Optional Practical Training

1. What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as a practical work experience for students in valid F1 visa status that is directly related to your degree program, commensurate with your degree level and is intended to enhance and supplement the formal, classroom education. Situations in which students may be eligible to apply for OPT are limited to:

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS

1. Employment during Summer Vacation - if the student is enrolled in the spring semester and intends to register for the fall semester. Employment may begin after the final day of the spring examination period and must end before the fall semester start date. Employment may be part-time (up to 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).

2. Employment during Academic Year - while school is in session, students may only apply for part-time OPT (up to 20 hours per week). 

3. Employment after Graduation/Commencement - after completion of course requirements and thesis. Your OPT must be full-time and you must work 20 hours or more per week.

GRADUATE STUDENTS

1. Employment during Summer Vacation - if the student is enrolled in the spring semester and intends to register for the fall semester. Employment may begin after the final day of the spring examination period and must end before the fall semester start date. OPT can be full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 or less hours per week). Your OPT eligibility and the number of hours you can work is determined by the Graduate School employment policy. 

2. Employment during Academic Year - students may generally apply for part-time OPT (up to 20 hours per week). However, your OPT eligibility and the number of hour you are allowed to work is determined by the Graduate School employment policy. 

3. Employment after Completion of Course Requirements, Prior to Thesis (PhD Students Only) - immigration regulations allow these students to apply for either full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time OPT (20 or less hours per week). However, you must comply with the Graduate School employment policy. 

4. DCE Students -  immigration regulations allow these students to apply for either full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time OPT (20 or less hours per week). As per the Graduate School policy, DCE wishing to work full-time off campus must change their status to ET/DCC. 

5. Employment after Enrollment Ends (ET/DCC) - for immigration purposes, the ET/DCC effective date is considered as the program completion date. Students must apply for full-time OPT and must work 20 hours or more per week to maintain F-1 status.

6. Employment after FPO/Graduation - students must apply for full-time OPT and must work at least 20 hours per week to maintain F-1 status.

How does a student show that employment is directly related to his or her degree program? 

The student should maintain evidence for each job documenting the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student's degree, the student should obtain a letter from his or her supervisor stating how the student's degree is related to the work performed. See this document for samples of OPT employment descriptions. 

2. How much OPT is allowed?

Standard OPT:  F-1 students are allowed an aggregate period of 12 months of full-time OPT for each  degree level (Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate).   You may use portions of your 12-month OPT during studies or vacations or you may wait and use the entire 12 months after graduation.  Pre-Completion part-time OPT accrues at a rate of 50% (example: 6 months of Pre-Completion part-time OPT is counted as 3 months toward the total 12 months you are allowed).  Pre-Completion full-time OPT accrues at a rate of 100% (example: 6 months of full-time Pre-Completion OPT is counted as 6 months toward the total 12 months you are allowed).

STEM OPT Extension:  Students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields may be eligible for an additional 24-months post-completion OPT if they meet the required STEM OPT criteria.

3. Do I need to apply for OPT if I will be participating in an unpaid internship?

As long as the internship meets the unpaid internship criteria set by the U.S. Department of Labor, an employment relationship does not exist and therefore you are not required to apply for OPT. Please consult the Department of Labor Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act for detailed information about guidelines for individuals seeking an unpaid internship.

Please note:

1. Make sure that your prospective supervisor is aware of these federal regulations and that you have assurances (preferably written) to that effect before you accept the internship.

2. We also recommend that you obtain a letter confirming that there was not any type of compensation provided in any form during the dates you were participating in the unpaid internship.

3. Just like with a paid internship, you should obtain approval from your academic advisor to participate in the internship because the unpaid internship must also be directly related to your major field of study.

4. Who is Eligible to apply for OPT?

NOTE: Visiting Student Research Collaborators (VSRC's) and visiting/exchange students are NOT eligible to apply for OPT. Only students pursuing a degree (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD) at Princeton are allowed to apply.

  • Students in valid F1 student visa status
  • Application must be submitted from within the U.S., not from outside the U.S. The F-1 regulations require a student to be in F-1 status to apply for OPT, and a student is not in any non-immigrant status while outside the U.S. (even though their SEVIS record is active). Also, the questions on Form I-765 assume that a student is residing in the U.S. If you are studying abroad and wish to apply for OPT, you must return to the U.S. to apply for OPT. If you will be studying abroad in the Spring but are also planning to work in the U.S. during the Summer, please make an appointment with your International Student Advisor to discuss your options.
  • Students enrolled for at least one full academic year (or two semesters).
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT, but during Post-Completion OPT, you are expected to work or be actively seeking employment in your field of study after the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued.

