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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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General Information

iso.jpgOptional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization which allows F-1 students to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience. You may be entitled to up to 12* months of OPT per educational level (i.e. Bachelor’s, Master’s, etc). If a student begins a new academic program at a higher level, the student is eligible for another 12 months of OPT.

*Or up to 29 months if you are a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) major.

Please note that Optional Practical Training requires authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which typically takes 90 days to obtain. We recommend that you apply 3-4 months before you wish to begin employment.


Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for OPT, you must:

  1. Have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year
  2. Currently be maintaining a full-time program of study and hold valid F-1 status
  3. Intend to work in a job directly related to your major field of study

A job offer is not required to be eligible for, or to apply for, OPT, but the student is expected to work. The student must report the name and address of employer as soon as employment has been secured and whenever there is a change of employment. If you are uncertain whether you meet the eligibility requirements, please meet with Jillian Moomaw in Crossroads/International Student Services (ISS).


Two Types of Optional Practical Training

Pre-Completion OPT

  • During the school year: Students may apply for part-time OPT which permits them to work a maximum of 20 hours per week. Students must also keep a full course load. A part-time OPT period is computed at half the regular full-time period when applied to the 12 month OPT limit. For example, students who choose to engage in OPT while school is in session during the fall semester (4 ½ months) would have two months and one week deducted from the 12 month OPT limit.
  • During vacation periods: A student may do part-time or full-time (21 hours or more per week) OPT during school breaks.

Post-Completion OPT

  • After completion of the degree: OPT can be full-time or part-time. While you may work part-time hours during post-completion OPT, OPT will be calculated as full-time and will still be limited to 12 months (or 29 months with a STEM extension).
  • Post-Completion OPT Deadlines: Students may apply up to 120 days before completion of studies and 30 days after completion of studies. If you intend to travel abroad around the time you will complete your studies, you must apply for OPT before you leave the United States. Remember to apply in advance, 3-4 months before the requested start date of OPT.If you depart the USA after you complete your studies and have not applied for OPT, you are no longer eligible to apply.

Overview of the Application Process

Step One: Student requests and I-20 OPT recommendation from Jillian in the Crossroads/ISS Office.
Step Two: Student mails a completed application to USCIS. USCIS processing time is typically 90 days, or 3 months.

Step One: Student requests an I-20 recommending OPT from Crossroads/ISS

Complete the OPT I-20 Request Form:

  • Read through the entire information packet
  • Complete the student section of the OPT I-20 Request Form.
  • Meet with academic advisor to have second page of request form completed
  • Submit the completed form to the Crossroads/ISS office, or if you have questions see Jillian
  • You will get your new I-20 when you have your OPT appointment with Jillian – please schedule with Mrs. P

You may request an OPT I-20 by either:

  • Bring the form to Crossroads/ISS: If you have read the information packet and do not have any questions, you may drop off the OPT I-20 Request Form to either Mrs. P or Jillian.
  • Meeting with Jillian: If you have read the information packet but still have questions, you can meet with Jillian and then submit your OPT I-20 Request Form. We recommend you bring your immigration documents with you.

You may need to meet with Jillian if you are:

  • Unsure which OPT dates to select
  • Unsure of your completion date
  • Recently returned to Geneva after taking a leave
  • Considering a second degree at the same education level (i.e. a second Bachelor’s degree)

Step Two: Student mails a completed application to the USCIS

Read everything in the instructions for Post-Completion OPT For F-1 Students or for Pre-Completion OPT For F-1 Students.

  • Once you have received your I-20 with OPT recommendation from Crossroads/ISS, you can mail all the items on the application materials checklist (listed in the instruction documents above) to USCIS.
  • Before mailing, you must meet with Jillian to go over the materials and be sure that they are done correctly.
  • After your OPT meeting with Jillian, you can mail your application to USCIS by Federal Express or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery. (If you complete the G-1145 Form, you will get an electronic notification as well.)
  • USCIS will send you a receipt notice, typically within one month.
  • Once your application is approved, you will receive an approval card in the mail from USCIS. This card is your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Selecting OPT Start and End Dates

Pre-Completion
List the dates you actually intend to work. Your start date should be the earliest date that you could possibly begin work. Your end date should be the latest day that you could possibly work.

