Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Pracical Training (OPT) gives an F-1 student the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a degree program through off-campus employment after completion of all degree requirements.  Employment approval takes at least 90 days, so careful planning is required.

Helpful Terms to Know

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS)
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card)
  • Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
  • Grace Period (the 60 days following the last day of the quarter you complete the requirements for your degree OR the 60 days following your authorized OPT period).

Eligibility to Apply

  • Must have completed at least one academic year with the same SEVIS number (found at the top left side of page 1 of the I-20).
  • Must apply prior to the end of the 60 day grace period following the quarter/term in which all requirements for graduation are met.
    • Graduate students have the option to apply before the thesis/dissertation is filed provided all coursework required for graduation is complete.  In this case, all degree requirements must be complete prior to the end of the OPT period.  Meet with an SISS advisor to discuss your situation if you would like to file earlier.
  • Must have been authorized for fewer than 365 days of full-time CPT during the degree program. Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.
  • Must have a recommendation for OPT on page 2 of your I-20 from your International Student Advisor at SISS to successfully apply. The recommendation is only good for 30 days.
  • Cannot work or volunteer while waiting for USCIS to process the application. This means if you did not submit a timely application to begin working the day after the quarter ends, you will have a gap in your employment eligibility.  You may not continue working on campus if there is a gap.  See an SISS advisor if you have any questions about your work eligibility to avoid working illegally.

How to Apply for OPT

STEP 1: Submit a request to SISS using the  https://iglobal.ucdavis.edu portal

While waiting for your new I-20 with an OPT recommendation, gather the required application materials for step 2.

STEP 2:  Mail the following materials to USCIS

  1. Check or money order for *$410 payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security 
    1. Fees are subject to change. Check the current filing fee before submitting.
  2. 2 photos (taken within the past 30 days, white background, 2” x 2”– see Photo guidelines here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/photos/photos.html
    1. Print lightly in pencil on back of photos SEVIS ID#, full name, and date of birth
  3. USCIS E-notification – receive an e-mail and/or a text message that your application has been accepted, if you file Form G-1145
  4. Original I-765 application form
  5. Photocopy of the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation
  6. Photocopy of passport biographical information, showing passport expiration date
  7. Photocopy of electronic I-94 record or if you have a paper I-94 record, photocopy both sides.

Tips for Success:

  • Make copies of application materials submitted to USCIS and keep for your records
  • Paperclip--do not staple your documents, not even your I-20 copy. Stapling delays processing time.
  • Your recommendation is only good for 30 days.  Check the date it was printed on page 1.  If it is more than 30 days old, come to SISS.  Expired recommendations are denied.
  • Do not mail too early.  Check the OPT calculator for the first day USCIS will accept your application.  Applications received even one day early are denied.

Where to mail documents:

USCIS Phoenix Lockbox (if you do not have a CA address on your I-765, check which lockbox you should use here.)

U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail Express FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. (overnight/courier deliveries)

SISS advisors are available to answer questions during this process after confirmed workshop attendance during drop-in or by making an appointment.  Advising details are found here.

How to Stay in Status While on OPT

  • Employment must be directly related to the student's program of study at the appropriate degree level.
    • Employment cannot start until the EAD card is received AND it is within the authorized dates shown on the EAD card.
    • Employment can be paid or unpaid.
    • Employment can be from multiple employers and include:
      • Payment by short-term employers
      • Work for hire (i.e. contract work)
      • Self-employed business owner
      • Employment through an agency
  • The student is responsible for keeping records of all employment including documentation of hours worked and how the employment is directly related to the program of study.
    • Keep record of the position title, duration of employment, supervisor’s information and a description of the job.
    • If it’s not clear from the job description how your job is related to your field of study, obtain an official letter from your employer with an explanation of how your degree is related to the work performed.
    • If employment is unpaid, keep a log of hours worked and have your supervisor sign it periodically
  • 90 days of unemployment eligibility
    • Students on OPT are allowed a total of 90 cumulative days of unemployment during their OPT authorization.  This 90 days starts on the first day of the authorized employment.
    • Update your employer information through the iGlobal portal to avoid being erroneously viewed as unemployed.
    • Consider tracking your unemployment days using the unemployment calculator.
Also note: Students who are being paid for work in the United States will need to apply for a Social Security Number and plan to file taxes.
iGlobal Login

OPT Reporting Requirements

How to report

  • Report using https://iglobal.ucdavis.edu within 5 days of a change 
  • Login under Limited Services using your student ID, Date of Birth and a temporary PIN number that you can have emailed to yourself. 
  • Upload your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) the first time you report.

