Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (commonly referred to as "OPT") is a benefit of your F-1 status that allows 12 months of off-campus employment in the US for the purpose of practical experience in your major field of study. OPT is not a visa, but rather a continuation of your F-1 status. OPT can be used either before or after your studies, however, most students reserve their OPT for the period after they graduate. This is known as standard Post-Completion OPT. While on OPT, there are specific F-1 regulations that you must follow. You can read more about them on the OPT Acknowledgement Form (located in the application documents linked below). OPT requires a detailed application process to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that takes approximately 90 days. See below for details.
Applying for OPT
When you are ready to apply for Optional Practical Training, CISS reviews your documents and creates a special OPT Recommendation I-20 for you to mail with your application to USCIS.
You may mail your OPT Application to USCIS up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after your program end date as listed on your I-20.* Because the application process takes approximately 90 days, it is highly recommended that you apply to USCIS on the earliest possible date. Before this date, you will need to submit your application materials to CISS for review and creation of the new I-20.
*This is the date that is listed on your I-20; if the date does not reflect an accurate program end date, CISS will shorten your program to the last day of classes of the semester you are planning to complete degree requirements.
Do not mail any documents before receiving your OPT Request I-20 from the CISS.
Optional Practical Training Blackboard Course
You must complete the online OPT Blackboard Course before you submit your OPT application materials to CISS. To access the OPT Blackboard Course, email GA_CISS@bentley.edu with the subject "OPT Course Enrollment". Include your name and Bentley ID number in the body of the email, and your intention to enroll in the course. A staff member will then invite you to the Blackboard Course. If you attended an OPT information session, you will automatically be enrolled in the course based on our attendance list.
OPT Process Summary
- Gather and fill out documents to apply for OPT (see below)
- Pay the Bentley I-20 Maintenance Fee of $150 (for applications submitted after September 1, 2017)
- Compile all documents and submit to the CISS. You can either attend an OPT Document Review Clinic or submit directly to CISS (all applications will be reviewed by an advisor).
- Wait for email notification from CISS that your application has been reviewed and your OPT request I-20 has been created.
- Mail application materials and new OPT recommendation I-20 to USCIS
To apply for OPT, you must give the application documents to the CISS.
Below is a list of documents required to apply for OPT:
- Completed OPT Acknowledgement Form*
- $150 I-20 Maintenance Fee receipt (Payable here) Bentley students submitting an OPT application after September 1, 2017 are required to pay an I-20 Maintenance Fee. This fee covers the cost of maintaining your record after you have graduated and are no longer paying Bentley tuition or fees. Students on OPT have full access to CISS and all of our resources (advising, record maintenance, tax software, and more) throughout the terms of their OPT employment.*
- An OPT Status Letter which includes your graduation date from the Office of the Registrar. You can print the Request Form for the OPT Status Letter at the following link http://www.bentley.edu/files/2015/11/06/OPT-status-letter-request.pdf. The Request Form must be submitted to the Registrar’s Office in Rauch. (Use the orange form on the wall to make the request). It will take 5 business days for your academic career to be audited and for the letter to be completed.*
- Completed form I-765
- Download I-765 Standard OPT Example.pdf for instructions to fill out the form I-765 (Standard Post-Completion OPT) **** PLEASE NOTE: The I-765 Form has been recently modified. The revised USCIS form includes additional questions that allow applicants to apply for an SSN or replacement card without visiting a Social Security office. Starting today, USCIS will transmit the additional data collected on the form to the Social Security Administration for processing. Moving forward, applicants who receive their approved EADs from USCIS should receive their Social Security card from SSA within the following two weeks. If you have already downloaded the previous I-765, it will be accepted by USCIS until 12/04/2017.
- Completed form G-1145
- Copies of all current and previously issued Forms I-20 (including those from a previous degree or High School in the U.S.
- Copy of your F-1 visa stamp.
- Copy of the expiration and identity page of your passport (valid at least 6 months in to the future)
- Print-out of your I-94 information
- Copy of any previously issued EAD cards
*NOTE: Items with asterisk are for the CISS to review, but will not be mailed to USCIS.
