Navigating OPT Applications Step-by-Step Guide for International Students

Navigating OPT Applications: Step-by-Step Guide for International Students

By February 7, 2024 Information

For international students studying in the United States, Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides a valuable opportunity to gain practical work experience in their field of study. However, navigating the OPT application process can be daunting, with its various requirements and timelines. In this comprehensive guide, we break down the OPT application process, providing international students with a detailed roadmap to successfully apply for OPT.

Understanding Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Before delving into the application process, it’s important to understand what OPT entails. OPT is a temporary employment authorization that allows international students with an F-1 visa to work in their field of study for up to 12 months (or up to 36 months for STEM degree holders) after completing their academic program. It is an essential step for many international students looking to gain valuable work experience and kick-start their careers in the United States.

Eligibility Requirements

The first step in the OPT application process is ensuring that you meet the eligibility requirements. To qualify for OPT, you must:

  1. Be in valid F-1 status.
  2. Have been enrolled full-time in an SEVP-certified school for at least one academic year.
  3. Not have used more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the same educational level.

Step-by-Step Guide to OPT Application

  1. Attend OPT Information Session: Many universities and colleges offer OPT information sessions for international students. Attend one of these sessions to familiarize yourself with the OPT application process, requirements, and timelines.
  2. Prepare Required Documents: Gather the necessary documents for your OPT application, including:

       a. Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization)

       b. Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)

       c. Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status)

       d. Passport

       e. Visa

       f. I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

       g. Two passport-sized photos

       h. Optional: Form G-639 (Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request)

  1. Complete Form I-765: Fill out Form I-765 accurately and completely. Pay attention to the instructions and ensure that all information provided is correct.
  2. Obtain Form I-20: Request a new Form I-20 from your designated school official (DSO) endorsing your OPT recommendation. Your DSO will update your SEVIS record and issue you a new Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation.
  3. Submit Application Package to USCIS: Prepare your OPT application package, including Form I-765, Form G-1145, and Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, supporting documents, and the required filing fee. Mail the application package to the appropriate USCIS lockbox facility.
  4. Await USCIS Processing: After submitting your OPT application, you will receive a receipt notice (Form I-797C) from USCIS confirming the receipt of your application. USCIS will then process your application, which may take several weeks.
  5. Attend Biometrics Appointment (If Applicable): If required, attend a biometrics appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) to provide fingerprints, photographs, and a signature.
  6. Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD): Once USCIS approves your OPT application, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the mail. The EAD will specify the dates of your authorized employment period.
  7. Begin OPT Employment: You can begin working in your field of study on the start date listed on your EAD. Ensure that you only work within the authorized dates and comply with all OPT reporting requirements.
  8. Maintain Status and Report Changes: While on OPT, it is crucial to maintain your F-1 status and report any changes to your employment or address to your DSO. Failure to comply with OPT regulations could jeopardize your immigration status.

Additional Tips for Success

a. Start the OPT application process early to allow for sufficient processing time.

b. Double-check all forms and documents for accuracy before submitting them to USCIS.

c. Keep copies of all documents submitted with your OPT application for your records.

d. Familiarize yourself with OPT regulations and reporting requirements to ensure compliance.

e. Seek guidance from your DSO or an immigration attorney if you have any questions or concerns about the OPT application process.

Transitioning to H-1B or Permanent Residency:

For international students looking to transition from OPT to long-term employment in the United States, understanding the process of obtaining an H-1B visa or permanent residency (green card) is crucial. The H-1B visa allows employers to sponsor foreign workers for temporary employment in specialty occupations, while permanent residency provides a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship. Both processes have specific eligibility criteria, application requirements, and processing times, so it is essential to plan and seek guidance from an immigration attorney to navigate the transition successfully.


Navigating the OPT application process may seem overwhelming at first, but with careful planning and attention to detail, international students can successfully obtain work authorization and kick-start their careers in the United States. By following this step-by-step guide and staying informed about OPT regulations, students can maximize their chances of success and make the most of this valuable opportunity for practical training and professional development.

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