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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT (short for Optional Practical Training) is a type of employment opportunity which allows F-1 students to obtain work experience in areas related to their academic major. Total of 12 months of OPT available per education level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate). This is full time and may occur anywhere in the United States. In order to be on OPT you need to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). While on Optional Practical Training, individuals are still considered F-1 students at Lewis University, even though they may be working elsewhere in the United States.

OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)


 Pre-completion OPT

Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment in the student’s field of study to begin prior to the student’s program completion date.

Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT at each degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral). OPT work authorization can be used either before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) degree completion. Any time used prior to degree completion is subtracted from the 12-month total.  Students become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when moving to a higher degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s to Master’s, Master’s to Ph.D.).

Am I eligible for Pre-completion OPT?

  • Must have completed 1 academic year of full-time study before the intended OPT start date
  • Must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application and must maintain status during the OPT authorization period, including maintaining full-time enrollment when required
  • Must not have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the current degree level
  • Must have OPT time remaining at the current degree level

Additionally, students planning to apply for Pre-Completion OPT should note the following:

  • Students may only be authorized for part-time work (up to 20 hours/week) during the academic year (fall and spring semesters)
  • Students may be authorized for full-time work (more than 20 hours/week) during the summer and winter break
    • Graduate students who have been advanced to candidacy by The Graduate School may be authorized for full-time work any time prior to program completion
  • Employment during OPT must be directly related to the students’ major area of study
  • Students may not be authorized for Pre-Completion OPT beyond the program end date on the Form I-20

A job offer at the time of application is not required. However, any Pre-Completion OPT period approved by USCIS will count against the 12-month period of OPT allowed per educational level, regardless of whether the student ever secures an employment position.

Students rarely apply for Pre-completion OPT knowing any time used prior to degree completion is subtracted from the 12-month total for OPT. If you need clarifications or advise, please send an email to ISGSS@lewisu.edu

 Post-completion OPT

Post-completion OPT is Optional Practical Training you use AFTER finishing your program of study. Remember, OPT is employment that is directly related to your major field of study and is only for students in F-1 status.

Am I eligible for OPT?

  • You have a valid F1 visa.
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year.
  • You have not exceeded 12 months of full-time CPT.
  • You have not exceeded 24 months of Pre-completion OPT.
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • The employment must be directly related to your program of study and must be appropriate for someone having your level for education.

Types of Employment

  • Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all jobs must be related to your field.
  • Work for hire: Commonly referred to as 1099 or Independent Contractor Employment; keep evidence of the duration of contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner: You can start a business or be self-employed while on OPT. You should be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that it is related to your degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm is also allowed.
  • Unpaid Employment: You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws.
IMPORTANT! Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their application risk violating their visa status and could forfeit their OPT opportunity. DO NOT SUBMIT a request for post-completion OPT until you are absolutely sure of your graduation date.

OPT Application window and timings
90-60-90 rule: OPT application window opens 90 days before your program completion date. You can choose your OPT start date the day after your program completion date to 60 days after. You are required to find a job opportunity from your chosen OPT start date to 90 days after.


 OPT application process and requirements

IMPORTANT! Do not pay or submit your application to USCIS until you receive the OPT recommendation I-20 from the International Student and Global Scholar Services Office. This I-20 must be included in your application to USCIS.

You can choose to apply online (recommended) or apply through physical mail. If you choose to apply through physical mail, please inform us and send an email to ISGSS@lewisu.edu.

OPT Online
Application Guide (PDF)



OPT Application Process

OPT Online Application


STEP 1: The first step on the OPT application process is to have your OPT academic advisor recommendation form signed and endorsed by your academic advisor. Your academic advisor will then sign the form and inform our office. Please wait for a confirmation email from ISGSS that includes your signed OPT advisor form before proceeding with the next steps.

STEP 2: Before receiving the i20 for OPT from our office, you must submit the required documents to ISGSS@lewisu.edu in a PDF file first for review:

  1. OPT academic advisor recommendation form  
  2. Form i-765 (if you are applying online, send a snapshot of your application found on the last part of the online application)
  3. Copy(s) of your previous i20 with CPT or OPT authorization (only if you did CPT/OPT before)
  4. Copy of your passport & visa
  5. Copy of your most recent i-94
  6. Passport style photo (not older than 30 days)
  7. EAD Card (only if you have an EAD card before)

STEP 3: After receiving the I-20 with OPT recommendation from ISGSS:

  • An ISGSS DSO will email you attaching your I-20 with OPT recommendation.
  • You should then print, sign and scan the I-20 and upload it with your application to USCIS.
  • USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the time the I-20 was issued for OPT recommendation.

 After submitting my OPT application to USCIS

What do I need to do after submitting my OPT application?