You will also need 11) A check OR money order for $410 made out to "Department of Homeland Security" and 12) Two color U.S. passport-sized photos. However, CISS will not accept these items with application submission. If you wish to have these items reviewed, please ask the front desk for assistance before or after document submission to CISS.
After the CISS reviews the above documents, you will receive two copies of the OPT Request I-20. You must place one of the newly issued I-20s* in the application to complete it. Once you have the new I-20 and all other application materials (see above) it is ready to be sent to USCIS:
For USPS (Regular Mail):
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For Express Mail & Courier Services:
2501 S. State Hwy 121, Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
You may send your application to USCIS 90 days before the end date of your program and up to 60 days after (see your I-20 for end dates).
*Your OPT application must be received by USCIS no more than 30 days after the “Issue Date” of your new OPT Request I-20.
Updating your OPT Employer
Students on OPT must update the CISS as soon as they receive employment or their employer information changes. Click HERE to enter your OPT Employer Information.
Employers sometimes have questions about employing international students. Your employer may find this guide helpful: Hiring International Students - a guide for employers.pdf
Your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card is what is granted to you after being approved for OPT. It is very important that you review the EAD card for correct dates and other information. Contact the CISS immediately if your EAD card is lost, damaged, or stolen.
Click HERE for more information about what to do if you lose your EAD card.
Traveling while your OPT is Pending
You must be cautious if you are traveling while your OPT is pending. You are permitted to return to the U.S. to either resume your search for employment or await approval, but you must carry additional documentation to prove your pending OPT status:
- A valid passport with unexpired F-1 visa stamp
- Form I-20, signed for travel within the past 6 months (NOTE: this is different from when you are actively enrolled in a program on F-1 status, during which time signatures are valid for an entire year)
- I-797c Notice of Action Receipt from USCIS or EAD Card, depending on whether your OPT has been approved or is still pending
- Employment Offer (recommended) (NOTE: If you already have an employment offer, It is best to get a letter from your employer before you leave)
If you have issues re-entering at the port of entry, you can refer to the following response regarding travel during pending OPT from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
Travel while OPT is pending:
"Yes, but traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution. USCIS may send you a request for evidence while you are away, however, so you would want to make sure you have provided a correct U.S. address both to your DSO and on the application and would be able to send in requested documents. Also, if USCIS approves your OPT application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States. Like a request for further information, USCIS can only send the EAD to your U.S. address."
Traveling on Approved OPT
Once EAD card has been received, generally, an F-1 student on Post-Completion OPT may travel outside the U.S. temporarily and return to resume F-1 status (and employment) for the remainder of the authorized OPT period on your EAD card.
When returning to the U.S. after travel, you will need to present at the Port of Entry:
- A valid passport with an unexpired F-1 visa stamp
- OPT or STEM OPT Form I-20 with a travel signature on page two from the last six months
- Unexpired EAD card
- Proof of employment (and/or offer letter) – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
*Please keep in mind that the 90 day unemployment limit still applies. If you are traveling for business or a temporary vacation while hired by a company, travel outside of the U.S. will not count towards the 90 day limit. However, travel while not employed will still count towards your 90 days, even if spent outside of the U.S. Always remember to update us with any change in your employment HERE.
Renewing your visa on OPT
To renew your visa on OPT you should schedule a visa appointment as usual and provide all of the original documentation (check consulate requirements) for F-1 visas. In addition to the typical documents, be sure to carry the following additional documents:
- Proof of Employment (job offer letter or verification of employment letter from your current employer)
- I-20 with current job information and travel signature no more than 6 months old
- Current, valid EAD card
You can expect the visa interview to be similar to past interviews. The officer will want to know about your goals in the U.S. and your intent to return home after completing those goals. The difference is that you will still need to answer these questions in such a way that you show your goals in the U.S. to be in line with a student visa – that they are ultimately academic in nature. You’ll need to make it clear to the official interviewing you that after you complete your academic goals, you still intend to return home.
