Here you can find everything you need to apply for OPT! Please use the links below to skip to different parts of the website as needed, but be sure to read through the entire webpage before applying for OPT.
Please review the following information carefully. Fill out and gather all the required documents noted here before completing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) application through the IES Portal.
Click here for a pdf version of the application checklist: OPT Checklist 2021
Process to Apply for your OPT I-20:
- Login to your IES Portal
- Click on “Search Forms” in the top right corner of the page
- Choose the relevant application – Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Read the directions and complete all sections of the application
- The application requires the support of your academic adviser. Please follow the directions under the “Recommendations” section to invite your adviser to provide their support electronically.
- Only click submit after you have uploaded all requirements.
- IES staff will review your application and contact you within 2-3 business days after your adviser recommendation is received.
These are the documents, in order, you will mail to USCIS:
- Check/money order for $410 only made out to the US Department of Homeland Security. (Do not abbreviate)
- 2 passport size photographs, with your name written on the back. Please see passport photo specifications here. Locally, you can get passport photos taken at UMBC Commonvision, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and other pharmacies or post offices. Please note photos cannot be more than 6 months old and cannot have been used for another application with the government, including for your visa.
- G-1145 Form, for email and/or text message updates on your application
- I-765 Form, signed (use the I-765 guidelines from our website to help you!)
- Make sure the form has the Edition date “8/25/2020” in the bottom right corner, as you must use the most current form version!
- Copy (not the original) of new OPT I-20 issued by international adviser for OPT, and signed by you!
- Copy of your most recent I-94 (front and back if you have the card version).
- Copy of your passport – biography page, with your photo and personal information, only (include pages of passport extensions, if you have any).
- Copy of your F-1 visa (even if expired).
- Copies of ALL I-20’s (including previous schools, as much as possible) – the rules page is not required.
- If applicable – Any previous OPT or EAD cards that have been issued to you (copy of front and back).
Note on the address you use on your I-765 form, where you want your OPT documents to be mailed to you:
USCIS may soon begin to use a mail service for EAD work permit cards called “Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery.”
As part of the new delivery method, applicants must present identification to sign for their documents upon delivery. They also have the option to designate an agent to sign on their behalf by completing the Postal Service’s PS Form 3801, Standing Delivery Order (PDF) or PS Form 3801-A, Agreement by a Hotel, Apartment House, or the Like (PDF). Applicants can sign up for USPS Informed Delivery to receive delivery status notifications. Applicants will also have the option to arrange for pickup at a post office at a convenient date and time by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup.”
Please read more about this service here: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-to-begin-using-more-secure-mail-delivery-service
Applicants are welcome to still use the UMBC IES Office address, as UMBC’s mailroom can sign for these deliveries.
Important Reminders Before Mailing Your Application:
- You cannot submit your application more than 90 days before your I-20 end date, or your application will be denied!
- Your OPT I-20 cannot be more than 30 days old when received by USCIS (not when you mail it), or it will be denied!
- Make sure you sign your I-765 on page 4, item 7a, or your application will be returned to you
- Make sure you include your check or money order – if you use a personal check, make sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover the amount.
- Make sure the new OPT I-20 copy in your application has been signed by you, on the first page.
- We suggest keeping a copy of your complete application in your own records.
Mailing Address for Complete Application:
Please see the best mailing address based on the state where you live here – look under the “Foreign Students” section: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses
**Please note these addresses change periodically, so only use the address listed here, and not recommendations from a friend or other sources that might be outdated. The address was last changed that we are aware of in January 2021.
Definition of OPT
OPT is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your field of study at an off-campus location after (and occasionally before) you complete your studies. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and requires support from the IES office via a new I-20 with an OPT recommendation. OPT is NOT required for all F-1 students, but is a benefit of F-1 status available to graduating students if you would like to pursue it.
While on OPT, you will still be in F-1 immigration status, and UMBC will still maintain your F-1 immigration record/SEVIS record.
To be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must:
- Have been in full time student status for at least one academic year.
NOTE- You can be enrolled less than full-time in your last semester, but must have been enrolled full-time in the two semesters prior to your last semester.
- Hold valid F-1 status.
- Not have used OPT at the same degree level in the past. You only have one year of OPT per degree-level (Bachelors, Masters, PhD), so you cannot have done OPT at the same degree level previously. If you have received a previous degree in the US and worked on OPT afterwards, your new degree from UMBC MUST be a higher degree.