  1. Wait for your OPT approval notice and EAD card. This may take 30-45 days.
  2. After receiving your EAD card, email ISGSS@lewisu.edu:
    1. Fill out the OPT employer form
    2. Submit a copy of your EAD card
    3. Submit a copy of your form I-797 “Notice of Action” For Employment Authorization
    4. Submit a copy of your OPT offer letter.
    5. Our office will issue an updated i20 with approved OPT and employer information in 5 business days for receiving your approval email.

Please remember that you are still an F-1 student even though you are doing OPT. If you do not report to our office within 90 days after your approved OPT start date, your status will be terminated.

If you cannot find a job within 90 days of the start of your OPT, then you must make plans to depart the US immediately or change to some other status in the US.


What happens if I submit and paid my OPT but failed to graduate on time?
If you find that you will not graduate on time, please contact our office (ISGSS@lewisu.edu) immediately. Please also take careful note of the program end date on your I-20 with the OPT Request. Any requested changes to an I-20 (including program extensions) must be made before the program end date. SEVIS Correction Requests are only approved if a student can show proof (email, etc.) that they asked a DSO for a program extension before the program end date.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Portal
This is an important tool that lets students on OPT and STEM OPT meet their legal reporting requirements. Students can use the SEVP portal to report these changes, or they can ask the school’s Designated School Official to report it for them. SEVP is not SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Students cannot access SEVIS. Only students with approved OPT or STEM OPT can create a SEVP portal. Once your OPT is approved, you will receive an email notice that includes a link to the SEVP portal registrations. If you have not received the portal link within 1-2 months after your approved OPT, please email ISGSS@lewisu.edu for a reset link.

What can I do after my 12-month OPT period?
If you are eligible for a STEM extension, email ISGSS@lewisu.edu. Your STEM extension application window opens 90 days before your OPT end date. To check whether you are eligible for the 24-month STEM extension, check your CIP code on your i20 if it matches on this website. Check the STEM OPT extension document on our ISGSS website for more details.

Traveling while on OPT
It is not recommended to travel while OPT is pending. You may travel outside of the US; however, there will be risks in re-entering the US without proper documentations. If your OPT is approved and you have a job offer, prepare the following before traveling and for re-entry:

  • Email ISGSS@lewisu.edu 2 weeks before your travel date
  • Bring your valid passport and visa
  • Bring your updated i20
  • Bring your EAD card and OPT job offer letter

 Changing employers while on OPT

You must report any update or change in employment to ISGSS@lewisu.edu within 10 days for the said change.

To submit a change of employment:

  1. Fill out the OPT employer form
  2. Submit a copy of your EAD card
  3. Submit a copy of your new offer letter
  4. Our office will issue an updated i20 with your new OPT employer information in 1-2 business days for receiving your approval email.

 OPT Application Timeline - Spring 2024

This timeline is intended for international students that are completing their degree on May 17, 2024 (Spring semester) and have applied for graduation. The 90-day application window opens February 17, 2024.

DATE
REMINDER
DESCRIPTION
Feb. 1, 2024 May 2024 graduation application deadline Contact registrar@lewisu.edu if you missed the deadline for more information.
Feb. 17, 2024 to July 16, 2024 OPT application window Starts 90 days before your degree completion date and ends 60 days after your graduation date.
May 18, 2024 to July 16, 2024 Allowed OPT start dates You can choose your OPT start date ranging from the day after your program completion date to up to 60 days after.

IMPORTANT! Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their application risk violating their visa status, could forfeit their OPT opportunity, and will not get a refund of the $410 fee. DO NOT SUBMIT a request for post-completion OPT until you are sure of your final grades and graduate date.

How to apply for OPT:

  1. The first step on the OPT application process is to have your OPT academic advisor recommendation form signed and endorsed by your academic advisor.
  2. Your academic advisor will then sign the form and inform our office. 
  3. Please wait for a confirmation email from ISGSS that includes your signed OPT advisor form before proceeding with the next steps.

You are encouraged to watch the OPT application process and the OPT online application guide (video and PDF guide) to better understand the process.

OPT Application Process
OPT Online Application Guide

Download OPT Online Application Guide



Complete Information can be found here.

For questions, email ISGSS@lewisu.edu.



OPT EXTENSION FOR STEM STUDENTS


 What is STEM OPT Extension?

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field. On May 10, 2016, this extension effectively replaced the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension.

Am I eligible for OPT Extension?

  • You have a valid F-1 student visa
  • You are currently in a valid period of OPT
  • Have earned a STEM degree (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral)
  • Working in a paid position for participating E-verified employer.
  • You can start applying 90 days before your current OPT end date found on your EAD card.
  • You many not apply for STEM OPT during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.

