How to Apply for OPT
The OPT application
- Cannot be received by USCIS more than 90 days prior to the academic completion date (I-20 program end date)
- Must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date ISP issued the OPT I-20
- Must be received by USCIS within 60 days after your academic completion date
USCIS systems operate on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and application deadlines are based on UTC standards.
An application will be rejected if it does not meet these filing requirements.
ISP will shorten or extend your I-20 program end date to match your academic Program Completion Date.
- PhD: The defense date or as late as the end of the academic term in which you defend.
- Master's: The end of the academic term in which you last enrolled.
- Bachelor's: The end of the academic term in which you last enrolled.
The OPT Start Date is the date you want your 12-month period of post-completion work authorization to begin.
- Must be after your I-20 Program Completion Date but no more than 60 days after your Program Completion Date
- Cannot be changed after the OPT application has been submitted to USCIS
- USCIS may take 1 - 3 months to process an OPT application (sometimes more)
- No employment permitted during the gap between your I-20 Program Completion Date and OPT Start Date. This includes being paid by Caltech.
Email ISP and provide the following information:
- Program Completion Date
- OPT Start Date
- Non-Caltech Email Address
- Job Information (Optional): A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, if you do have a job offer, include the following in your email to ISP:
- Employer Name
- Job Site Address
- Job Start Date
- Job Description: Two sentences to describe how the job will be directly related to your major field of study
- ISP will send you the PDF I-20 for OPT
- You must print, sign, and date the OPT I-20 before uploading to your USCIS online account for your OPT application
Click Here to Create or Access Your USCIS Account
The USCIS online application allows OPT applicants to submit forms, documents, photos, and fee electronically, and to check case status, receive notices, and respond to requests for further evidence.
Remember Your Important Application Timeline
USCIS must receive your submitted online OPT application:
- not more than 90 days before your academic completion date
- within 60 days of your academic program completion date
- within 30-days of the date ISP issued the OPT I-20
Have the following documents scanned and ready for electronic upload
- I-20 issued for OPT (You must have printed, signed, and scanned the I-20 for upload)
- I-94 showing date of most recent U.S. entry
- Passport Photo, specifications explained hereI-20 issued for OPT
- Previous EAD, if applicable. EAD is the Employment Authorization Document issued for approved OPT.
- Post-Completion OPT filing code = c 3 B (VERY IMPORTANT)
- Reason for Applying is "Initial permission to accept employment"
- Previously Authorized CPT or OPT? You will be prompted to upload evidence of any previously authorized CPT or OPT. If you did NOT participate in previous CPT or OPT, you do NOT need to upload anything in this section. A warning will appear that says "you should provide evidence," but if this does not apply to you, proceed and click "Next".
- Additional Information: This section is to be used to list any additional details, if applicable. This may include previous SEVIS Numbers from any I-20 or DS-2019 you received prior to the current one, and for CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and previous OPT. There are no specific instructions on how to complete this section.
Selecting Your Mailing Address
- You can use the ISP Mailing Address to help prevent lost documents (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED). ISP will email you upon receipt of documents and can FedEx the EAD to you.
1200 E California Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91125
- Enter your current U.S. residential address in the U.S. physical address section.
- USCIS will NOT forward mail. This is one reason why we recommend using the ISP Mailing Address. If you choose not to use the ISP Mailing Address, be very sure you enter a reliable U.S. Mailing Address that can receive mail up to 5 months into the future.
- After you submit your OPT application, do NOT update your U.S. address in SEVIS or with USPS until after the EAD is in your hands. You must still notify ISP within 10 days of any move so that we can record it, but a change of address in SEVIS or with USPS could cause delays or non-delivery of your EAD.
Receipt of Application
- Upon submission of your online OPT application online, you will receive an immediate USCIS receipt number confirming your application has been received and is pending. Check your account a few days later to retrieve the PDF Receipt Notice and CAREFULLY REVIEW the Mailing Address for accuracy. Contact ISP if you have any questions or concerns.
Yes! Travel outside of the United States while an EAD is pending is possible. Be prepared to present the following documents when re-entering the United States to continue in F-1 status:
- I-20 signed for travel by ISP within the last 6 months
- Valid Passport
- Valid F-1 Visa (Canadian citizens are exempt from this requirement)
- OPT Receipt Notice
- Employment Letter / Letter of Request for Interview: There are no guidelines for this letter other than it should be on business letterhead. Although Immigration officials have been instructed to request a letter of employment, feedback from students suggests that it is not frequently requested. ISP recommends you travel with a letter to meet the requirement, if requested.
When you are on the approved OPT period, you are permitted a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. If you are nearing 90 days of unemployment, contact ISP to discuss what options are available to you.
While on OPT/STEM, you are in F-1 status. OPT is not a "status;" it is work authorization granted to you as a benefit of F-1 status. If you plan to travel outside the United States, be sure to check your F-1 visa expiration date. If your F-1 visa has expired, plan to visit a U.S. consulate abroad to apply for a new F-1 visa. For more information about what documents are required for the visa application, review the U.S. Consulate website for the location in which you plan to apply. If you have applied for H-1B, consult the employer who sponsored your H-1B, before departing the United States.