Optional Practical Training

OPT is open to F-1 students who are "in status" with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and who have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (students who enroll in September, for example, become eligible to engage in OPT the following summer). Students who have been outside the US for reasons other than study abroad (for example, a non-academic leave spent at home) must complete one full academic year in F-1 status upon their return before they will be eligible for OPT.

OPT is defined as "temporary employment in your field of study," so it may be used only for work that is related to your declared major at Mount Holyoke, and it must be at a level that is appropriate for your background (for example, clerical or secretarial work generally is not permissible, even if the job is in a company or organization whose work is relevant to your major). F-1 students are eligible for a 12 months of OPT throughout their Bachelor's degree studies. Many students save all 12 months to use after completing their studies. 

Should you go on to pursue a Master's degree, you would be allotted another 12 months of OPT, and an additional 12 months if you then continue for a Ph.D. However, the time cannot accumulate, meaning that you cannot save everything up and have 36 months to use after completing a Ph.D. program. The allotted time for each degree program must be used during or immediately following that specific program.

You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT, but you may not begin work until your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, you have received the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card, and the start date on the card has arrived.

Application Procedures for OPT:

The application procedure is fairly straightforward, and you should generally begin by making an appointment to meet with Jenny Medina in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives (call x2072). Bring the following documents with you:

  • Your passport
  • Your I-20 form (and any previous I-20s, if applicable)
  • Any previous EAD cards issued for OPT

We will provide the USCIS form required (I-765) and help you complete it. You will then submit the materials listed below to USCIS. You should assemble the documents with the check or money order and photos on top, then the I-765 form, followed by the rest of the documents. Do not staple the photos to any of the other documents, and do not staple the documents to one another. Use a paper clip to hold things together.

  • Check or money order for $380.00, payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (DO NOT ABBREVIATE) 
  • Original of Form I-765 (we will give this to you at your OPT appointment)
  • Copy of Form I-20, printed from SEVIS for employment purposes (we will do this for you when you come in to apply for OPT)
  • Photocopies of any/all previously issued I-20 forms
  • Photocopy of Form I-94, both sides or print out of I-94 card you retrieve online if you have entered the US after May 2013
  • Photocopies of ID and visa pages from passport
  • Two photos taken within the last 30 days. We will give you instrutions on the requirements for the photos when you come in to apply for OPT. Do not staple the photos or the application pages. USCIS will return your application if the photos do not meet their requirements.

If you have already done OPT, include copies of your previous EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card(s). If you are applying for a replacement or extension EAD card, include the folded insert in which you received the original card; it has a bar code that will facilitate the issuance of a new card.

Send your completed application by certified return-receipt mail, Priority Mail or Express mail from the US Postal Service to:

US Department of Homeland Security
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

Or, if sending by an express mail courier such as Fedex, DHL or UPS to:

US Department of Homeland Security
USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

You will receive a receipt from USCIS indicating that your application will be processed within 90 days. Actual processing times vary, and may range from four weeks to more than 90 days. The receipt notice will include a receipt number for your application; once you have the receipt, you may check the status of your application online by visiting the USCIS website, or by calling the national USCIS call center at 1-800-375-5283. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism by which you or we can expedite your application (regardless of how long ago you filed, or whether your expected start date is coming up). For information about general USCIS procedures, see the Vermont Service Center web page.

Once USCIS has approved your application the EAD card to be issued. The EAD will be sent directly to you at the address you list on the I-765 form  - usually our office.  The EAD card lists the dates for which you are approved to work, in the capacity for which you have applied (remember, the work you apply for and engage in must be related to your major. You may not begin work until you receive this card and the start date listed has come. Please make sure to check the dates on the EAD card when you receive it to make sure there are no mistakes.

Timing

Processing times vary greatly, but can take three or four months, so plan ahead. If you are applying for post-completion OPT (to work after graduation), you can apply for the OPT up to 45 days after your program end date, but no more than 90 days in advance.

Travel While Your Application is Pending and During Post-Completion OPT
If you are applying for pre-completion OPT (to work off-campus prior to Commencement), you may travel outside the US and re-enter while your application is pending without difficulty, provided that your usual travel documents are up to date.

If you are applying for post-completion OPT, you may travel prior to the end of classes while waiting for your EAD card, but we strongly recommend that you do not travel after classes have ended until you have your EAD card in hand. Regulations allow students to travel and return to the US to "resume employment". Therefore, to re-enter you will need your EAD card, your valid I-20 from Mount Holyoke, a valid F-1 visa, and a letter from your employer verifying that you are returning to the U.S. to start or resume your job. If you leave the US without your EAD card and the processing of your application is delayed, or USCIS requests additional information (which has sometimes happened), you may have to wait weeks or months to return to the US. In addition, there is some evidence that USCIS considers you to have abandoned your application if you leave the US before it has been approved.

Once you have been approved for OPT, you remain in F-1 visa status under Mount Holyoke's sponsorship. The signature on the bottom half of page three of the I-20 is valid for six months while you are on OPT, so be sure to send the form to us for an updated signature, as necessary, before you travel.

If your F-1 visa has or will have expired, please contact us if you want or need to leave the US as we can help advise you on the documents you will need to have with you to apply for a renewal of your F-1 visa. 

If you are completing a program at MHC and would like to travel before beginning OPT, and/or if your F-1 visa will have expired before your return, please discuss your plans with us when you come in to complete the OPT paperwork so that we can advise you about your particular circumstances.