STEM Extension OPT
Certain F-1 international students are eligible for a 24-month extension of their standard, Post-Completion OPT work authorization, allowing them to apply for a “STEM OPT Extension.” Eligible STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors correspond to specific ‘CIP codes’ issued by the U.S. government. To request a link to a video recording of our recent STEM OPT information session, please email GA_CISS@bentley.edu.
STEM eligible majors at Bentley
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Information Systems
- Mathematical Science
- Information Systems Audit and Control
- M.S. Human Factors in Information Design
- M.S. Information Technology
- M.S. Business Analytics
- M.S. Marketing Analytics
- M.S. Finance - Quantitative Track
STEM OPT Extension Eligibility
- As a legal F-1 student, you must first be approved for and engaged in standard Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) based on a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM field that appears on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Program List.
- You must have a job or a job offer from an E-Verify employer.
- The employer or its designated agent must be registered with E-Verify and be a participant in good standing.
- You must apply for the STEM OPT extension before your standard period of post-completion OPT expires. You must also be sure to submit the application within 60 days of the issuance of the new STEM OPT I-20. Any application received by the USCIS Processing Center after the standard OPT post-completion expires will not be approved for a STEM extension.
- The employer must agree to report to the DSO at Bentley - within 48 hours - when you are terminated or leave their employment. Be sure your employer is reminded of this rule and please provide your employer with the email address of the GA account for reporting any termination of your employment: GA_CISS@bentley.edu.
- You must agree to make periodic reports to the DSO at the GA account (GA_CISS@bentley.edu) while on a period of STEM OPT extension and validate your employment every 6 months (see directions about mandatory validation reporting below)
Employer Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension
- Bona fide Employer-Employee Relationship- According to DHS, students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the I-983 Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.
- Multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, do not constitute bona fide employer-employee relationships [81 FR 13079 par. 521]
- E-Verify- The Employer must be enrolled in E-Verify. You can search a list of E-Verify employers by clicking here.
- Employer Identification Number- The employer must have an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- I-983 Training Plan- The employer must complete and sign the Form I-983 Training Plan, agreeing to wage, working conditions, supervision, site visit, and reporting obligations set forth by the regulations [8 CFR 214.2 (f)(10)(ii)(C)(5)].
Note: Self-employment and volunteer opportunities do not qualify for the STEM OPT Extension. Start-up businesses may be eligible, but all regulatory requirements must be met and the student may not provide employer attestations on his or her own behalf.
Timing of the STEM OPT Extension
You may apply for the STEM OPT Extension and submit your application as early as 90 days before your current initial post-completion OPT expires. Remember that once you receive your new STEM OPT I-20, that you must submit the I-20 and the rest of the STEM application within 60 days after the new I-20 is issued.
All STEM extensions start the day after the standard OPT post-completion expires, even if the extension is not approved by this date. STEM extensions end 24 months after the day after the initial OPT post-completion expires.
As long as you have submitted a complete application to USCIS for the STEM extension before your standard post-completion OPT expires, you may continue working up to 180 days after the end date of the initial post-completion OPT while the application is pending. Work being engaged in after the initial OPT expires must comply with all STEM extension conditions as noted above.
How to Apply for a STEM OPT Extension
- Submit the required application documents electronically or in-person to CISS at least 1 month before your current STEM-based initial OPT expires.
- Allow for 5 business days for your application to be processed by CISS. We will notify you of any necessary edits to your application, and will create the STEM Recommendation I-20 for you.
- Pick up your application from CISS, make any necessary edits, follow the instructions on the attached checklist, and mail your application to the USCIS Processing Center within 60 days of the issuance of your newest STEM OPT I-20. The application should reach USCIS before your current OPT expires.
Documents to Submit to CISS for review and issuance of a STEM OPT Request I-20:
- The STEM Acknowledgement and Reporting Form: STEM_Acknowledgement and Reporting_Form.pdf
- Completed Training Form I-983
- Click HERE for Training Form I-983 Instructions
- Completed Form I-765
- Completed Form G-1145
- Copies of all current and previously issued Forms I-20s
- Copy of your F-1 visa and copy of most recent entry stamp in to the U.S.
