Optional Practical Training (OPT) – Eligibility and Timing of Application

Most F-1 students finishing a bachelor degree program are eligible to work in the U.S. for 12 months immediately following graduation to gain experience in their field of study in a work environment.  This is known officially as Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). (There is a form of OPT known as Pre-Completion OPT, but the details of that will not be addressed here.)

Twelve months of OPT is available at each academic level - bachelor's, master's, and doctoral.

OPT is essentially an extension of your F-1 status. It is no different than your current status. You’ll just be on the practical training part of your education, colloquially known as ojt: on-the-job training.

  • Your records will still be in SEVIS.
  • You’ll still come under the jurisdiction of the International Student Services office at Pomona College.
  • You’ll still need a travel signature on your I-20 from the ISA before departing for a trip abroad.
  • You’ll still need a valid F-1 visa to re-enter the US after a trip abroad to resume your employment.

To be eligible to apply for Post-Completion OPT, the following must be true:

  • You must be completing a Program of Study
  • You must be currently in the U.S. in F-1 status
  • You must have been in legal F-1 status for one academic year (2 semesters) immediately preceding your application (Some exceptions do apply)
  • You must not have had 12 months of “full-time” CPT
  • Your passport must be valid at least 6 months into the future

You can apply no earlier than 90 days before the program completion date as shown on your I-20. You can apply up to 60 days after completion. However, it takes USCIS generally 60 – 90 days to process an OPT application. Moreover, your OPT authorization cannot extend more than 14 months after your completion date. If you delay your application, you might not get 12 months of authorization.

When you apply, you will choose when you want your OPT to begin. However, that date must be within the first 60 days after you complete your program. If you apply late, your application could be adjudicated after your 60 day start window expires and your start date will be later than you requested (generally the date your application is adjudicated), but your end date will still be 14 months after your completion date, regardless of that later start date, meaning you will not get the full 12 months of authorization.

If you complete all your degree requirements in August or December, then that is your program completion date and all other deadlines and dates related to OPT are moved accordingly.