5. When should I apply for OPT?

Post-Completion OPT for Undergraduate Class of 2018: 

Graduating students may apply no earlier than 90 days BEFORE Commencement on June 5 and your application must be received by USCIS NO LATER than sixty days AFTER Commencement. The earliest you may submit your application to Davis IC is 5 business days prior to the 90 day mark. 

Post-Completion OPT for Graduate Students:

  • If you are a Master's student, your completion date is Commencement.
  • If you are a PhD student, the last day of the month in which your FPO occurs is your program completion date.

NOTE FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS: For immigration purposes, PhD students can also use FPO date as your program completion date and your OPT may start immediately following your defense. 

Apply Early: The USCIS may take 90 days or longer to process OPT applications, so we recommend that you apply for Post-Completion OPT as early as possible. Although it is allowed according to the F-1 regulations, we strongly recommend that graduating students DO NOT apply during the 60-day grace period following your completion of studies.  Doing so may result in the loss of some OPT employment time due to USCIS application processing delays.  Students who choose to apply during the 60-day grace period following graduation must submit the application from within the U.S. and must remain in the U.S. until the OPT application is approved.

Pre-Completion OPT during summer vacation or during studies:  The earliest USCIS will accept your application is 90 calendar days prior to your employment/OPT start date. You may bring your OPT application to the Davis IC no earlier than 5 business days prior to the 90 day mark.

Freshmen and First Year Graduate Students : the F-1 regulations require that you complete one full academic year before your OPT start date. However, you may still apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to that OPT start date. 

6. What should I indicate as my OPT employment start date?

Pre-Completion (Summer) OPT: Your OPT employment start should be the date your employment offer begins. In order to avoid processing delays, you may choose to apply for OPT before you have an offer of employment. In this case, you will need to estimate the date your desired employment will begin. You may not start working earlier than Sunday, May 27 (one day after Spring term examination period ends).

Post-Completion OPT:  Your OPT employment start can be any date between your program completion date and 60 days following your program completion date.  When indicating your start date, you will need to consider the date your employment offer (if any) begins and the date in which you apply for OPT since it may take USCIS 90 days or longer to process OPT applications.  You may not begin working until you have the OPT approval in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

7. When can I begin working?

You can not start working prior to receiving your EAD card and the OPT start date on the card has been reached. 

If you have been approved for OPT but your card has been lost, you may be able to begin your employment while your application for the replacement card is pending. However, you must clear this with your employer. More information about this is available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website

8. What if I can't find a job while I am on OPT?

Pre-Completion OPT periods of unemployment:  A job offer is not required to apply for Pre-Completion OPT. There is no penalty if you do not actually work during Pre-Completion OPT except that you will lose that time from your 12-month OPT eligibility and you will lose your $410 filing fee. 

Post-Completion OPT periods of unemployment:  Although a job offer is not required in order to apply for Post-Completion OPT, students are advised that  "during Post-Completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment," and there is an aggregate limit 90 days of "unemployment" that can be accrued while on Post-Completion OPT.

Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. OPT authorization begins on the employment start date as shown on the student's EAD.

For students reaching the limit of unemployment time, the SEVP Policy Guidance (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) suggests that, "prior to reaching the limit on authorized unemployment the student should prepare to transfer to another SEVP-certified school, change educational level, depart the United States, or take action to otherwise maintain status in the United States".

The Guidance also states that "a student who exceeded the period of unemployment while on Post-Completion OPT has violated his or her status unless he or she has taken one of the following actions:

  • Applied to continue his or her education by a change of educational level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school;
  • Departed the United States;
  • Taken action to otherwise maintain legal status.

9. What kind of Employment is allowed while on OPT?

All OPT employment must be in a job that is related to the student's degree program. This employment may include:

Paid employment: You may work part time (at least 20 hours per week while on Post-Completion OPT) or full time.

Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to your degree program and for Pre-Completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.

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 the Department of Homeland Security, you 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 on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must work full time. You must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.

Employment through an agency or consulting firm: Students on post-completion OPT should 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 OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any U.S. labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on Post-Completion OPT. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, you must be prepared to provide evidence from the employer that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

10. What is H-1B cap-gap employment?

The "H-1B cap-gap" is the period of time between the end of your OPT and the beginning of your H-1B status. If you have authorized OPT and have filed a timely application for change of status to H-1B with an employment start date of October 1, your OPT employment authorization will be automatically extended while the change of status application is pending through October 1 or is approved. 