- Copy of the expiration and identity page of your passport (valid at least 6 months in to the future)
- Print-out of your I-94 information
- Copy of all EAD cards
- Copy of your diploma or official transcript reflecting your educational level of study and your major/area of concentration that is STEM eligible
- HIGHLY Recommended: Offer letter from STEM employer, written on company letterhead which includes the following information:
- Employer name and address, including zip code
- Confirmation that employer is enrolled in E-Verify
- Confirmation that employer agrees to report to Bentley DSO any departure or termination of your employment within 48 hours
- Employment start date
- Your job title
- Confirmation of full or part-time employment
- Employer’s “Employer Identification Number (EIN)”
NOTE: In addition to the above documents, you will need to mail the items listed below. Please do not submit these to CISS. If you have questions about these items prior to mailing your complete application to USCIS, please email GA_CISS@bentley.edu. It is your responsibility to hold on to these items while CISS reviews the rest of your application.
- Two color U.S. passport-sized photos with your name written on the back of each photo
- Check in the amount of $410 made out to the Department of Homeland Security
Mailing in Your STEM OPT Extension Application:
Once you have received your corrected application packet and STEM Recommendation I-20 from CISS, you will be given mailing instructions to send your complete application to USCIS. If using USPS mail services, send your application to:
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
(Be sure to select a service that allows your application to be tracked)
If using an overnight courier service such as Federal Express or DHL, send your application to:
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
Limits on Days of Unemployment
You are permitted a total of 150 days of unemployment during the entire 36 months (12 month standard OPT + 24 month extension). If you accrue any more than 150 days of unemployment you are considered out of status, lose the rest of your STEM OPT time, and must leave the U.S.
Student Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT Extension
General Reporting Requirements (Be sure to report any of the following changes to your Bentley DSO at GA_CISS@bentley.edu within 10 days of the change):
- Your legal name
- Your residential or mailing address
- Your employer’s name and address
- Any loss of employment
Mandatory Validation Report Requirements While on STEM OPT Extension
Beginning from the start date of your STEM OPT Extension, you are required to submit a validation report to CISS to GA_CISS@bentley.edu every 6 months.
Click HERE to validate your OPT STEM Extension employment
You are required to submit this information every 6 months - even if nothing has changed. If you fail to do so, SEVIS will automatically terminate your record rendering you out of legal immigration status.
Changing Employers on the STEM OPT Extension
Contact the CISS at GA_CISS@bentley.edu immediately if you have or plan to change employers on STEM Extension. You must fill out a new I-983 Training Plan with your new employer.
Travel While on STEM OPT Extension
When traveling during your STEM OPT Extension, be sure to use your STEM OPT EAD card. While on a period of STEM OPT you must travel with the following documents:
- Your STEM OPT Form I-20 form with a valid travel signature (valid for 6 months)
- Valid F-1 visa stamp
- Passport (valid at least 6 months in to the future)
- Letter from your E-Verify employer confirming your employment
- STEM OPT EAD Card
- Also consider traveling with all of your previously issued EAD cards and I-20s
H-1B Cap Gap
Each year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security allots a specific number of H-1B visas for professionals in specialty occupations and with a specific educational level for an October 1st start date. Since the limit is reached quickly, employers are required to submit applications at the beginning of April to request a visa number for the employee they wish to sponsor. Once the number of H-1B applications reaches the limit, USCIS stops accepting applications and selects H-1B visa applicants based on a visa lottery.
If you are a May graduate, your F-1 grace period or OPT employment may end before the October 1st start date of your requested H-1B. In order to “bridge the gap” between the April 1st filing deadline and the October 1st start date of your H-1B status, USCIS automatically authorizes a “cap gap” extension of your F-1 status. This extension of status will include work authorization if you were on an active period of OPT at the April filing deadline, or simply an extension of your F-1 status (without work authorization) if you were an active student or on your grace period at the filing deadline.
For more information about the H-1B Cap Gap, or to request an I-20 reflecting your Cap Gap extension, download our information sheet and request form: RequestForI-20 - H1B Cap Gap-1.pdf