Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows F-1 students to be authorized for off-campus employment, typically for one year. Students in valid F-1 status may apply for OPT to gain work experience that is directly related to your field of study.

Types of OPT

There are two kinds of initial OPT:

Pre-completion OPT: OPT prior to completing your degree at UCSC. You may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before your requested start date. In most cases, employment is limited to 20 hours/week during the academic term, but can be full time (40 hours/week) during vacation periods.

Post-completion OPT: The most common, you may apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your program completion date or as late as 60 days after your program completion date.

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Am I Eligible?

You are eligible to apply for OPT if you:

  • Are in valid F-1 status;
  • Have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year (3 quarters);
  • Have not already received 12 months of OPT at your current or a higher degree level;
  • Have not used a total of 12 months of full-time CPT at your current degree level.

You do not need a job offer to apply.

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How Long Can I Do OPT?

OPT can be approved for a maximum period of 12 months (pre- and post-completion OPT combined). For post-completion OPT, your OPT start date can be as early as the date after your program completion date or as late as 60 days after your program completion date. An extension of OPT authorization beyond the 12 months is possible for students whose degree's "CIP Code" appears on the STEM List.

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Processing Time

OPT applications take 3-4 months to be processed, with most applications taking up to 4 months. Students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, as you may not begin work until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and the EAD start date has passed.

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Maintaining Status on OPT

Students on pre-completion OPT must continue to follow all the rules for F-1 students still in their program (e.g. full-time enrollment).

For post-completion OPT applicants, students put their F-1 status in jeopardy if they are unemployed for a total of more than 90 days. Students on post-completion OPT are required to report their OPT information to ISSS. You must do so via the OPT Reporting Form. For more information on maintaining status, please visit the Maintaining Status page.

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How to Apply

  1. Complete an OPT Workshop within 9 months of applying for OPT.
  2. Complete ISSS's OPT Request Form (includes guidelines) and get the necessary signature from your advisor.
  3. Submit completed and signed form to an ISSS advisor.
  4. Complete all other documents and I-765 (see guidelines for completion).
  5. Pick up a new I-20 showing the OPT recommendation and proposed employment dates.* The ISSS advisor will email you once it is ready within 3-5 business days.
  6. Mail your complete OPT application to USCIS. You can see the list of required documents in the OPT Request Form.  
    • You must be in the US to apply for OPT and you must remain in the US until USCIS has received your application

*ISSS assesses an OPT maintenance fee of $100 upon issuance of I-20 with OPT recommendation. This fee is charged to your MyUCSC student account.

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OPT Extension

Students who have received a U.S. Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. See our web page about the OPT STEM Extension for more information.

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