You are eligible for H-1B cap gap if:

  • Your employer files an H-1B petition for you on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1. 
  • You are still within your OPT authorization period when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).

If your change of status application is denied, rejected or revoked, and your OPT EAD is still valid, your work permission will expire on the OPT EAD end date.

If your OPT has expired and you are on cap gap, your work permission will be terminated on the rejection, denial, revocation, or withdrawal date. 

To apply for a cap-gap extension I-20, please do the following:

  • Update your employment and address information through Davis IC website. NOTE: Not having accurate employment and address information in SEVIS will significantly delay the issuance of the cap-gap I-20. 
  • Send one of the following documents to Davis IC. You must use Docuport to submit the document.  
  1. For cap-gap extension through June 1, a statement from your employer that a change of status H1B application has been properly filed on your behalf and proof of delivery to USCIS, OR 
  2. For cap-gap extension beyond June 1, please submit either a scanned copy of the USCIS receipt OR a proof that the H-1B petition has been wait-listed.  Please note: When Davis IC can issue an I-20 with cap-gap employment notation depends on whether your SEVIS record contains information on the H-1B petition your employer has filed on your behalf.  

Davis IC will notify you via e-mail when your new I-20 is processed. 

Notes: The 90-day unemployment limit continues during the cap-gap extension period.

Traveling abroad during Cap-Gap

You must have a valid EAD CARD, along with a valid passport, F-1 visa, signed I-20 and employment letter, to re-enter the U.S. during the Cap-Gap extension. If your EAD card has expired, you will not be eligible to re-enter the U.S. during the cap-gap extension period.

Traveling abroad during this time, even if your EAD card is still valid, may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. Make sure that you consult with your employer and/or immigration attorney regarding any travel abroad during this time. 

There is information on traveling outside the U.S. during Cap-Gap on the Study in the States website available here.

11. What are my reporting responsibilities when I am on post-completion OPT?

During the Post-Completion OPT dates, all students must report to the Davis International Center:

  • Any change in your name or address
  • The name and address of your employer
  • Any change in the name and address of your employer
  • If the employment ends and you do not plan to resume employment in the U.S.

You should report any relevant changes as listed above by submitting the information via the following online forms:
OPT Change of Address Report Form
OPT Change in Employment Report Form
OPT Unemployment Report Form

Alternatively, students on post-completion OPT can use the SEVP Portal to update employer and address information themselves. For guidance on using the Portal, please visit the SEVP Portal Help page. If your account is locked or you need password assistance, please email Andria Kwasnicki, at andriak@princeton.edu for assistance. Note that any employment update will result in the issuance of a new I-20, which will be processed within 5 business days. 

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As a relatively new resource, SEVP is still working on improving and correcting glitches in the SEVP Portal. If you report an employment update on the portal and do not hear from our office within 5 business days, please reach out to puvisa@princeton.edu to confirm that your update was processed successfully.  

If you do not comply with the OPT reporting requirements or/and you accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment, your SEVIS record will be terminated and you will no longer have valid immigration status in the U.S. SEVIS termination may have serious consequences for your current F-1 and other future immigration benefits (i.e. H-1B application, "green card", etc.).

12. Are there OPT Information Sessions?

Yes, the Davis International Center strongly encourages you to attend any of the several OPT information sessions offered each year.

13. Can I re-enter the U.S. while my OPT request is pending with the USCIS?

Pre-Completion OPT: If you are on Pre-Completion OPT, you may travel and re-enter according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students.

Post-Completion OPT (prior to degree completion): If your OPT application has not been approved yet, but you are returning to the U.S. to resume your studies, you may travel according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students

Post-Completion OPT (after degree completion, during 60-day grace period): Traveling abroad until your OPT is approved and you have the OPT EAD in your hand may be risky. The F-1 regulations do not directly address this issue and, although some students with OPT pending during this time have had success re-entering the U.S. with a copy of the USCIS OPT Receipt Notice, others have had difficulties and have been turned away. Please consult with your international student advisor at Davis IC before making travel plans.

14. Can I re-enter the U.S. after my OPT request is approved?

Pre-Completion OPT:  Students may travel according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students.

