS receipt notice, you can check the status of your application at www.uscis.gov. If your application has been pending for more than 90 days, email oiss@tulane.edu.

Until your program end date you are still an active F-1 student, and you can travel normally. After your program end date, additionally to all your immigration documents, you must also have your EAD card and proof of employment to re-enter the U.S.

The OISS remains your immigration support for the duration of your OPT and the 60-day grace period after your OPT end date. Contact us if you need assistance.

Working under OPT

You must have your EAD card in hand before you begin any work under OPT. You cannot work before the start date or after the end date printed on your EAD card. Please check the start and end dates on your EAD card when you receive it, because the USCIS sometimes adjusts your requested dates.

You must work a minimum of 20 hours a week, and your work must be related to your major field of study. If you have questions about whether a job is related to your field of study, it is best to consult with your department advisor. You may have multiple employers under OPT.

OISS has compiled a list of employers that have hired Tulane international students who have obtained work authorization via CPT or OPT. You can access that list here.

You are allowed up to 90 cumulative days of unemployment under OPT. If you exceed 90 days of unemployment your F-1 status may be automatically terminated in SEVIS.

OPT Reporting Requirements and the SEVP Portal

The SEVP Portal is a tool that lets F-1 students on OPT report personal and employer information to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You must report directly to the portal within 10 days if you change your current address, e-mail, phone number, or start/stop employment, to maintain your status.

After your OPT application is approved AND the OPT authorization is active, you will get an invitation email within a few days from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov. When you create your account, you will be asked to enter your SEVIS ID number and create a password. You can find your SEVIS ID in the top left corner of your Form I-20.

Within 90 days of the start date of your EAD you must be employed and your employment must be updated in SEVIS.  If you are approaching that date and are not employed, you should prepare to leave the country unless you qualify for other immigration options.

Below is the information you will need to report directly to the portal if any of it has changed:

  • Employer name
  • Employer address
  • Your title in the company
  • Start date at your current job
  • End date at your prior job (if you had a prior job under OPT)
  • Explain how your employment relates to your field of study
  • How many hours are you working each week at this job?
  • Your full legal name (If you have had a legal name change, you must also e-mail oiss@tulane.edu to inform us.)
  • Your current U.S. address (Include apartment # if you have one; No P.O Boxes)
  • Your current U.S. phone number
  • Your personal email address 

Explaining how your employment relates to your field of study:

As a student in F-1 OPT you are responsible to only engage in practical training opportunities that are directly related to your major area of study. You must also provide a written description of how your practical training opportunity relates to your major in the SEVP Portal.  It is best to include your job tasks in the description, as seen in the example below. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to your degree, SEVP highly recommends that you obtain a signed letter from your supervisor or manager or the employer's hiring official stating how the degree is related to the work performed and provide a copy to OISS for record keeping.

Sample explanation of a direct relationship:

Bachelor's degree in Business: I work full time as a Loan Officer at a mortgage company, Happy Homes, where I meet with clients and evaluate, authorize and recommend approval of loan applications. On a daily basis, I use the knowledge I gained in my credit analysis, sales and marketing classes that I took as part of my major program of study.

Master's degree in Music: I am working at a hospital playing the harp in patient rooms. I also conduct harp-on harp beginner workshops for long-term patients. on average, I work at the hospital 35 hours a week. My duties directly utilize skills and knowledge I acquired from my coursework and degree in music therapy.

PhD in Computer Science: I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute.  I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning, which I studied as part of my dissertation.

Travel on OPT

If you leave the U.S. under OPT, you will need the following to re-enter:

  • Valid passport with a valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 with travel signature no more than 6 months old on the date you re-enter
  • EAD Card
  • Proof of employment, such as a letter from your employer or your employment contract
  • I-901 SEVIS fee receipt (print at www.fmjfee.com)

If you require a new I-20 travel signature, email oiss@tulane.edu at least two weeks advance to allow enough time to mail the document to you.

OPT Frequently Asked Questions (OPT FAQ)

Applying for a Social Security Number