Optional Practical Training
This information is intended for prospective work authorization applicants. It is not comprehensive and students are encouraged to consult with the International Student Center in the fall of their first year to learn more about the process so that they can plan ahead appropriately.
Off-Campus Employment FAQs:
- Log into your ISC Portal to complete a request for pre or post OPT.
What is Optional Practical Training?
Students with an F-1 visa are not eligible to work off campus without authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is intended to provide F-1 visa holders with up to 12 months of practical (typically paid) work experience in the U.S. OPT is temporary employment authorization for F-1 students in degree programs to gain experience in jobs directly related to their major area of study. F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT per educational degree level. Most students generally tend to save it for a year after graduation but students who apply for paid internships over winter or summer break, have to apply for work authorization as well. Note, when you apply for work authorization for summer or winter work, the duration of time is subtracted from the 12 months for which you are eligible. USCIS has increased the amount of time to 24 months for STEM Majors.
Who is eligible?
You must be enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year. That is, first-year students will be eligible to apply for work authorization only in the summer after their first year. Students who get grants from Swarthmore to work off campus during breaks may or may not need to apply for OPT. Students should check with their prospective employers and the International Student Center to confirm.
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 leave the U.S after your program end date and have not applied for OPT, you will lose your OPT eligibility. 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 speak to Jennifer Marks-Gold.
What is the application process?
The following documents are needed for you to apply for work authorization. Please consult with the International Student Center before you apply.
Application materials (submitted in this order):
G-1145, Use this form if you wish to receive email or text confirmation (Within 1 week) of your receipt number from the lockbox facility. Clip the form to the front of the OPT application. Find the form at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/g-1145.pdf
- Fee of $410. Make check payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." Send personal check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank, NO CASH.
- Two "passport" photos. Print your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo. No dark or tinted glasses can be worn in the passport photos. Use powder to prevent glaring and be sure there are no shadows in your photos! You may put the photos and check in an envelope and attach carefully to the front of the I-765 (do not staple photos!). Instructions can be found here https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/photos/photos.html
- Original I-765 form. A sample form can be found here.
- A copy of the new OPT I-20 which should be endorsed. This I-20 must be less than 30 days old when it arrives at USCIS or OPT will be denied.
- A copy of ALL previously issued I-20 documents dating back to the start of F-1 status (be sure they are signed).
- A copy of your most recent I-94 record.https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/recent-search
- A copy of the photo page (identification page) and expiration date page of your passport.
- A copy of the most recent F-1 visa page in your passport (even if expired).
- A copy of any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) OPT card, if you have had one.
- Submit your documents and application to USICS via mail. The address varies depends on your address so please see the I-765 Form for addresses. The International Student Center must review your application before you send it to the service center.
- Please use the ISC Portal to request OPT through the ISC.
USCIS Chicago Lockbox
U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680
FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
Some things to note while filling in the application
Be sure to use an address in the U.S. where you can receive the receipt and EAD. Note that the U.S. postal system will not forward the EAD.
Do I need to specify a job when I apply for work authorization?
Currently, information about an employer is not initially required, but applications for OPT -STEM extension will require employer information. However, you do need to know the exact dates you want to work. It is very difficult to change the dates for OPT after the application is submitted or to have time restored if you decide not to use it, so be sure of your plans before you apply.
When should we start applying for work authorization?
You can apply for work authorization starting 90 days (3 months) before graduation or up to 60 days after. You apply for pre-OPT 90 days before your state date. Most students apply around spring break for work beginning in the summer. If you are a senior contemplating working in the United States after Swarthmore, plan ahead!
PLEASE NOTE: Application must be submitted from within the U.S., not from outside the U.S. The questions on form I-765 assume that a student is residing in the U.S. If you are studying abroad and wishes to apply, 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 appoint with one of the advisors in the International Student Center to discuss your options.
What happens after I submit the application? When will I be notified?
- You will receive a receipt notice. You should hold on to this receipt.
- Keep a copy of your complete application, the receipt and the EAD.
- https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/ shows that it takes anywhere between 3 - 5 months for I-765 application to be processed.
I have my Employment Authorization Document with me, what should I do now?
Do not assume the process has ended after you receive your EAD. Here's a list of things we recommend you do:
- Let the International Student Center know that you have received your EAD.
- Check the dates to make sure that the dates you plan to work match those on the EAD.
- Make copies of the EAD. You will need copies( front and back) of all your previous EADs when you apply for a new one or you can scan them.
I have my Employment Authorization Document, but there's a mistake on it.
For any sort of typo go to https://egov.uscis.gov/e-request/displayTypoForm.do to fix the mistake as soon as possible. Or head to the USCIS website here for more information
F-1 visa status while on OPT
While you are on OPT you will remain in F-1 status. Consequently, while you are on OPT you will be responsible for the maintenance of your F-1 status.
Failure to maintain F-1 status can result in the termination of your F-1 SEVIS record and loss of F-1 benefits. Terminated records are subject to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement review, which could result in denial of future immigration benefits or even deportation.
