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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT allows eligible F-1 students to engage in employment (both on-campus and off-campus) directly related to their major area of study for up to 12 months per educational level.

Most students use their 12 months of OPT upon degree completion [post-completion OPT]. OPT is granted by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Students who intend to engage in post-completion OPT are encouraged to start the paperwork 3 months prior to the completion of all degree requirements.

OPT can be authorized at the following times:

  • During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when the school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible, and intends, to register for the next term or session;
  • While school is in session, provided that it does not exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session;
  • After the completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent, if the student is in a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree program;
  • After completion of the course of study.

Information Reference for OPT

PRECONDITIONS: Students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Available both before and after completion of the educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post-completion OPT.

LOCATION: Students may engage in OPT for the duration of OPT authorization, as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards and F-1 status is maintained.

DURATION: Cumulative maximum of 12 months during any uninterrupted stay in F-1 status. Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12 month limit at 50%

HOURS PER WEEK: Limited to 20 hours per week for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and student still has coursework to complete. Over 20 hours/per week can be requested for pre- completion OPT done during official school breaks or after student has completed all coursework required for the degree while the student is completing a thesis or dissertation. For post completion OPT, only full-time OPT can be requested.

Must be directly related to and commensurate with the level of the student’s course of study.

OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT: (not required, but the student is expected to work or be actively seeking employment after the OPT/EAD is issued)

EFFECT ON OTHER WORK: Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT

APPROVAL PROCESS: Must apply for and receive EAD from USCIS with assistance of the DSO before work begins. EAD application must be properly filed with USCIS before the end of the student’s 60 day F-1 grace period (which begins as soon as they complete their degree requirements). Student must begin application procedures sufficiently in advance to allow the DSO to update SEVIS record with the recommendation, and to ensure that the Form I-765 be  accepted by USCIS before the deadline.

MISCELLANEOUS: If doing pre-completion OPT, the student must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks). Degree candidates that have completed all coursework must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.

For students in certain major areas of study there is an opportunity to extend OPT for an additional 17 months near the end of the approved 12 month period one time. For information regarding this 17 month extension please see OPT 17-month extension below.

How to Apply For OPT

In order to apply for OPT, you should meet with the authorized DSO 3 – 4 MONTHS IN ADVANCE OF THE DEGREE PROGRAM COMPLETION DATE to allow the SEVIS record to be updated and for the Form I-765 to be received by USCIS in a timely manner. After your I-20 has been issued, please bring the following materials to the scheduled meeting with your school’s DSO:

  • Two U.S. passport-style photographs. DO NOT CUT THE PHOTOS DOWN. Lightly print your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo in pencil.
  • Most recently issued TCNJ I-20
  • Photocopy of I-94 card (both sides)
  • Photocopies of your passport identification pages, and visa.
  • Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) completed, marked with the code “( c ) ( 3 ) (B)” at Item 16
  • $380 Filling Fee in the form of a check or money order. Make it payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you are using a personal check, it must have your name and address on it.
  • Copy of all previous CPT I-20s at current level (if applicable)
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document (if applicable)
  • Copy of your job offer letter, if you have one (this is not required)
  • Copy of your degree (only required for OPT 17 month extension applications)

Initial 12 Month OPT Applications: We recommend that you use the TCNJ address on Form I-765 and subsequently mail your application to the USCIS Service Center within jurisdiction over your place of residence. If you chose to use a home address and if that address in another state, you must mail the application to the USCIS Service Center for that state. To determine which service center you must mail your application to when not using the OISS address, please see page 11 of the I-765 instructions.


17 Month OPT Extension Applications: When filing OPT extension applications you should write in your home address on Form I-765 and mail your application to one of four different USCIS Service Centers, depending on the state where you are living. To determine which Service Center you must mail your application to, please click here and find the link on the USCIS website.


What happens after USCIS receives your OPT application?
TCNJ will receive a receipt notice from USCIS after your application has been filed and will contact you to request that you pick it up at our front desk. You can check the status of your application with the receipt notice number by going to the USCIS Case Status web page at: USCIS Case Status Web Page.*

  1. Up to 90 days after applying, TCNJ will receive your OPT card and will contact you to request that you pick it up at our front desk. Please note that you are not authorized to work until you have the card in hand and the effective start date on the card has arrived.
  2. You must notify TCNJ when you begin employment, any time you change employers, and when you lose a position.**

Contact your TCNJ DSO if you have a job offer and need to expedite your pending OPT application in order to begin work.
For information regarding travel and OPT, see the OPT Travel Regulations below.
*For OPT extension applications you should use your home address but you must be careful to notify USCIS when you move. Government documents, such as your receipt notice and OPT card will not be forwarded to a new address but rather returned to USCIS.
**The new regulations that went into effect on 4/8/08 specify the amount of time a student may remain in the US unemployed during the 12 and 29 months of OPT.