Post-Completion
If you are applying for Post-Completion OPT, you are given a 60-day grace period following the completion date of your studies. You must apply for OPT before completing your studies, but you may request that OPT begin as late as the end of the 60-day grace period. Therefore, for Post-Completion OPT, the beginning date must be between the day after completion of studies and the end of the 60-day grace period.

Post-Completion OPT may be authorized for any period of time you request, up to the maximum amount of OPT you have remaining at the time of completion. If you have not previously used any OPT, you may request the full 12 months of practical training after completion of your program. If you have used any Pre-Completion OPT, or if you worked a full year of full-time CPT, the appropriate amount of OPT will be deducted. In most cases, a student will apply for the full amount of Post-Completion OPT that he/she is eligible for. Unless, for example, the student plans to study at the same educational level for another degree and wants to reserve some OPT time. Remember, if you return to study at a higher education level, you will be eligible for another period of OPT.

Start and end dates can be very confusing. If you have further questions on this, or if you want to know what Post-Completion OPT time you are still eligible for, please reach out to Jillian: jgmoomaw@geneva.edu.


OPT Application Materials

  • Application fee ($380 made payable to The Department of Homeland Security)
  • Two identical passport-style photos. The photo should be taken no earlier than 30 days before submission of application. Lightly print your name and I-94 number on the back in pencil. Passport photos can be obtained at Rite Aid, CVS, and the Post Office. More details on passport photos are listed in the Pre-Completion or Post-Completion OPT Instructions. OPT applications will be denied if your photos are not done correctly.
  • Completed USCIS Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Please take the time to read Instructions for Form I-765 if you have any questions. If you still have questions, please contact Jillian.
  • Photocopy of ALL previously issued I-20s, including newest I-20 with OPT recommendation. Remember, each I-20 must have your signature in the appropriate area. If you have any questions about what I-20s need copied or where your signature should be, you should contact Jillian.
  • Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card (front and back on same sheet of paper). If your most recent date of arrival in the U.S. is after April 20, 2013 you will have an electronic I-94 that must be printed at http://cbp.gov/i94
  • Photocopy of the information page in your UNEXPIRED passport (including your photo and passport extensions if they are on different pages)
  • Photocopy of your F-1 visa stamp page (except Canadian students)
  • Photocopy of front and back of any previously issued Employment Authorization Cards (EAD) or denial notices.
  • Completed G-1145 Form (optional) This form is if you want an electronic notification on the receipt of your application. Fill in your name, email address, and/or cell phone number. Be sure to put this as your first page in your application packet.

Mailing Instructions

Make a complete copy of your application for your records. Crossroads/ISS does not maintain copies of OPT applications.

Mail in your completed application to the USCIS Service Center which has jurisdiction over the address you listed on the I-765 in Item 3.If you did not list a Pennsylvania address on your I-765, contact Jillian to make sure you have the correct USCIS address.

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
USCIS
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For Express mail and courier deliveries:
USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

E-Notification: If you want to receive an e-mail and/or text message that your Form I-765 has been accepted at a USCIS Lockbox facility, remember to complete the G-1145 Form and clip it to the first page of your application.

We recommend that you mail your application by Federal Express Mail or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the earliest I can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
You may apply as early as 120 days (4 months) before the date you request your OPT to begin.

When must I apply for OPT?
Post-Completion OPT: You may apply up to 120 days before completion of studies and 30 days after completion of studies. If you intend to travel abroad around the time you will complete you studies, you MUST apply for Post-Completion OPT before you leave the United States. Consult with Jillian in Crossroads/ISS if you intend to travel abroad during this time.
Pre-Completion OPT: You should apply 3-4 months before the date you wish to begin employment.