To ensure that you maintain your F-1 status while on OPT, you will need to:
Report certain information to the International Student Center by submitting the OPT Reporting Form for periodic SEVIS record updates. Note that this is a regulatory requirement, and you will be considered to have violated your F-1 status if you do not comply. Areas of required reporting for SEVIS Compliance include:
Changes in your personal information (ex. local/home country addresses, email address, name as listed on your passport, departure from the U.S. without intentions of return, etc.) within 10 days of the move and/or update.
Employment information (ex. employer contact information, breaks in employment, employer changes, etc.) immediately as updates and/or changes occur.
Changes in academic plans (admittance to a degree program at another institution) as soon as the changes and/or updates have occurred.
Changes in immigration status to a visa status other than F-1 as soon as you have receive your Notice of Approval of change of status or entered the U.S. under another status.
Record keeping while on/after the completion of OPT
Current F-1s/OPT students must be in possession of their immigration and immigration related documents and information. This includes but is not limited to:
All F-1/OPT I-20s ever held (from Swarthmore College as well as any other school you have attended)
All EAD cards received from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS)
F-1 visa stamp in passport
Electronic copy of I-94
Any receipt notice or documentation issued from USCIS, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration Customs and Enforcement, etc.
School transcripts, diploma, certificates, etc.
Record of ALL US and home country residential and mailing addresses
Record of employment history: names of employers, positions held/job titles, proof of employment duration, employer and supervisor contact information, description of positions held, breaks in employment, etc.
Record of ALL reports made to the International Student Center (and how the reports were made), i.e. copy of OPT Report Form email, relevant email advisement, fax confirmation reports, etc.
Former F-1/OPT holders should keep their immigration and immigration-related documents and/or copies of these documents indefinitely.
Traveling while on OPT.
While on OPT, you may travel outside of the U.S. and use your F-1 documents (listed below) for re-entry to the U.S.:
I-20 endorsed within the last 6 months by the International Student Center
OPT EAD card
Proof of employment
Passport valid for up to 6 months into the future
Valid F-1 visa
Now that I have received my EAD card, do I still need an I-20?
Yes. While you are on OPT you remain in F-1 status and therefore must maintain a valid I-20 that reflects your OPT recommendation on page 3.
May I study while engaging in OPT?
You may only take courses that are recreational in nature. You cannot enroll in an academic degree/certification program while on 12-month Post-Completion OPT.
I am in middle of my OPT and decided to start another academic program. Can I continue working after I start my new program?
OPT employment authorization is automatically terminated when the student begins study at another degree level or in another field of study. You will need to contact the International Student Center for advisement on obtaining a new I-20.
Any OPT authorization ends on the transfer release date for a student who requests a transfer to another SEVP-certified school. You will need to contact the International Student Center for advise on the SEVIS transfer process.
Can I travel abroad and re-enter the US while on OPT?
Once your 12-month Post-Completion OPT is APPROVED, you are in possession of your valid EAD card, and secured employment you may travel abroad and re-enter the US as F-1. You will need to carry your F-1 documents with you for re-entry.
Travel is restricted for those students who:
Are approved for 12-month post-completion OPT but have not yet secured employment
Have PENDING applications with USCIS for 12-month post-completion OPT or 24-month STEM extension OPT
Have been approved for Cap-gap OPT
If you are in any of these circumstances and wish to travel abroad please contact the International Student Center for immigration advisement.
What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT?
You will need to carry your F-1 documents: your I-20 that has been endorsed for travel by the International Student Center within the last 6 months; the valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS; your valid passport valid for 6 months into the future; a valid F- 1 visa stamp; and proof of employment, such as a letter from your employer stating you are returning to a job in the U.S. (listing the name and contact information of the company and your job title).
Do I still need to get my I-20 signed for travel by the International Student Center during OPT?
Yes, if you travel outside the U.S. your I-20 will need to be signed within the last 6 months for re-entry to the U.S. Note that while on 12-month Post-Completion OPT travel signatures are only valid for up to 6 months.
The visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy?
F-1 visa rules still apply while you are on OPT. Therefore, if you will travel abroad with an expired F-1 visa, you will need to obtain a visa renewal prior to your return, as a valid F-1 visa is required for re-entry.
Exception for return to the U.S. after travel to Mexico, Canada, and the neighboring islands/U.S. territories: Automatic Visa Revalidation Benefit. This benefit allows you to return to the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa under the following conditions: visit is not more than 30 days and the purpose is pleasure or vacation only; you maintained F-1/OPT status at all times; you are in possession of your F-1 documents required for travel; you have NOT applied for a visa renewal during that particular visit; and you are NOT a national of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, or North Korea.
In any case, if your visa is expired and you plan to travel abroad, please consult with the International Student Center before you travel to go over your situation and options.
What documents do I need to show at the embassy for a new visa stamp under OPT?
You will need to carry your F-1 documents: your I-20 that has been endorsed for travel by our Office within the last 6 months; the valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS; your valid passport valid for 6 months into the future; and proof of current/future employment, such as a letter from your employer stating you are returning to a job in the U.S. (listing the name and contact information of the company, your job title, salary, job duties and beginning date).
You should also be prepared to discuss how this job experience will apply to the job market in your home country, and how you intend to apply it there.