F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students to work off-campus in a field directly related to their major area of study.
- An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT, but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study.
- To qualify for OPT, you must be in active F-1 status for two consecutive semesters preceding the start date of OPT.
- You also must be physically present in the U.S. and in active F-1 status at the time of application.
Please watch the OPT videos under How to Apply to understand and complete the OPT application process.
If you are currently on post-completion OPT and need to report a change in the name and/or address of an employer, please complete the Post-Completion OPT Reporting Form.
How much OPT time can I apply for?
You are allowed a total of 12 months of full-time OPT per degree level.
I don’t have a job yet. Can I still apply for OPT?
A job offer is not required to apply for OPT but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study.
How much does it cost to apply for OPT?
Pre-completion OPT: $410 application fee to USCIS.
Post-completion OPT: $150 to Harvard University and $410 application fee to USCIS. Total combined cost is $560.
I want to use OPT time before completing my degree. When can I apply?
You may apply for periods of pre-completion OPT during school terms and summer vacation. You may apply for part-time (20 hours or less a week) pre-completion OPT while school is in session and full-time pre-completion OPT during official vacation periods such as summer or winter vacation.
Is there a way to expedite my OPT application with USCIS?
USCIS may take 5 months or more to process an OPT application. Although USCIS does have an expedite system, our experience is that they rarely grant expedites for OPT applications. It is therefore essential that you apply for OPT as early as possible to avoid any delays of your start date.
Can I track my OPT application status with USCIS?
Yes only after you get a receipt from USCIS. You may check the status of your case either by creating an account with USICS (USCIS Account) or by simply checking your Case Status online using the case number on your receipt. You may also submit a Case Inquiry if your case has been pending for more than 5 months.
I’m graduating and will be applying for post-completion OPT. If I have used pre-completion OPT during my studies, how do I know how much OPT time I have remaining?
Any periods of OPT used before completion of studies will be deducted from the total 12 month period available. For example: full-time employment for two months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only 10 months of OPT available after graduation. Your HIO advisor can assist in determining how much remaining OPT time you have available.
I graduated and left the U.S. Am I still eligible to apply for post-completion OPT?
If you depart the U.S. upon graduation without applying for OPT, you will lose your OPT eligibility.
My family is here on F-2 visas, is there anything additional I need to do for them when I apply for OPT?
Your dependents will receive updated I-20s from the HIO to reflect your requested OPT employment dates. There is no additional cost or paperwork needed from you.
Will I be eligible for OPT again if I begin another degree program in the U.S?
Students may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility. For example, if you have already used 12 months of OPT following a master’s degree, you would only become eligible for another 12 months following a doctoral program.
When to Apply
- Students may apply as early as 90 days before the proposed start date of the employment.
- Students completing a program of study can apply as early as 90 days before the date of completion and/or graduation. For May degree candidates, the date of the graduation ceremony is the program completion date.
- Completed OPT applications must be received by USCIS no later than the 60th day after graduation/program completion.
- You are advised to apply for OPT well in advance of your anticipated employment. A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.
- For students completing their programs at other points in the academic year, their HIO advisor can assist in determining the program completion date for OPT purposes.
- Students who have had a break in their F-1 student status (such as a leave of absence outside of the United States) should work closely with their HIO advisor to confirm their eligibility to apply for OPT.
How to Apply
All F-1 students who plan to apply for either pre-completion or post-completion OPT must follow the following procedure. There are three steps in an OPT application:
- Watch the OPT instructional video to learn how to put an application packet together.
- Submit an application to the HIO for an OPT recommendation I-20. To do so, you must complete and submit the HIO OPT Request Form for an OPT recommendation. You must complete the form, upload all required documents, and pay the maintenance fee via Touchnet.
- Mail the OPT packet with the HIO recommendation to USCIS. Please note, you must be in the U.S. in F-1 status to submit the application to USCIS.
Step 1: Application Overview
- The HIO will not be reviewing individual I-765 OPT forms or supporting documentation. It is your responsibility to review our detailed step-by-step instructions, videos, and guides to prepare your final OPT application. Failure to follow our detailed instructions could result in a rejection, delay, or denial of your OPT application by USCIS.
- Once you have watched the OPT Application Video you are expected to complete the required forms, put together the application, and submit the application to your HIO advisor through the online HIO OPT Request Form.
- The HIO will provide the OPT recommendation in the form of a new I-20. The HIO will be sending the I-20 to you via email. You will need to print this new I-20, sign, and include as part of your final OPT application to the USCIS. The HIO processing time is 5 - 7 business days.
- This email will also include detailed instructions on how to complete your application and instructions on how to mail the application to USCIS and what to expect after mailing.
- In most cases, provided that you have obtained the required recommendation from your HIO advisor and submitted the required documents to USCIS, OPT is not denied by USCIS. However, problems occur when the application guidelines are not followed (e.g. incorrect mailing address, wrong photograph format, etc.).
- Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their applications risk violating their student visa status and possibly forfeiting their OPT. Students who do not graduate as planned must contact their HIO advisors immediately.
Step 2: HIO Application
Students must submit the electronic HIO OPT Request Form to request an I-20 with an OPT recommendation. The form will require that students upload the following documents:
- The HIO Date Verification Form.
- A copy of your I-94 record.
- For post-completion OPT only, proof of payment for the HIO maintanence fee.
- GSAS and HSPH ScD/DrPH Students: As part of the required documents, you will also need to upload a letter from your department or dissertation advisor confirming your defense and diploma award dates when you submit the HIO OPT electronic form request.
The HIO will begin accepting OPT requests for review on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. The HIO will start releasing new OPT I-20s on Friday, September 17, 2021 via email.
To guarantee that you receive your OPT I-20 in time to file on the earliest date with the USCIS, you must submit your OPT request to the HIO no later than Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Cases submitted after this date will be processed by the HIO in 5-7 business days.
Please remember, you cannot submit your final OPT application to USCIS more than 90 days before your program end date (Form I-20 end date) or your application will be rejected.
Step 3: USCIS Application
The OPT application is a personal application for which you are responsible. Please use the OPT resources to complete your final application. If you have questions or need clarifications, please contact your HIO advisor directly BEFORE mailing your application.
Now that you have received your OPT I-20 and instructional email from the HIO, please review the handouts in order to compile your final application to USCIS.
Consult the USCIS OPT Application Checklist for a full list of documents to include in your final OPT application that you will mail to USCIS.
- To complete Form I-765, you must consult the HIO's I-765 line by line instructions
The application to USCIS requires a personal check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $410. The HIO has a guide to prepare this fee.
Post-Completion OPT Rules and Responsibilities
Reporting Address and Employer Information While on OPT
All students on post-completion OPT must report to the HIO their current residential addresses, and any future changes of address within 10 days of the change by using the online Change of Address Form. In addition, students are required to report their employer's name and address, and any interruption of employment or changes of employers by using the online OPT Employer and Address Form.
Limits on Periods of Unemployment on OPT
F-1 visa regulations allow students to apply for OPT without having an employer. For students who remain in the U.S. on post-completion OPT, their legal status depends on being employed. OPT employment may be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, and includes self-employment. Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment within the approved dates of OPT as listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
What Types of Employment Are Allowed for Post-Completion OPT?*
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT employment, is required to be related to the student’s program of study. The following list describes acceptable forms of employment:
- Paid employment--Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
- Multiple employers--Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s program of study.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists)-- Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The students must maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and the duration.
- Work for hire This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employer-employee relationship. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner-- Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her program of study.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm-- Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing that they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while being employed by the agency.
- Unpaid employment-- Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student must be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Please note: STEM OPT extension rules and responsibilities are more extensive than the list above. Please see the STEM information.
Travel on Post-Completion OPT
For information on traveling after graduation while on Post-Completion OPT, please click here.
OPT Extension for H-1B Cap-Gap
Cap-Gap Extension FAQs
What is an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension?
A Cap-Gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student's OPT employment authorization based on an appropriately filed “change of status” H-1B petition with an October 1 start date.
Am I eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension?
You are eligible for a Cap-Gap extension if your employer submits a timely filed a change of status to H-1B petition to USCIS on your behalf. You may be eligible for one of two Cap-Gap extensions:
- If your employer filed your H-1B petition and it is receipted by USCIS prior to your post-completion OPT expiration date, you are eligible for an extension of your OPT employment authorization through September 30.
- If your employer filed your H-1B petition and it is receipted by USCIS after your post-completion OPT expires but during your 60 day grace period following OPT, your F-1 status and permission to remain in the U.S. are extended until September 30, but the OPT employment authorization is not. In other words, you will not have work permission.
How do I apply for an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension I-20?
To request the Cap-Gap I-20, please complete an HIO H-1B Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form and send to your HIO advisor along with supporting documentation by email with “Cap-Gap Extension” in the subject line.
How long will the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension I-20 request take?
The HIO will issue the Cap-Gap I-20 within 10 business days of the receipt of your request, provided you include all required information.
Can I travel during an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension?
Generally speaking, you may travel abroad and seek readmission to the U.S. in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:
- your H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved;
- you seek readmission before your H-1B employment begins (normally at the beginning of the fiscal year, i.e., October 1); and
- you otherwise admissible.
Please note, traveling outside the U.S. may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. HIO strongly advises that you consult with your employer and their legal counsel processing the H-1B regarding all travel plans before departing the U.S. Click here to access the latest travel information from the USCIS.
Can I switch employers while I am on Cap-Gap Extension?
Generally speaking, you cannot switch employers during you Cap-Gap extension. Please consult with the legal counsel of your employer.
Please consult your HIO Advisor for questions related to Cap-Gap related issues.