*Please note: You do NOT need to have a job offer in order to apply!
- This timeline is based on your I-20 end date, which should reflect your graduation date (or date of completing all required coursework, for Graduate students with a thesis requirement, if you want to begin before graduation). Your I-20 end date can be adjusted if appropriate.
- The earliest you can apply is 90 days before your I-20 end date.
- The latest you can apply is 60 days after your I-20 end date (your application must be received by USCIS before this deadline).
- OPT applications can take up to 3 months or longer to be approved, so plan ahead! You should apply at least 3 months before the start date you choose to make sure your OPT is approved in time.
- The Start Date is the day your year of OPT begins. You have some flexibility so that you can choose a date that best suits your situation
- The earliest date you can choose is the day after your I-20 end date
- The latest date you can choose is 60 days after your I-20 end date (this is also the end of the “grace period”)
Tips on choosing a start date:
- Choose a date that gives enough time for your OPT application to be approved. The IES office can give you the best idea of current average processing times, though it can take up to 3 months or sometimes longer.
- If you have been aggressively applying for jobs, you might want to choose an earlier start date, or if you have not begun your job search, you might want to choose a later start date.
- If you plan to be sponsored for an H-1b visa, plan your OPT dates to complement a possible H-1b application. See below for more information on H-1b timelines.
Starting OPT before Graduation – Graduate students with a thesis requirement only
Graduate students with a thesis requirement have some flexibility in applying for OPT before completing their degree program at UMBC:
- Altering the I-20 end date: Graduate students who have finished their academic coursework, but not their required final project, research or thesis, are eligible to end their I-20 academic program and apply for OPT while completing their research. This is not required, but is an option for students that want to start working before completing their research.
- Pre-Completion OPT: Graduate students who have completed all academic coursework and have their research pending can choose to apply for Pre-Completion OPT, which means your OPT start date is before your I-20 end date. This is rarely recommended for the following reasons:
- You need to apply again for Post-completion OPT, including the application fee. Deadlines are often difficult as well.
- You can often use CPT (Curricular Practical Training) to accomplish the same goals and avoid applying for OPT twice, which also gives you more time to work on OPT.
Please speak to an International Student Adviser in the IES office to carefully consider your options based on your particular situation. Please note, to apply for the 24 month STEM OPT Extension, you will need to have formally graduated and received your degree, OR be prepared to demonstrate that you have completed all degree requirements except your thesis, before the end of your first year of OPT.
To apply for OPT, please prepare all documents listed in the checklist at the top of this page. Then, apply for your OPT I-20 through your IES Portal, as described above. The IES staff will prepare your “OPT Recommendation” I-20. You will then be able to mail your application package of documents to USCIS for review, using the addresses noted at the beginning of this web page.
Please note, the I-20 you receive from the IES office is only valid to apply for OPT for 30 days! If you wait until after 30 days to apply, please request a new I-20. Your OPT application will be denied if the I-20 is more than 30 days old when received!
After you mail your application, you will receive three documents from USCIS:
- Receipt – the receipt contains your unique case number, and means that no information was missing from your application. The case number can be used to track the application status on the USCIS website. If anything was missing, you will receive an RFE (Request for Further Evidence), or the package returned to you. The receipt usually arrives in about 3 weeks from the time of application, though Fall 2020 applicants have been experiencing very significant delays in receiving the receipt, closer to 2 months after application.
- Approval Notice – this form notifies you that your OPT application has been approved. It will reach you after the required time to process your application, which can vary between 2-4 months. Please check with the IES office to see what the current typical processing time is when you apply.
- EAD Card – The EAD (Employment Authorization Document) usually arrives within one week of the Approval Notice. This card actually gives you work authorization in the US, and will have your picture and your official start date indicated. You cannot begin working until you receive this card, and you have reached your OPT start date as noted on the card. The EAD card will be required by your new employer to prove your work authorization.
Be sure to review additional OPT information here:
- Waiting for OPT to be Approved: https://ies.umbc.edu/opt-processing-time-trends/
- After OPT is Approved: https://ies.umbc.edu/international-students-f-1/after-graduation/opt-and-opt-stem-information/#approved
- OPT Best Practices for H-1b and Beyond: https://ies.umbc.edu/opt-and-stem-opt-best-practices-for-h-1b-and-beyond/