Post-Completion OPT (prior to degree completion):  If your OPT has been approved before you graduate, and you are returning to the U.S. to resume your studies, you may travel according to the general travel requirements for F-1 students

Post-Completion OPT (after degree completion, during 60-day grace period): The following documents are needed to re-enter the U.S. after you graduate and your I-20 has expired: 

  • Valid passport.
  • Valid F-1 visa in the passport (Canadians are exempt from the visa requirement).
  • The most recently issued I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2. The signature may not be older than 6 months. 
  • OPT EAD (Employment Authorization Document).
  • Proof of employment in the form of a letter from your employer stating the job title, job description and salary. 

Students on Post-Completion OPT who need a new F-1 entry visa must schedule an appointment at the U.S. Consulate abroad to apply for an F-1 visa to return to the U.S. to begin or resume OPT.  The documents listed above will be required for the F-1 visa application.  It is important to NOTE that it may be more difficult to obtain a student visa while on OPT as the issue of non-immigrant intent with the intention to return to the home country at the completion of the OPT could be more difficult to prove once the student has obtained a degree and is working in the U.S.

On August 8th, 2017, the U.S. Department of State issued a revised guidance to consular officers regarding the issuance of student visas, stressing that the officer must be "satisfied that applicant intends to depart the U.S. upon completion of the approved activity." The consular officers are instructed that they must refuse the visa if they are not satisfied that the applicant's present intent is to depart the U.S. at the conclusion of his/her study or OPT. If the consular officer determines that you have intention to abandon your home country and remain in the U.S., s/he will be required to deny your visa application. 

We strongly advise all F-1 students on post-completion OPT, but particularly those with expired F-1 visas, to exercise caution in choosing whether to travel. If you are asked to travel for business, you should ensure that your employer is aware of the risks. We also strongly advise you to consult with an immigration attorney regarding your risks in obtaining a new visa. 

15. 5-Step OPT Application Process:

STEP 1:  Submit all items on the OPT Application checklist below to the Davis International Center. DO NOT staple documents.  Submit only single-sided copies. We regret that incomplete applications cannot be accepted.  USCIS will not accept your OPT application earlier than 90 calendar days prior to your program completion date (for Post-Completion OPT) or OPT start date (for Pre-Completion OPT). The earliest you can bring your application to Davis IC is 5 business days prior to the 90 day mark. 

STEP 2:  Student returns to Davis IC after five (5) business days to sign a new I-20. You MUST return to Davis IC to sign this I-20 Form.  Your OPT application cannot be mailed to USCIS until you sign the OPT I-20 Form.

STEP 3:  The Davis International Center will mail your complete OPT application to USCIS.

STEP 4:  UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS: When we receive confirmation that your OPT application has been received by USCIS, the Davis International Center will notify you via email of your USCIS receipt number with which you may view your OPT application Case Status on the USCIS website.  

GRADUATE STUDENTS: The confirmation that your OPT application has been received by USCIS will be mailed to the mailing address you provided on the I-765 form. 

STEP 5:   UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS: When your OPT has been approved and your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been received, the Davis IC will notify you by email to come and pick it up. NOTE: You must have your approved EAD card in order to begin employment.

GRADUATE STUDENTS: When your OPT has been approved, USCIS will mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the mailing address you provided on the I-765 Form. NOTE: You must have your approved EAD card in order to begin employment.

16. OPT Application Checklist and Forms:

Click here to download printable OPT Application Checklist

Submit the following OPT Application forms and documents to Davis IC between 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. NOTE: These times are for submission only.  If you have questions or complications, please visit an advisor during Walk-in Hours or Appointments.

1.)     Form I-765 (Either type or neatly fill out the form in black ink and sign the form in blue ink).  

Tips for completing Form I-765:

Your U.S. Mailing Address (Items #5.a – 7.d) –

Undergraduate Students- For the U.S. mailing address, please use "Princeton Univ Davis IC, Princeton, NJ 08544." On page 7, use the continuation sheet to write out our full name "Princeton University Davis IC."  (see sample). For Item #6 (Is you current mailing address the same as your physical address?), you will need to answer “No” and then provide your U.S. Physical Address.

Graduate Students- you may use your residential or departmental address. Please do not use the Davis IC address. If you use your department's address, please make sure to use the following format:  Princeton University your academic department three letter abbreviation (i.e., ELE, MAE, COS, etc.), Princeton, NJ, 08544 - see sample. If you choose to use your department’s address, you will need to provide a U.S. physical address.

Item #8 – If you previously applied for OPT, you can find your A-number on your EAD card under USCIS#. If you do not have an A-number, you can leave this field blank.