What is my completion date?
The “completion date” refers to the date that your degree requirements are completed (as verified by your academic advisor). This may not necessarily be the same as the “official” college graduation ceremony date. For most undergraduates and Master’s students without a thesis requirement, the completion of studies is the May, August, or December graduation date that follows your last term of full-time enrollment.

If you are a graduate student, check with your advisor about choosing an earlier completion date such as your thesis submission date.

What happens after I mail my application?
Usually within approximately one month, USCIS will mail a receipt to you at the address listed on the Form I-765. Full processing of the OPT application materials is likely to take up to 90 days. Upon approval, USCIS will mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the same address you provided on the Form I-765.

You may NOT begin employment before you receive your EAD and the start date on the card has been reached. Working before receipt of your EAD constitutes illegal employment. This leads to your I-20 being terminated and can lead to deportation.

What if my address changes while my OPT is still pending?
If you change your address before your receipt and/or card are issued, you must notify USCIS. You should also inform Jillian. Please remember, if there is even a tiny chance you might be moving while your OPT application is under consideration, make sure to list Geneva College’s address on the Form I-765.

How can I check the status of my application?
Once you receive a notice from USCIS confirming receipt of your application, you can check the status at: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do

Use the EAC number located in the top left of the receipt notice. Alternatively, USCIS prints the EAC number on the back of your check once it is cashed. You may be able to obtain a copy of your check from your bank.

Can I travel while on practical training?

Post-Completion OPT: You should not experience difficulty reentering the United States if you have all the items listed below:

  • a valid passport
  • a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Your OPT I-20 endorsed for reentry by Jillian within the last six months
  • Your valid practical training EAD issued by USCIS
  • Evidence of employment such as a job offer or employment verification letter

If you do not have all of these documents listed above or plan to leave the US while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, you should consult with Jillian before travel abroad. For more information, see: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel

*Please note – Your EAD will have a notation that says, “not valid for reentry to the USA”. This is printed on all EAD cards issued for OPT and simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for reentry to the USA.

Pre-Completion OPT: You can travel and return to the USA with a valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp, and your OPT I-20 endorsed by Jillian within the last 12 months. You do not need evidence of a job or a valid EAD issued by USCIS to return to the USA.

Do I still need to notify USCIS if my address changes while on Post-Completion OPT?
Yes.

Can I change my OPT dates or cancel OPT if I do not get a job?
Once your application has been received by USCIS, Crossroads/ISS cannot cancel or change your OPT dates for you. If you want to try to withdraw your OPT application after you have sent it to USCIS, you will need to submit a written request to them directly. Please consult with Jillian in Crossroads/ISS for more information. We advise that you carefully choose your dates and consider your job prospects before applying for OPT, since canceling your application may be difficult or impossible to do. An unexpected delay in completing degree requirements, inability to find an appropriate job, or loss of a job does not allow you to take back or adjust practical training authorization even if this means you will lose practical training time. Remember, you must report the name and address of your employer to Jillian. As the PDSO, she is required to enter the information into SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System).

Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the USA?
Yes. If you plan to work in the USA you will need a valid Social Security Number (SSN). Your Geneva ID is not a valid SSN. To apply, please obtain instructions and directions to the Social Security Office from Mrs. P in Crossroads/ISS. The Social Security Administration will process your application and mail your Social Security number to you.

Do I need to complete any forms with my employer to begin working?
Yes. Within the first three days of beginning work, you and your employer must complete a form entitled Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9). This form will be kept on file by your employer and must be updated each time you receive a renewal of your work permission. Your employer will provide this form and assist you in its completion.

Can I change employers while on OPT?
Yes. OPT work authorization is not job-specific. Therefore, you may change employers, or have multiple employers at the same time, provided that each position is directly related to your major field of study and commensurate with your educational level. You MUST notify Jillian with names and addresses of new employers.

Do I pay taxes while working on OPT?
Students in F-1 status are subject to all federal, state, and local taxes that may apply. Check with Crossroads/ISS for more tax information and to see if your country is one of the few that has a tax treaty with the USA. This treaty allows students to exclude a limited amount of earned income from federal taxation.

