Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least  three consecutive quarters and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study. OPT allows F-1 student to work legally for a period of up to one year, full time. OPT is recommended by an advisor at the International Center, but final approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).


  • Valid F-1 status
  • Enrollment in at least three consecutive quarters
    • NOTE: If summer is your last quarter you must be enrolled in at least six units, which is considered full-time or be approved to go part-time in your last quarter. Also, only two units of total enrolled units can be completed online, all other course work must be completed in the classroom.
  • Pursuing a Bachelors, Masters, or Ph.D. degree
  • Employment must be related directly to your major/field of study

Application Instructions

  1. Complete mandatory OPT Online Tutorial; Print email confirmation to be included in application
  2. Complete Pre/Post Completion OPT Checklist (all copies must be included)
  3. Complete OPT Graduation Confirmation with assistance from your academic department
  4. Submit Application to UCI International Center
    • Submit the application to the International Center during an Employment Hand-In Session (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9am to 11am)
    • Call 949.824.7249 to make an appointment if you cannot make the sessions listed above.

Pick-Up Your OPT Application for Mailing to USCIS

Processing time is seven business days (day one starts the day after you submit your complete application). Only if your application is ready early will the International Center email you. Otherwise it is your responsibility to keep track of when the seventh business day is to pick up your finished application. You can pick up your I-20 in these ways:

  1. Come to the International Center on the seventh business day and present a valid photo ID (e.g. UCI Student ID)
  2. Make arrangements with an advisor to have your new I-20 mailed to you. Pay for mailing through eShip Global (you will need to create an account first) and notify the advisor you are working with once you've paid.
  3. Friend pick-up with authorization form and their photo ID

Mail your application to USCIS (instructions will be provided when you pick up your OPT application from the IC) within 30 days from the date your I-20 was issued.

Include a check or money order to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Please see the fee schedule here.

Maintaining Status While on OPT

Important Immigration Update:

Students engaging in Optional Practical Training and STEM Optional Practical Training

October 13, 2018 SEVIS Notice

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will upgrade its information system and as part of the release it will change how SEVIS calculates the days of unemployment for a student while on post-completion OPT and OPT STEM.  These unemployment dates will count for students on post-completion OPT and those on OPT STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). After October 26, 2018, SEVIS will check the record daily and count every day that there is a gap in employment.

Please be reminded to update the employer update form, listed below or go directly into the SEVIS portal to report your employer information.


  • You can start working once you receive your Employment Authorization Card (EAD card) and only on the date printed as the “start date”.
  • Working before your EAD card is in your possession and before it’s approved, is not permitted.
  • 90 days of unemployment will invalidate your OPT and F-1 status. The first day of unemployment will start on the date printed on your EAD card if you are not employed/do not have a valid EAD card in your possession. Should you accumulate 90 days of aggregate unemployment, you have the following options:
    • Leave the U.S.
    • Transfer your SEVIS record to another SEVIS approved school. These events must occur prior to accumulating 90 days of aggregate unemployment.

Types of Employment Eligible for OPT

  • Regular paid employment
    • For post-completion OPT, the work must be at least 20 hours per week.
    • You may work for multiple employers, as long as the position is directly related to your major/field of study.
  • Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. You may work for multiple short term employers. You should maintain record of the dates and duration of the job as well as proof of payment (e.g. payment stubs).
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. While on OPT you may start a business and be self-employed. You should be able to prove you have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
  • Employment through an agency. While on post-completion OPT you must be able to provide evidence showing you worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns: Standard OPT. SEVP OPT Policy Guidance states that, Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week and related to program of study. You should be able to provide evidence, acquired from your employer, to verify that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Employment and Reporting Requirements

Once your OPT has been approved by USCIS, you will receive your EAD card. You are responsible for reporting the following changes to the International Center within 10 days: local address change, change in employment status, and employer information. These changes are directly reported to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Please complete the form below and email it to internationalcenter@uci.edu.

OPT Employment Update

Taking Classes While On OPT

Full-time study while in OPT is not permitted; however part-time classes for incidental purposes only may be allowed. Authorization to take classes while on OPT is contingent upon maintaining your F1 status.

Cap-Gap Extension

Current regulations allow certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in F-1 status during the period of time when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization would otherwise expire through the start date of their approved H-1B employment period. This is referred to as filling the “cap-gap,” meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the “gap” between the end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B status that might otherwise occur if F-1 status is not extended for qualifying students.

Petitions that have been filed and receipted: 

If your H-1B petition has been filed by your employer and receipted by USCIS, you are eligible for an automatic cap-gap extension I-20 through September 30th. Please email copies of the following items to internationalcenter@uci.edu to start your request for cap-gap extension:

  • Student Visa Document Request form-- Select: Cap-Gap Extension
  • Your Name and Contact Information (address, phone, email)
  • Copy of EAD Card 
  • Copy of I-797 receipt notice or approval Notice

Petitions that have been filed and NOT receipted:

If your H-1B petition has been filed by your employer but not receipted and your OPT expires before June 1 you are eligible for a preliminary cap-gap extension until June 1st. Please email copies of the following items to internationalcenter@uci.edu to start your request for cap-gap extension. Once your petition is receipted, request an automatic cap-gap extension I-20 by following the steps above. 

  • Student Visa Document Request form-- Select: Cap-Gap Extension
  • Copy of EAD Card 
  • Letter from employer stating timely filing of H-1B application
  • Proof of mailing, i.e. copy of mailing label

These items will be reviewed by a student advisor and a new I-20 will be issued to you if you are eligible. Visit USCIS for more information about USCIS Cap-Gap Extension.

Travel During OPT

Traveling during OPT will require you to have a valid EAD card, an I-20 with a travel signature signed by a DSO from UCI within the last six months, and proof that you are returning after your travel outside of the U.S. to resume employment. For more information about travel risks during OPT, please click here.


Travel Signature

Request Process


Tuesday, Wednesday,Thursday
9 - 11 a.m.
International Center

Coffee Hour

Every Friday 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Center for Excellence in Writing & 
Communication (Ayala Science Library 193)


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