OPT Travel Regulations

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending:
You may travel outside the U.S. and reenter the U.S. while your OPT application is pending in order to resume searching for a job. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:
• A valid passport
• A valid F-1 visa and TCNJ OPT I-20 signed for travel within last six months
• I-797 receipt notice (OPT receipt)
If You Have Graduated and Your OPT Has Been Approved:
You may travel outside the U.S. only if you have a job offer or you are returning to a job. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:
• A Valid passport
• A Valid F-1 visa
•TCNJ OPT I-20 signed for travel within the last six months
• EAD card
• Letter from your employer stating that you need to return to the U.S. to resume working

If you have NOT graduated:
You may travel outside the U.S. and reenter the U.S. because you are still a student. In order to reenter the U.S., you will need:
• A Valid passport
• A Valid F-1 visa
• I-20 signed for travel within the last six months
• Letter from your department stating that you have not yet graduated

OPT 17-Month Extension

On April 8th, 2008 new regulations pertaining to Optional Practical Training were instituted by the US Department of Homeland Security. These new regulations allow students to extend their OPT for an additional 17 months near the end of the initial 12 month OPT period. However, only students in certain major areas of study (Broadly in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) specified in the regulations are eligible for this extension. Please see the Department of Homeland Security press release for more information.

Additional Eligibility Requirements:

  • Student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study
  • Student must have a job with an employer registered in the E-verify employment verification system.
  • The student must not have previously received a 17-month OPT extension.
  • Your TCNJ F-1 Advisor must recommend the 17-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying your eligibility.
  • Student must file for the 17-month extension and must pay the application fee again.
  • The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student within a specified period of time

Application Process:

The extension application materials are similar to the initial OPT application materials. With extension applications however, eligible students must also include:

  • A copy of the degree
  • Employer name as listed in E-Verify and the employer E-Verify company identification number (entered on the I-765 application form)*

Please note: Unfortunately, not all employers are registered in E-Verify and due to complicated issues some may not be willing or able to register in this government system. You will have to work through these issues with a current or potential employer.

There are two important facts to keep in mind regarding the timing of your application and your employment authorization:

  • OPT extensions applications must be filed before the current EAD expires.
  • Students who file 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The receipt notice from USCIS will serve as work authorization until the new work authorization card is approved (if the current card expires while the student is waiting for the new card).

H-1B cap-gap Extension of D/S and Work Authorization until October 1:

The new rules allow F-1 students to remain in the US while waiting for the approval of a pending H-1B petition (for students who are not eligible for the OPT extensions). This rule addresses a problem referred to as the H-1B cap-gap. Students should consult with a legal representative to determine whether or not this new rule applies in their particular case.

Duration of Employment Authorization:

The employment authorization period for the 17-month OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 17 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.

For All Applicants

All students on OPT are required to report the following changes to TCNJ under the new regulations:

  • Address
  • Legal name
  • Employer name and address

In addition, students who have been granted 17 month OPT extensions must contact their DSO:

  • When your employment ends
  • Every six months to confirm no changes have occurred

Limited Periods of Unemployment to Maintain Status:

The new rules specifies the amount of time a student may remain in the US unemployed during the 12 and 29 months of OPT. It is unclear how this will be monitored however and TCNJ is waiting for guidance from the DHS. For post-completion OPT, the regulations establish a limit on the number of days students  can be unemployed and still maintain F-1 status. This limit is 90 days.

How many hours does a student need to work during post-completion OPT to be considered employed?
A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule in a given month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week.

Exceeding the period of unemployment:
To avoid violating F-1 status, prior to reaching the limit on authorized unemployment, a student must take one of the following actions:

  • Apply to continue his or her education by a change of level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school
  • Depart the United States
  • Take action to otherwise maintain legal status

If one of those actions is not taken, a student who has exceeded the period of unemployment while on post-completion OPT has violated his or her status. There is no 60 day grace period once the student has reached the 90 day unemployment limit.