Unemployment
DHS allows STEM OPT students an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM OPT extension period. This is in addition to the 90-day maximum period of unemployment that students are allowed during the initial period of post-completion OPT. Students who obtain a 24-month STEM OPT extension are therefore allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment.
If a student completes one period of OPT (including a STEM OPT extension), and then pursues a second period of OPT on the basis of having earned a second degree at a higher educational level, the student will be able to benefit from the rule’s authorized 90-day and 150-day periods of unemployment (as appropriate) at both educational levels.
In other words, a student receives unemployment eligibility each time they participate in a period of post-completion practical training (including STEM OPT).


 STEM OPT application process and requirements

IMPORTANT! Do not submit or pay to USCIS until you receive the STEM OPT recommendation I-20 from the International Student and Global Scholar Services Office. This I-20 must be included in your application to USCIS. You can choose to apply online (recommended) or apply through physical mail.

Before receiving the I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation from our office, you must submit the required documents to ISGSS@lewisu.edu in a PDF file first for review:

Step 1: : Fill out the I-983 form with your employer

  • SEVIS School Code for Lewis is CHI214F11210000
  • CIP code can be found on your I-20 next to your "major" in the "program of study".
  • The start date for the STEM OPT extension should be the day after your current 12‐month OPT ends. The end date is 24 months after.
  • DSO Information: Angie Maffeo Rodriguez (arodriguez58@lewisu.edu /815-836-5549)

Step 2: Prepare the following documents and email in a clear PDF format to ISGSS@lewisu.edu

  1. Form I-983 (Click here to review the guide in filling out i983)
  2. STEM OPT Student Information Sheet
  3. OPT Employer form
  4. Form I-765(if you are applying online, please send a snapshot of your application found on the last part of the online application)
  5. Please note of the filing fee: $410 (subject to change)
  6. Copy(s) of your previous i20 with CPT or OPT authorization (only if you did CPT/OPT before)
  7. Copy of your passport & visa
  8. Copy of your most recent i-94
  9. 2 passport style photos (not older than 30 days)
  10. EAD card copy
  11. Transcript: if you need a copy, please order through: https://www.parchment.com/u/registration/33255/institution.

If you choose to file through physical mail, please inform us and send an email to ISGSS@lewisu.edu


 After submitting my STEM OPT application to USCIS

What do I need to do after submitted my STEM OPT application?

  1. Wait for your STEM OPT approval notice and EAD card. This may take 30-45 days.
  2. After receiving your EAD card, email ISGSS@lewisu.edu:
    1. Send us the filled-out STEM OPT Student Information Sheet with reporting dates included that our DSO sent you when you were applying for STEM OPT.
    2. Submit your filled out STEM OPT employer form
    3. Submit a copy of your EAD card
    4. Submit a copy of your current STEM OPT offer letter
  3. Our office will issue an updated i20 with approved OPT and employer information in 1-2 business days after receiving your approval email.

Deadlines for Validation Reports and Self-Evaluations:
DSOs must validate a student’s employment data three times during the STEM OPT extension. Validation reporting is done in SEVIS. Paper documentation is NOT mailed to SEVP but must be submitted to the DSO. Timelines are below. Please refer to your STEM OPT Information Sheet for your particular reporting deadlines:

Activity
Timeline
Validation Reports due (received via email from SEVP)


  • 6 months after start of STEM OPT Extension
  • 12 months after start of STEM OPT Extension
  • 18 months after start of STEM OPT Extension
  • 24 months after the start of STEM OPT Extension

For each reporting period listed above

Self-evaluations due or I-983


  • 12 months after STEM OPT start date (midway)
  • 24 months after STEM OPT start date (final)
  • At conclusion of training opportunity (final; usually at 24 months, but possible any time during the period of authorized employment)

Traveling while on STEM OPT
It is not recommended to travel while STEM OPT is pending. You may travel outside of the US; however, there will be risks in re-entering the US without proper documentations. If your OPT is approved and you have a job offer, prepare the following before traveling and for re-entry:

  • Email ISGSS@lewisu.edu 2 weeks before your travel date
  • Bring your valid passport and visa
  • Bring your updated I-20
  • Bring your EAD card and OPT job offer letter

 Changing employers while on STEM OPT

Students on OPT STEM are allowed to change employers but every employer you work for while on OPT STEM must be enrolled in E-Verify and the position must meet all STEM requirements. When you depart from a company while on OPT STEM, you are required to submit the Final Evaluation on Student Progress (last page of the I-983) to our office. When you start employment with a new employer, you must submit a new Form I-983 to our office (isgss@lewisu.edu) for the new employer.