Ending Post-Completion OPT
While on OPT, you continue to hold F-1 status sponsored by Harvard and your F-1 record remains active in SEVIS. It is extremely important that you notify your HIO advisor of any changes to your immigration status:
- If you leave the U.S. permanently before your EAD expires, or decide not to use OPT, you must notify your HIO advisor before you leave the U.S.
- If you change to another visa status in the U.S., such as H-1B, E-3, G-4, TN, etc. or obtain Permanent Resident status, you must notify your HIO advisor. To report this change, you will need to send your advisor evidence of your new status (e.g. new I-94 arrival/departure record, I-797, or green card).
SEVP Portal FAQ
What is the SEVP Portal?
The SEVP Portal is a tool for F-1 students who have been approved by the USCIS for post-completion OPT/STEM OPT to update the following:
For students on Post-completion OPT
• Employment Information
- Employment start date and end date
- Employer name and address
- Brief description on how employment relates to studies
- Indicate full-time or part-time employment
• Personal Information
- Current physical address in the U.S.
- Current mailing address in the U.S. (if different from physical address)
- Current telephone number
For students on STEM OPT Extension
• Personal Information
- Current physical address in the U.S.
- Current mailing address in the U.S.
- Current telephone number
When you are on STEM OPT EXTENSION MUST you must contact your HIO advisor to make any changes to employment and comply with all STEM OPT reporting requirements, including the completion of the final evaluation and the new Form I-983. You can find all reporting requirements on the HIO web site.
While working on OPT, do I need to use the Portal to update my employer or address information?
The SEVP Portal is an optional functionality. You must still update the HIO directly on the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form.
You do not need to create a Portal account as you will continue to update your address and employment status directly through the HIO. Using the Portal does not automatically update any Harvard data systems. At this time our recommendation is for you to continue to submit your updates via the HIO rather than the SEVP Portal. This ensures that your OPT employment information is reported consistently and correctly.
How can I access the SEVP Portal?
You can only access the SEVP Portal once you receive your EAD and your OPT start date has been reached. On the first day of your approved OPT (start date on your EAD) you will receive an email from Dofirstname.lastname@example.org containing an access link to the SEVP Portal. Click on the link and set up a unique password. In advance, you should add the email listed above to your Trusted Sender List (non-spam list). Please also check your spam/junk mail if you do not see an email in your inbox as of the start date of your EAD.
Is there help for creating an SEVP Portal Account?
You may access videos for step by step instructions on how to set up and use your account.
To which email account will the SEVP Portal access information be sent?
The email will be sent to the email address listed on your HIO OPT Date Verification Form that you completed when you applied for OPT.
What if I do not receive the initial email on my first day of approved OPT?
If you have already checked your spam/junk mail folder and the email from Doemail@example.com is not there, please contact your HIO advisor to confirm what email is on file. Your HIO advisor will submit a request on your behalf to have the link re-sent to you.
How can I log in to the Portal?
You can log in by clicking here.
How often do I need to access the SEVP Portal throughout my OPT period?
You must access the Portal every 90 days, even if you do not have any updates to make. The SEVP Portal will lock after 90 days of inactivity and you will have to contact your HIO advisor to reset your account.
Can I use the same SEVP Portal password for the duration of my OPT?
You must change your password every 90 days and you should not share your password with anyone under any circumstances. When your password is close to expiring you will be prompted by the SEVP Portal to change your password upon logging in.
I have been locked out of my account. How do I unlock it?
Please contact your HIO advisor to reset your account.
What do I do after I update my employment information in the SEVP Portal?
If you choose to update your information in the SEVP Portal, each time you send updates via the SEVP Portal, you must also submit the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form to the HIO.
I am working for two different employers on post-completion OPT. Can I list both in the SEVP Portal?
Yes, you must add one employer and then click “Add New Employer” to add the second.
I switched jobs on OPT. What do I do in the SEVP Portal to reflect my job change?
Be sure to enter your last date of employment for your previous position. Then click “Add Employment” and enter your new employment information. Do not delete your previous employer’s information.
I am self-employed, working remotely or working for a staffing agency. What address should I list for the employer address in the SEVP Portal?
Please complete as much information as you can in the SEVP Portal and submit to the HIO the Post-completion OPT Reporting Form including what you believe to be your employer address. An HIO advisor will contact you if there are any issues regarding the address you submitted. If you are self-employed working out of your home, use your home address as your employer address.
My name has changed. Can I update this information in the SEVP Portal?
Please contact your HIO advisor to update this information.
My email address has changed. Can I update this information in the SEVP Portal?
It is not possible for you to update your email address. Please contact your HIO advisor to update this information.
The HIO provides general guidance on your OPT/STEM OPT application based on information obtained from reliable sources and reflecting our years of experience in working with students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. Any advice provided to you by our office (as well as the information in this packet) does not constitute legal advice, however. The 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. The HIO 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. The HIO is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.