Applying for OPT is a technical process, one in which you will need to be aware of all deadlines, work closely with your international student office, and otherwise be on top of the requirements. It's easy to make a mistake, and if you do, your application could be delayed or even denied, which could compromise your opportunity to find a job in the US.
You must have been enrolled in a US-based school for at least 9 months (one academic year) before you can apply for any OPT (pre or post-completion). You can apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before graduation, and up to 60 days after graduation. On the application itself, you will indicate a desired start date for your employment. You cannot start to work until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS, you have been in the US for at least 12 months, and the start date listed on your EAD has arrived or passed. Since USCIS can take some time to act (3&ndsash;5 months) on your request and get your EAD to you, you should apply for OPT as early as possible. You do not need to have a job lined up yet to apply.
Typically, your international student advisor or someone within the international student office will help you through the process of applying for OPT. Here are the basic requirements:
This is the main application for employment authorization to be submitted to USCIS; depending on your school’s policy, your international student advisor may be able to assist you with this application, or they may provide you with detailed instructions but expect you to fill it out on your own. You can also download the instructions from the USCIS site to double-check all of the information and processing tips you receive from your school. Regardless of your advisor’s involvement, it’s important to know that the I-765 is your responsibility and you are in charge of making sure the information on it is correct and accurate. The I-765 can now also be completed online, but check with your international student advisor to know the best way to do this. Even though you can complete the OPT application online, you still have to meet with your advisor in order to obtain your OPT I-20 and get advisor approval for the work authorization application.
The filing fee must be paid by check or money order–NOT cash. There is also a credit card form that can be sent but students have reported delays in processing or even denials due to cards not being able to be run, so a check or money order might be the safest route.
Be sure to talk with your international student advisor about the correct way to fill out the check or money order to avoid any processing delays.
Identical color photographs of you taken within 30 days of filing your application. There are specifics in the I-765, but any place that does “passport photos” should get it right. Write your name and SEVIS ID number on back of each photo.
You will need copies of your most recent Form I-94 (print here), previous EAD Card (if applicable), most recent I-20 signed by you and your DSO with OPT request visible on page 2 (pages 1 & 2), a copy of your current passport ID page, and a copy of your F-1 Visa. You may also need copies of previous work authorization I-20s, such as CPT I-20s or pre-completion OPT I-20s.
This list will provide you with some guidance on what will be involved in applying for OPT. However, we cannot stress enough how important it is to begin discussions about how to apply for OPT with your international student advisor or someone in the international student office as early as possible. You will need their help! You cannot apply for OPT without the DSO-approved OPT I-20, so be sure to involve them, even if you think you understand the application process.
If you are planning on going on OPT status, or if you are currently on OPT without insurance, you can enroll in our international student health insurance plan below.
International Student Health Insurance
Need insurance while studying overseas? The Student Secure plan is designed for both international and study abroad students.