These must be submitted or reported to ISGSS@lewisu.edu within 10 days of the said change:

  1. Final evaluation (last page of i983) from previous employer
  2. New i983 for new employer
  3. OPT employer form
  4. STEM OPT Student Information Sheet
  5. Approved EAD card copy for STEM


OPT employment VS. STEM OPT employment


 Employment Permitted under Post-Completion OPT

Allows for unpaid and paid positions
All jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more
Employer does not have to be registered with E-Verify
Must be a position related to the major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20.
Allows for employment with a temp agency, contract employment, short-term employment, and gigging
External fellowship payments permitted in an academic environment
You must report any employment changes to ISGSS@LEWISU.EDU within 10 days of the change
Allows maximum of 90 days of unemployment over the 12 months of OPT
Allows for self-employment
May volunteer or work in an unpaid position

The International student and Global Scholar Services Office at Lewis University does its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that USCIS may change its interpretation of these policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. Our office is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.


 Employment Permitted under STEM OPT

Must be a paid position
Each position must be for 20 hours per week or more
Each employer must be registered with E-Verify
Must be a position related to the STEM program major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20. You are responsible for drawing a connection between your position and the skills or knowledge learned in your STEM degree. If you applied for STEM OPT based on a previously earned degree, the employment on STEM OPT must be related to that degree’s major field of study.
You must be paid a salary, and be supervised, directly by your employer. You cannot be paid by a third party or staffing agency, or work at a location other than your employer’s place of business. For more information, please see “The Employer’s Training Obligation: Staffing and Temporary Agencies” on the USCIS Website.
In an academic environment, you cannot be paid through an external fellowship. For example, you cannot use STEM for a postdoctoral position where you are not paid directly by the host institution.
You must not begin work for any new employer without first submitting to ISGSS@LEWISU.EDU a new, completed I-983 Training Plan for that employer
Allows a maximum of 150 days of unemployment over the combined periods of OPT and STEM OPT
Does not allow for self-employment
Cannot volunteer or work in an unpaid position

The International student and Global Scholar Services Office at Lewis University does its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that USCIS may change its interpretation of these policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. Our office is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.



OPT CANCELLATION / WITHDRAWAL


 Reasons to cancel or withdraw OPT

  • Unable to graduate on time
  • Do not want to do OPT
  • Change your post-graduation plans

CANCEL: Before sending your application to USCIS

  • Send an email to ISGSS@lewisu.edu to request that your OPT application be cancelled.
  • Inform our office if you have or have not submitted an OPT application to USCIS.

WITHDRAW: After you send your application to USCIS

Step 1: You must create your own letter to USCIS to request the withdrawal of your OPT application. Include your full name, SEVIS ID number, and USCIS receipt number. You must sign and date the letter. Make a copy of your USCIS I-797C receipt notice.

OPT Cancellation or Withdrawal Sample Letter


Step 2: Email ISGSS@lewisu.edu your letter and I797C copy for review.

Step 3: After your documents are reviewed by ISGSS, you should mail the letter and USCIS I-797C receipt notice copy to the USCIS address on your USCIS I-797C receipt notice. Include your USCIS case status number on the outside of the envelope.

  • In this case, contact the service center mentioned on your I-797 receipt notice. You can put your request for withdrawal directly to the service center. The important things to be mentioned in the letter needed for applying for withdrawal:
    • Your name, date of birth, SEVIS ID number
    • Application receipt number (A duplicate of the receipt is likewise useful).
    • A letter expressing explicitly mentioning your request to withdraw the I-765 application for post-completion OPT. You should put your reasons down for further clarification. In the letter you would need to explain that you misfiled without first getting an OPT recommendation from your Designated School Official (DSO) and request that the application be withdrawn.
    • Express “I-765 Withdrawal” at the top and sign the letter.
    • Send these archives to the Service Center recorded on your I-797 Receipt Notice.
  • Remember, once the withdrawal request goes through, there is no turning back. You can still reapply for a new EAD, under the premise that you are still eligible.
  • Once you receive the official withdrawal notice, you can refile - this time correctly with the OPT I20.

Note: If your EAD card is approved before USCIS processes the withdrawal request, you have lost your opportunity to re-apply for OPT at a later time at the same degree level.



Forms



Disclaimer Statement

Lewis University’s International Student & Global Scholar Services (ISGSS) Office offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and OPT STEM processes as a courtesy to our students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. However, any advice provided to you by our office does not constitute legal advice. You should always independently check all deadlines, and all OPT and STEM OPT application documents for accuracy before mailing them or submitting them online to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The OPT and STEM OPT application is a personal application for which you are responsible. The application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts at issue in your particular case.  While ISGSS exercises best efforts to provide you with the most current guidance, please be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time.  ISGSS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT and STEM OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS.  For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.

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