Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an authorization to work in off-campus employment or internships for F-1 students in their major or field of study. Off-campus work is only allowed under certain circumstances. Please check with the ISSO before engaging in any off-campus employment to make sure you have the proper work authorization in place.
International students are eligible for a total of 12 months of Standard OPT for each level of their education, which can be used as:
- Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training
- Post-Completion Optional Practical Training*
OPT can be granted in various increments of time. However, any OPT used prior to graduation will be deducted from the total allowed for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training. This means that if you use Pre-Completion OPT, those months will be deducted from the 12-month total.
You may apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training programs up to 90 days before the end of classes. You may apply for Post-Completion Practical Training up to 90 days before graduation (for May graduates: Mid-February), and up to 60 days after graduation (for May graduates: Mid-July).
This is rarely used at Smith, but would be OPT used during the annual summer vacation, provided you intend to continue your full-time studies the following semester. Generally at Smith we utilize CPT for work authorization instead, since it’s faster and less costly.
This is available after completion of your studies, for an authorization period of up to one year. This is for students who are completing their degree and applying for OPT to start after graduation. No job offer is necessary at the time of application.
Students majoring in a STEM field may qualify for an additional two years of OPT, as long as the job meets certain requirements. This two-year extension requires a separate application, and will be submitted in the last three months of a student's Post-Completion OPT. If a student does not use an available STEM OPT Extension, it can be deferred for use after a non-STEM graduate program OPT. To learn more about the STEM OPT Extension application, please see our Graduated Students STEM OPT page.
If a student has applied for a Change of Status to H-1B through the lottery system, that H-1B visa will officially start on October 1st of the relevant year. If the student’s OPT is set to expire between the H-1B application submission and start date, Cap-Gap OPT will automatically be authorized by USCIS. This Cap-Gap will grant an extension from the expiration date on the EAD until September 30th, which effectively extends OPT until the H-1B will begin. If you have applied for a Change of Status to H-1B through the lottery and you think you have Cap-Gap OPT, please contact our office. We’re happy to print a new I-20 for you to demonstrate this extended work authorization.
Applying for Pre-/Post-Completion OPT
Steps to Apply
- All students must attend at least one OPT information session (listed at bottom of this page) at the ISSO before submitting an OPT application.
- Prepare all materials for OPT Application (see OPT Application Materials tab). Complete the OPT Request Form.
- Contact ISSO to make a one-hour appointment with Dean Caitlin or Claire to review your application. Bring all materials, including the OPT Request Form, to your appointment.
- ISSO will issue you a new I-20 with an OPT recommendation, and will make copies of your application for our records and yours.
- Mail your application to USCIS within 30 days of your appointment. We recommend using a shipping method with tracking! Please note - all applications must be mailed from within the United States.
Assemble the following, and attach on left-hand side in this order. See USCIS I-765 Instructions for more details.
- Two recent passport size (2” x 2”) color photos, with name & I-94 number written LIGHTLY in pencil on back.
- Check or Money Order for $410, made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (from a U.S. bank account).
- Alternatively, if you prefer to pay by credit card, please fill out Form G-1450 in lieu of a check or money order. Please double-check all numbers and don’t forget to sign your form!
- (Optional) Form G-1145. For email and/or text message notifications about updates to your application.
- Complete, signed Form I-765. (See below for tips on how to fill out I-765.)
- Copy of letter of employment (if applicable).
- Copies of all your past & current I-20s, including any I-20s from U.S. high schools or previous U.S. institutions.
- Copies of any documentation about previous status, if applicable. If you applied for a Change of Status to F-1 within the United States, include notification forms (this is uncommon). Please note: if you visited the US as a tourist and left before coming in as a student, you DO NOT need to include documentation about these types of travel.
- Copy of prior EAD(s) (Employment Authorization Document) from other institutions or education levels, if applicable.
- Copies of your current passport & most recent F-1 entry visa (F-1 visa may be expired).
- Your most recent I-94 arrival record.
- If you need extra space for any field, use space in Part 6: Additional Information.
- USCIS instructions state that all questions on their forms must be fully and accurately answered. If a question does not apply to you, type or print "N/A" or "none", unless otherwise directed.
- Part 2: 5.a. - 5.e.: If you do not have a U.S. address that will be consistent after graduation, feel free to use the ISSO as your US mailing address:
- 5.a.: In Care of Name: Smith College Intl Student Office
- 5.b.: Street Number and Name: 5 Chapin Drive
- 5.d.: City or Town: Northampton
- 5.e.: State: MA
- 5.f.: ZIP Code: 01063
- 15 - 17 Note: If you answer "No" on 14, you do not need to fill in Sections 15 - 17.
- 21.c.: For use only for those who are unable to obtain a passport.
- 22 - 24: Information should match printed I-94 and travel history record. If it does not, please contact ISSO.
- 26: Provide all previously used SEVIS ID numbers. If you have had more than one SEVIS ID, "additional information" sheet (page 7) can be used to list prior records.