Item #12 – If you previously filed an I-765 to apply for OPT, please use page 7 to list the details of the OPT, including the dates and academic level for which you were authorized and whether the OPT authorization was part-time or full-time.

Item #21.a  Your I-94 number is an 11-digit number that can be found on either your paper I-94 in your passport or online. If you traveled abroad and re-entered the U.S. after April 30th, 2013, you probably no longer have a paper I-94. If that's the case, you will retrieve your I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/

Item #26 – Your SEVIS ID number can be found on the top of the first page of your I-20. If you have any previous SEVIS IDs, please list them on page 7 under Additional Information.

Item #27 - Enter the appropriate eligibility code: Pre-Completion OPT is (c)(3)(A);  Post-Completion OPT is (c)(3)(B).

PLEASE NOTE: It is your responsibility to make sure the I-765 is fully and accurately completed. While Davis IC advisors do their best to double check all OPT I-765's, we may miss some inaccuracies due to the number of OPT applications we process. 

2.)    Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (This form is optional. If you include it, you will receive an email or text message informing you they have received your application.)

3.)   OPT Advisor Recommendation Form must be completed and signed by your advisor/director of graduate studies (graduate students) or residential college dean/director of studies (undergraduate  students).

4.)    OPT Student Certification Form completed and signed by the student.

5.)     Photocopies of the following:

  • Your current SEVIS I-20 Form and ALL previous I-20s that have been issued to youIf you were an F-1 student at another U.S. institution prior to starting your program at Princeton, but you don't have your old I-20s, or are missing any I-20's issued by Princeton, you should write a letter stating that you did not keep the old I-20s. 
  • Your passport identification page(s) with the passport expiration date.
  • Your most recent I-94 admission stamp from your passport AND an electronic I-94 printout that you may retrieve from www.cbp.gov/I94  
  • Your most recent F-1 visa stamp (except Canadians who are exempt from visa requirements)

6.)    Bank check, money order or personal check (from a U.S. bank - your name and address must be pre-printed on it) in the amount of $410.00. Make check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland SecuritySee sample check

7.)    Two (2) U.S. 2x2 passport-style photos taken within 30 days of your application. You must write your name and your I-94 number on the back of each photo LIGHTLY, in pencil or felt pen.  Please refer to page 20 of the I-765 instruction sheet for photo criteria.  If you are wearing eyeglasses, we recommend that you take them off before taking a photo.

8.)    Evidence of ALL practical training (OPT and CPT).

  • If you have engaged in OPT, you will need to provide a photocopy of the front and back of Employment Authorization Documents (EAD). If you no longer have the card(s), submit a letter stating that you no longer have it, and include the dates and academic level for which you were authorized and whether the OPT authorization was part-time or full-time.
  • If you have engaged in CPT, the I-20(s) with CPT authorization will serve as evidence. If you know longer have the I-20s, you will need to write a letter which includes the dates and academic level for which you were authorized and whether the CPT authorization was part-time or full-time.

Once you have compiled and completed all of the appropriate forms, bring them to the Davis International Center for review.

17. What if my OPT EAD Card is Lost or Stolen and I need to apply for the replacement card?

IMPORTANT: Notify your International Student Advisor about any lost or stolen cards immediately.

To apply for the EAD replacement card, you must follow the OPT instructions, including the fee payment, with the following exceptions:

1. Check box for Replacement of Lost Employment Authorization Document at top of Form I-765;

2. In addition to all I-20s previously issued to you, including the I-20 issued after you applied for OPT, the Davis IC must also issue a new I-20.

18. May I take classes during Post-Completion OPT?

If you are a Doctorate student and still working on the dissertation, you can continue to be enrolled until you hold the FPO. However, please note that you would still remain subject to the 90-day unemployment rule. 

Transferring your SEVIS record to another institution or changing your educational level at Princeton (e.g. from Bachelor's to Master's or Doctorate) will automatically cancel your OPT. It is very important that you plan your transfer out date carefully. 

Taking a class or classes that may later be used to satisfy new degree program requirements is not recommended. As per the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance, recreational and avocational classes are permissible.

19. Errors on OPT EAD cards

As soon as you receive your OPT EAD, please check if all information on the card is accurate. Pay special attention to start and end dates.  If you find any errors, please do one of the following:

  • Currently enrolled students - please make an appointment with your international student advisor and bring your card with you.
  • Students on Post-Completion OPT or STEM OPT - report the error to Davis IC at puvisa@princeton.edu and we will advise you what to do next. Please do not send a copy of the card in the email.