Report any changes to:

  • Legal name
  • Residential or mailing address
  • Email address (permanent, non-UCD)
  • Employer name and address
  • Employment status
    • loss of employment
    • start & end dates of employment
  • How employment is directly related to your major field of study
  • Departure from the U.S. (permanent leave)
  • Change of Status (such as H-1B approval, etc.)

Unfinished Requirements for Graduation

Undergraduate and non-thesis graduate students who have already applied for OPT and who do not meet all requirements for graduation during their expected final quarter are required to finish all requirements during the next available quarter or summer session.  If the application has not been submitted (mailed), OPT can be cancelled, the I-20 extended and OPT re-recommended at a later date. If the authorized employoment period begins before all requirements are met, students may not work more than 20 hours/week until they have finished their requirements. Students are subject to the same employment regulations as if they had finished as originally expected and may accrue unemployment days. Students in this situation need to make an appointment with their SISS International Student Advisor.

Graduate students in thesis/dissertation programs must finish all coursework, but are not limited to 20 hours while finishing their thesis/dissertation.  All requirements for graduation must be met prior to the end of the authorized employment period.

Handouts for Employers

Other Student Employment Information

Students who are being paid for work in the United States will need to apply for a Social Security Number and plan to file taxes.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Information

Travel while on OPT

Please refer to our travel webpage for detailed information about travelling while on OPT.

Insurance while on OPT

Students who have completed their academic program are no longer eligible for USHIP or GSHIP – University Health Insurance.  You can learn more about your options here.

24-month OPT extension Eligibility

Effective May 10, 2016, a student with a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field can apply for a 24-month extension of their 12 month OPT, for a maximum of 36 months. In order to qualify, a student must meet all of the following requirements.  Students can learn more about the STEM extension here.

Transferring to Another School or Beginning New Academic Program

If you plan on transferring to another school, you will need to contact your International Student Advisor to coordinate the release of your SEVIS record. You may request to also have your SEVIS record released while you are on OPT or during your 60-day grace period. Once the SEVIS record is released, you cannot continue working on OPT.

Change of Status Application (i.e. H-1B, J-1, F-2, U.S. Permanent Resident, etc.)

Notify SISS if you apply for a change of status to another immigration status. When your application is approved, provide SISS an electronic copy of your I-797 approval notice, I-94 record, or green card.

Students on OPT with Pending H-1B Petitions (CAP-GAP Extension)

Students currently on OPT with pending or approved H-1B petitions (regardless of degree), are eligible for an automatic extension of status and employment authorization if the following conditions are met:
  •  The student is a beneficiary of an H-1B petition filed before the end of the student’s lawful F-1 status;
  • The H-1B petition requests a change of status with an effective date of October 1 of the following fiscal year;
  • The student has maintained status; and
  • The H-1B is not rejected, denied or revoked.

If USCIS approves the H-1B petition, the student is granted an extension that allows them to stay in the U.S. until the requested start date on the H-1B petition takes effect. If OPT is extended due to cap gap, the 90-day limitation of unemployment continues to apply.

  • Students cannot travel and re-enter the U.S. during this automatic extension period. Traveling while an H-1B petition is pending may impact your application and be considered an abandonment of the H-1B petition. Applicants should discuss all travel plans & timing with attorney and employer that filed H-1B petition.
  • In case of an H-1B withdrawal or denial, OPT authorization ends 10 days after the date of the withdrawal or denial. Student’s grace period ends 60 days after the date of the withdrawal or denial.

Important note: Students should consult the employer who filed their H-1B for further information about whether they are eligible for the automatic extension of their stay and employment. Information for reference.

Students can request a Cap-Gap I-20 with evidence of an H-1B petition selected for processing by USCIS through iGlobal (log on through Limited Services).