- 27: Relevant eligibility categories: Post-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(B)Pre-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(A)
- Instructions specify that those applying for Post-Completion OPT should list all previously used CPT or OPT, using Additional Information section on Page 7. Relevant information includes: Part-time or Full-time CPT, Dates used, and level of education.
- 28.a - 28.c: For use only with STEM OPT.
- 29 -31: For eligibility categories not typically relevant to F-1 students.
- Part 3: 7.a. Sign in BLACK pen under “Applicant’s Signature,” and make sure to stay within the white space! Stamped or typewritten signatures are not acceptable.
If you have submitted Form G-1145 for e-notifications, you will be notified once your application has been received and again when it's approved (8-12 weeks) by USCIS.
Once you have your receipt number from USCIS, you can check the status of your case using the USCIS Case Status website. USCIS will send your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) directly to your mailing address.
If your OPT application is still pending when your requested start date arrives, you must delay starting employment until you receive your EAD. USCIS will generally push back your actual OPT start date to the date they approve your application. Your end date will be pushed back to correspond, but cannot be pushed back any more than 14 months after your graduation (60-day grace period, plus 12 months). If your application is delayed until after your grace period, you may stay in the US legally based on your pending OPT application, but you will receive less than your full year of OPT authorization.
Please note: if you use the ISSO as your mailing address, we will receive all hard copy communications from USCIS. Routine communication will be filed in your student file for pick up, if desired. We will contact you if we receive any communications that require action from you. When we receive your EAD, we will contact you. If you are in the U.S., we will mail your EAD and an updated I-20 to you at our charge. If you would like your EAD and I-20 sent to an international address, you will be responsible for shipping costs.
You have reporting responsibilities once you have received your new EAD (Employment Authorization Document) and/or are working in your field.
You must notify the International Students & Scholars Office through our OPT Update Form, within 10 days of any change of the following:
- Legal name change
- Residential or mailing address change
- Employer name change*
- Employer address change
- Loss of employment
We will update your SEVIS record as well as Smith’s databases with any reported information. Alternatively, you can make updates directly to your SEVIS account via the SEVP Portal. Please note that while we can see when you make these edits, we are not notified of these changes, so they will not immediately update your Smith record.
There are specific regulations around how to work using your OPT.
- All work opportunities MUST relate back to one or both of your majors.
- You cannot begin to work until you receive the EAD card AND you are within your authorization dates.
- You are allowed a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during the duration of your Post-Completion OPT. You should keep close track of how many days you have used!
- In order to be considered employed, you must work more than 20 hours per week. Remember that this is “Practical Training,” so any paid and unpaid opportunities count toward your OPT employment requirement. Therefore, you must report all volunteer or unpaid internship opportunities to the ISSO, in addition to any paid employment. This also means you cannot “volunteer” or engage in company training programs before you receive your EAD. Doing so would be a violation of both OPT and Department of Labor regulations.
- Self-employment is allowed on Post-Completion OPT. ISSO recommends that any self-employment is documented meticulously and is accompanied by the appropriate tax license and paperwork. Please note: Self-employment is NOT permitted during STEM OPT.
After graduation, if you have applied for and/or been approved for OPT, you may want to travel. By applying for OPT, you have effectively extended your F-1 status to the end of your OPT period. Keep in mind that you are still in F-1 status during this time, so you will need to adhere to F-1 regulations for entry.
When traveling on OPT, always bring the following documents:
- Passport - Valid for 6 months beyond entry date.
- F-1 Visa - If your visa has expired, you must renew it before re-entering the U.S. Many consulates will want to see your OPT Approval (or EAD) and evidence of a job in order to renew an F-1 entry visa. Keep in mind that your F-1 visa may be in an old passport!
- OPT I-20 - Your OPT I-20 has your OPT recommendation written on page 2. If your I-20 still reads “Pending” and you’ve been approved, we are happy to print and mail you a new updated I-20 with your current employer. Travel signatures last for 6 months on OPT, so check your latest signature before you leave the U.S.
- Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - highly recommended - Though your EAD is not technically required for U.S. entry, most CBP officers will ask to see it. If you do not have your EAD, we recommend carrying whatever documentation you can to show the status of your OPT application (e.g. Case receipt, Approval Notice).
- Letter of Employment and/or Paystubs - highly recommended - Being employed is not a requirement of OPT, since you are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment during your year of authorization. However, if you do have employment, ISSO recommends carrying proof of that employment when entering the U.S., just in case.
If you have a pending Post-Completion OPT application and you have graduated, we do not recommend traveling internationally until your case has been approved. Though it’s not breaking any rules, it can create more questions at the border and cause travel delays, particularly if you have an expired F-1 entry visa and will need to renew it before re-entry.
Once you have started working, if you wish to travel outside the United States, the ISSO will endorse your I-20. Each travel signature will last for 6 months on OPT, not the standard 12 months. Please send your most recent Smith I-20 to our office for endorsement, or contact us via email for an updated I-20. We will sign and mail the I-20 to you for travel. Remember, you are still under your Smith College F-1 visa during your OPT.