Optional Practical Training
- What is CPT and OPT? (PowerPoint)
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 (not minor) 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. These twelve months can be divided as you wish (for example, three months in the summer, followed by nine months after graduation or to use all 12 months after graduation).
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. Once USCIS grants permission for your OPT application, that time is deducted from your twelve month OPT total, whether you engage in OPT or not. For Post Completion OPT, you can apply up to 90 days prior to your graduation (or date of completion for those who finish in December). If you have questions about the timing of your application, please see Jenny Medina in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives.
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-94 card (which is usually stapled inside 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) attached to the front of your application
- Original of Form I-765
- 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
- Photocopies of ID and visa pages from passport
- Two photos taken within the last 30 days. Note these requirements: Photos must have a white background, be unmounted, printed on thin paper, glossy, and unretouched. The photos should show a full frontal face position. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a scarf or headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photo should not be larger than 2 x 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 3/8 inches and with your head centered in the picture. (the US Post Office near the Village Commons can take photos that meet these requirements; other shops, like CVS, that take passport or "green card" pictures may also be able to do so). Lightly print your name and date of birth on the back of each photo with a pencil. Do not staple the photos or the application pages. USCIS will return your application if the photos do not meet these specifications.
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, mail confirmation 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
2501 S. State Hwy 121 Business
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, information will be transmitted to another USCIS office for 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 the McCulloch Center). 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 or minor). 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.
You may apply no more than 90 days prior to the date you expect to begin employment. 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 the 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, we recommend that you not travel outside the US, as it may be difficult to get a new visa. (The exception is for visits of 30 days or less to Canada, Mexico, or certain Caribbean islands, in which case you can re-enter the US with an expired visa provided that all of your other documents are in order.) Although you continue to be in F-1 status while you are here, visa officers may consider you to have completed your original plan of study upon graduation and, therefore, determine that you are not eligible for a new F-1 visa (remember that the "O" in "OPT" stands for "optional"), or they may feel that your employment in the US indicates immigrant intent and that you, therefore, are not eligible for an F-1 (non-immigrant) 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.
STEM Extensions of OPT: Students in STEM Fields are usually able to apply for a 17 month extension of their OPT as long as they are working in a STEM field during their first 12 months of OPT and are working for a company that is part of the E-Verify system. The application process for requesting the extension usually happens about 3 months before the first 12 months of OPT are ending. You should contact Jenny Medina to see if you are eligible and if eligible, to begin the application process. NOTE: Students enrolled in the Special majors of Mathematics and Economics and Statistics and Economics are not eligible for the STEM extension.