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Optional Practical Training

OPT is a type of employment authorization for F-1 students. It is an opportunity to pursue a 12-month period of work experience in your major field of study. The authorization can be used for a paid position located on- or off-campus both before (Pre-Completion OPT) or after completion of course requirements for the degree excluding thesis or equivalent or completion of the program of study (Post-Completion OPT). Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one academic year (or 2 consecutive semesters at CSUSM).


The training must be directly related to the major field of study.

The authorization for post-completion OPT must begin within 60 days of completing the program of study. For example, if your program completion date is June 30, you must select a start date between July 1 - August 30. NOTE: The authorization start date will be the requested start date or the date of approval, whichever is later.  It is requested that you apply 2-3 months prior to the end of your program. 

Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and processing can take up to 3 months. Therefore it is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working. You may apply up to 90 days before completion of studies and NO LATER THAN 60 days after.

The authorization for post-completion OPT must be completed within a 14-month period following the completion of study. The requested end date cannot be more than 12 months after the requested start date. For example, if your program completion is June 30, your OPT will end no later than August 30 of the following year.

An additional 12 months of practical training is available when changing to a new degree program at a higher educational level.

Student can apply for a maximum of 12 months of OPT. Any pre-completion OPT prior to program completion deducts from the maximum total of 12 months allowed for OPT.

A job offer is not required to apply for post-completion OPT. However, if applying for pre-completion OPT, it is recommended that students have a job offer letter.

Application Process

*On 4/12/2021, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) can now file their form I-765 online if filling under the pre-completion, post-completion and the STEM extension categories. For the full news release, please visit the USCIS website.

Because it takes at least 90 days for the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve your application, you are strongly encouraged to apply early.

NOTE: Applications may be submitted to USCIS no more than 90 days before the program completion date and applications must be received by USCIS no more than 60 days after the program end date. Applications received more than 90 days before or 60 days after program completion date will be denied by USCIS. In addition, applications must be received by USCIS no more than 30 days from when the OPT I-20 was issued and signed by a Global Education International Student Advisor.

STEP #1: Attend an OPT Workshop (Global Education and the Career Center will hold one workshop per semester.  Watch email for when they will occur)

STEP #2: Gather all documents for OPT application package as outlined in the handouts given at the OPT Workshop.

*Update 9/8/2020:    Form I-765 Version Update
USCIS has released a new version of Form I-765. Any application postmarked on or after August 25 will be required to have this new edition dated 08/25/2020. To locate the form, visit the USCIS website, refer to the edition date on the lower left hand corner of the form. Currently, the 08/25/2020 edition can be found under this heading: “Preview Form I-765, 08/25/20 edition” on USCIS's page. 
You can continue to use the Form I-765 Guide. Please note that the guidance provided within this application guide is an interpretation of the instructions published within the USCIS Instructions for Form I-765. As this guide is a supplement we have created to answer any questions that may arise while completing the Form I-765, we urge all students to also review the guidance provided by USCIS.

STEP #3: Make an appointment with your international advisor – at this time you will submit all OPT documents. The appointment will last approximately 30 minutes.

STEP #4: As of April 26, 2021, Global Education will only include instructions for filing the online Form I-765

STEP #5: DO NOT begin employment until you receive the EAD card with a valid employment period. It is not possible to work without pay and then receive pay retroactively when the EAD is received. NOTE: Currently, it takes at least 60-90 days to approve OPT requests. When OPT is approved, you will receive an I-797 Approval Notice with EAD card.

Pending OPT Approval

I-797 Receipt Notice

USCIS will send a receipt (Form I-797) within 30 business days confirming they received your application. Your receipt will have a case number.

Keep the original receipt in a safe place. This is the only way you can track your application at the USCIS Service Centers. You can check the status of your application at  (Go to the Customer Tools menu of the website, select “Check Case Status”, and enter your case number.)

REMEMBER: You cannot work until you have the EAD card. If your program completion date has passed, you will also need a valid EAD card to continue on-campus or summer employment at CSUSM. Please plan accordingly.

Processing Delays at USCIS

In some cases, USCIS may request additional documentation from you by sending a Request for Evidence (blue letter). If you receive a request for additional documentation, please contact Global Education immediately so we can assist you. In addition, USCIS takes approximately 60-90 days to approve EAD requests. If you do not receive your EAD card within 90 days of USCIS receiving your application (noted on the I-797 Receipt Notice), please contact Global Education so we can follow up with USCIS.

Travel Outside of the USA and Reentry

Please travel with caution when your EAD application is pending. The documents required for reentry will be determined by whether you plan to return to the USA before or after your program completion date.  If you plan to travel, please see an international advisor in the Office of Global Education.

Leaving the USA after program completion date and having a pending EAD application is NOT advisable because you may encounter problems when reentering the USA. In addition, students with expired visas may find it very difficult to renew their F-1 visa for practical training purposes. Students, especially those who have completed their program of study, with pending EAD applications are advised to think carefully before leaving the USA. 

OPT Approval

Receiving Your EAD Card

When you receive your EAD card, your employer will request a copy for their records to verify your eligibility to work in the USA. In addition, please submit a copy of your EAD card to
Global Education by submitting an Employment Reporting form.

Travel Outside the USA and Reentry

Students on OPT are still in F-1 student status. To reenter the USA, you must have:

  • Current passport that is valid up to six months after reentry date
  • Current F-1 visa
  • Current I-20 with valid travel signature on page 3
    NOTE: For post-completion OPT, travel signatures are valid for only six months—unlike one year validity for continuing students.
  • Original EAD card
  • Original job offer letter or verification of employment from employer

 In addition, students with expired visas may find it extremely difficult to renew their F-1 visa for practical training purposes. Students on OPT are advised to plan carefully before leaving the USA.

60-Day Grace Period

After completing your OPT period, you have a 60-day grace period to remain in the USA and:

  • Prepare to depart the USA
  • Change your I-94 status
    NOTE: Notify Global Education by providing a copy of your I-797 Receipt Notice.
  • Transfer to another school in the USA
    NOTE: Notify Global Education and request a transfer of your SEVIS record to the new school.

During your 60-day grace period, you can remain in the USA, but you cannot work in the USA unless you obtain additional employment authorization under another I-94 status. Once you depart the USA, your grace period ends—even if you had time remaining. To reenter the USA, you must have a valid visa and corresponding I-94 status that corresponds with your primary purpose in the country.

Enrolling in Classes

Students on post-completion OPT are not allowed to pursue a full course of study with a degree or certificate objective. Gaining admission to another school in the USA or enrolling full-time will end the OPT period because your SEVIS record will be transferred to the new school. However, students can enroll in classes that are incidental (i.e. one or two classes) as long as their primary purpose in the USA continues to be full-time employment.