UCI International Center

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Section 1

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).

Eligibility

  • 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/filing fee in your last quarter. If you will take online classes during your last quarter, please read about Online Course requirements before applying for OPT.
  • Pursuing a Bachelors, Masters, or Ph.D. degree
  • Employment must be related directly to the major area of study

OPT Information Workshop

Effective March 16, 2020: The International Center requests that you email a .pdf version of your application when you are in your window of time to apply. Please allow 3-5 extra business days for processing. You can email your application items to: internationalcenter@uci.edu along with eShipGlobal order number so your I-20 can be returned to you by mail. An advisor will contact you if changes are needed before you submit your entire application to USCIS. In addition, the International Center has postponed OPT Information Sessions until further notice. Please review the OPT Presentation for instructions.

The International Center will offer OPT Information Workshops to assist you with questions you have about the OPT application process. You will receive an overview of a complete OPT application and will review the most frequently asked questions about OPT.  You are encouraged to bring your OPT application materials to the workshop to review with International Center staff. Arrive on time at the beginning of the workshop you plan to attend. The workshop will begin as scheduled below and last for one hour.

OPT Information Workshop Schedule
Quarter

Time

Location
Fall 2019

Wednesdays: 9:30am
Thursdays: 1:30pm

No OPT Session will be offered on the following dates: November 27, December 25, and December 26.

UCI Student Center, SLL Conference Room, 3rd Floor, G303

Winter 2020

Wednesdays: 9:30am
Thursdays: 1:30pm

UCI Student Center, SLL Conference Room, 3rd Floor, G303

Spring 2020

Wednesdays: 9:30am
Thursdays: 1:30pm

UCI Student Center, SLL Conference Room, 3rd Floor, G303

Application Instructions

Step 1: Complete and Submit OPT I-20 Request Documents

Step 2: Pick-Up Your OPT I-20 at the International Center

  • Processing time is 7 business days (day one starts the day after you submit your completed OPT I-20 Request documents)
  • Come to the International Center on the 7th business day with a valid photo identification (example: UCI Student ID) to pick up your application.

Step 3: Prepare Your OPT Application for Mailing to USCIS:

  • Arrange your documents in the following order:
    • Two identical passport sized photos
    • Include your form of payment (check, money order, credit card) payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. See the fee schedule for I-765 filing here.
    • G-1145 (optional), for electronic acknowledgement from USCIS.
    • I-765 typed,printed, and signed in BLACK ink.
    • Photo copy of passport biographical page
    • Photo copy of most recent F-1 visa stamp
    • I-94 document
    • Photocopies of ALL previous I-20s; including those from previous schools
  • If applicable:
    • If you applied and were received an EAD card for OPT in the past, include a copy of the EAD card with your application.
    • If you have changed your status to F-1 inside of the U.S., include a copy of the I-797 Approval Notice and I-94 document.

Step 4: Mail Your OPT Application

  • USCIS must receive your OPT Application within 30 days of the issuance of your OPT I-20. 
Express Mail Delivery
(recommended)
Regular U.S. Mail

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  Attn: AOS
  1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
  Phoenix, AZ 85034

  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  PO Box 21281
  Phoenix, AZ 85036

Step 5: Wait for USCIS to Adjudicate Your Request

  • I-797C Receipt Notice:
    • USCIS will mail you an I-797 Receipt Notice within 2-4 weeks of receiving your application.
    • Your I-797 will have a case number, which can be used to track the progress of your application on the USCIS Website.  
  • I-797C Approval Notice/Employment Authorization Card (EAD):
    • If your OPT application is approved you will receive an I-797C Approval Notice/Employment Authorization Card (EAD).

Step 6: Reporting Requirements

  • You are responsible for reporting the following changes to the International Center by completing an OPT Employment Update form and emailing it to internationalcenter@uci.edu or updating the SEVP Portal within 10 days to update your SEVIS record:
    • local address
    • email address
    • new/change in employment status
    • change in employer information
    • loss of employment
  • When updating the International Center with an OPT Employment Update form, or on the SEVP portal, you must provide a detailed description of your practical training experience and how it directly relates to your degree. Below are examples about how to write this information, if you do not provide this information in a similar format, you may be asked to re‐submit this for SEVIS compliance purposes.
    • JOB DESCRIPTION EXAMPLES:
    1. "Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering: I work full time as an Electrical Engineer at ABC Corp., a government contractor. In my job, I analyze client requirements for electrical systems and provide them with cost estimates of such systems. My work requires understanding of electrical circuit theory, which I studied in‐depth at the University of ABC."
    2. "Master's degree in Kinesiology: I am working 25 hours a week in a health food store as a consultant for Self‐Made Inc., designing and teaching exercise classes that are incorporated into a customer's overall nutrition and exercise plan . My designs and customer instruction draw upon my studies and classwork in exercise therapy and physical reconditioning."
    3. "PhD in Computer Science: I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute. I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning, which I studied as part of my dissertation."

Understanding Unemployment Time

  • 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. If you are not employed/do not have a valid EAD card in your possession, the first day of unemployment will start on the date printed on your EAD card.
  • If you accumulate 90 days of combined 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 internsStandard 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.