F-1 Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment benefit for practical training directly related to the major area of study. There are two types of OPT: Pre-completion and Post-completion.

Who is eligible for OPT?

  • Must be lawfully enrolled for one academic year on a full-time basis
  • Employment must be directly related to your course/major of study
  • Must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application

How long and how many OPTs can one receive?

In general, one can be granted a maximum 12-month OPT per degree level. For example, after receiving your bachelor’s degree, you can be granted one 12-month OPT.  You may obtain another 12-month OPT after you receive a master’s degree, and one more after your doctoral degree. You may be granted an OPT extension beyond 12-month in two circumstances: H-1B CAP GAP OPT Extension and 17-Month STEM OPT Extension (will be 24 months effective May 10, 2016).

Pre-Completion OPT

You may use your 12-month OPT before graduation for off-campus employment in your field of study. You may only work part-time (≤20 hours/week) while school is in session and full-time (>20 hours/week) during summer and winter breaks. The time you use will be deducted from your 12-month for Post-completion OPT. Before you apply for the pre-completion OPT, you will need to obtain an Academic Advisor Recommendation Form for your advisor to sign to verify your internship.  Once it's signed, gather all the required documents listed in #4 under "Application Procedures" below and schedule an appointment with OISS to finish the rest of the application paperwork.  Pre-completion OPT can only be filed up to 90 days in advance of the requested employment start date.

Post-completion OPT

You may apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to your program completion date* or within 60 days after program completion date.  Doctoral students may apply for OPT using course completion date, dissertation defense or submission date, or the degree completion date.  *The program completion date for undergraduate and non-thesis master's students is the University Commencement Day.  You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.

Application Procedures for Post-Completion OPT

  1. Log into iHome
  2. Click on "OPT 12 Month Request" under "F-1 Student Services"
  3. Complete and submit the online form for your academic advisor to review
  4. Gather the following materials and documents:
  • I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (with the original signature)
  • G-1145, e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
  • A new I-20 with OPT recommendation (will be issued to you during your appointment with OISS)
  • A copy of all prior I-20s (single sided)
  • A copy of passport (biographical page) and the most recent visa
  • A copy of I-94
  • Two 2"x2" immigration-style photos (taken within 30 days of filing the OPT)
  • Application fee: $410 payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check or money order only)
  • *optional* - if you prefer to have OISS mail your application, please also include a check (or cash) of $15 payable to Lehigh University

When your academic advior finishes reviewing your information, you will be notified by email to schedule an appointment with OISS to file your application.   

Where to Mail

To mail the application by yourself, please use the following address (IF THE MAILING ADDRESS ON YOUR I-765 IS IN PENNSYLVANIA):

For US Postal Service Deliveries (USPS):

USCIS
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For Express mail and courier deliveries:

USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

If the mailing address on your I-765 is outside Pennsylvania, see USCIS filing information to find the correct lockbox facility.

What should you do if your OPT application is pending more than 75 days?

If your OPT application has been pending with USCIS for more than 75 days, you can visit USCIS website for the inquiry procedures and tips.  You may also visit USCIS Case Inquiry site to register with your case number.

How to maintain F-1 status while on OPT

To maintain your F-1 OPT status, you must:

  • have a paid or non-paid job and be working more than 20 hours per week in your field of study. While on OPT, you can’t be unemployed for more than 90 days within the 12 months of OPT
  • report your employment information and home address whenever the information is changed
  • do not start working until you have your EAD in hand and on or after the start date on the card

Travel outside of the United States while on OPT

You may travel outside of the U.S. after graduation while on OPT. But you must have the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:

  • A valid passport at least six months into future time when you re-enter 
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation and ISS adviser’s signature (on page 3) signed within the last six months 
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • A job offer

If you must travel while your application is pending, consult with OISS adviser before departing.