You may also be able to treat a period of Post-Completion OPT as an extended business trip and substantially reduce your federal taxes by deducting “travel expenses” (amounts for housing, transportation, and a per diem food allowance) from your income. You should consult an accountant or tax attorney to see if you can deduct travel expenses in your circumstances. Crossroads/ISS cannot provide this type of individual tax assistance.

In general, however, F-1 students who have been present in the USA for less than five calendar years are exempt from Social Security (FICA) and Medicare taxes. Be sure to bring this to the attention of your employer, as many employers are unfamiliar with this provision of the tax laws. If you need more information about the F-1 Social Security and Medicare tax exemption, please contact Crossroads/ISS.

How long can I stay in the US after the end date of my OPT?
You have a 60 day grace period after the end of your OPT. You are not authorized to work, nor can you leave and reenter the US in F-1 status during the grace period.

What should I do if I want to begin a new program of study in the USA when I finish my OPT?
You must contact Jillian in Crossroads/ISS and tell her what school you plan to attend and when your new program of study will begin. (This is also true if you are returning to Geneva to begin a new program. We are not likely to know unless you tell us.) We must then “release” your F-1 SEVIS record to your new school within 60 days of the end of your OPT (or update your SEVIS record for a new Geneva program.) If you fail to notify Jillian of your plans to begin a new program of study before the end of your 60 day grace period, your F-1 SEVIS record is likely to become invalid and may cause immigration problems for you.

IMPORTANT Final Note:It is your responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to F-1 students, including employment regulations. Working without proper authorization is a serious violation of your student status. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you will be in violation of F-1 status. This will lead to you losing your eligibility for F-1 benefits and can lead to deportation. Prior to accepting any employment in the USA, we strongly urge you to consult with Crossroads/ISS if you have any questions.


I-765 Special Instructions

USCIS Form I-765 is available at: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765

You can also pick the form up from the Crossroads/ISS Office, or you can directly download it by clicking here: Form I-765

PRINT LEGIBLY. The information you write on this form will appear on your card and will ensure proper receipt through the US mail. Frist, check the first box for why you are applying: “Permission to accept employment.”

#1: Print your name as it appears on your immigration documents (passport, I-20, etc.).

#3: Your US address needs to be an address you can receive mail for the next 3-4 months.

The USPS will NOT forward USCIS mail even if you change your address with the USPS. It may be difficult to change your address with USCIS after they have received your application. If the card is sent to an address with a forwarding order, or if you cannot receive mail at the address indicated, your card will be returned to the immigration service and destroyed. If you are using a friend or relative’s address, be sure to write “c/o (name of friend or relative)” on line #3 preceding their address.

Consult with Crossroads/ISS if the address you use is not in Pennsylvania so we can make sure you have the correct mailing address when submitting your OPT application.

#10: Your Form I-94 Number is the 11-digit number on your I-94 card

#11: Answer “yes” ONLY if you have previously applied for an EAD.

#14 & #15: Your answer will be “F-1” UNLESS you have applied for a change of status since your last entry to the USA. Please contact Jillian if you are not sure.

#16: The answer to this depends on whether you are applying for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or a STEM extension. Be very careful that you are putting the correct code.

Codes for #16:
Pre-Completion OPT   (c)(3)(A)
Post-Completion OPT (c)(3)(B)
STEM Extension          (c)(3)(C)

A STEM extension is a 17-month extension for an F-1 student who has received a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. The degree in this area should fall in the designated Degree Program List authorized by ICE. Please talk to Jillian if you want to make sure you have the correct degree.

If you are a STEM student requesting 17-month extension of your currently authorized OPT, you must also submit a copy of your degree reflecting the conferred degree as well as your major field of study. In addition, the employer with whom you are seeking the extension must be registered in E-Verify. Accordingly, you must list the employer’s E-Verify Company Identification Number or a valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number in Item #17 of the Form I-765. Please refer to the section on Foreign Students in the form instructions.

Remember to sign and date the Form I-765.

Again, if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact Jillian: jgmoomaw@geneva.edu