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. You do not need a job offer to apply.
To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must:
Have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year
Be in F-1 status upon application
Have completed all degree requirements (except for pre-completion OPT)
You are not eligible to apply for OPT if:
You have previously applied for, and been subsequently granted, 12 months of OPT at the same degree level,* or
You have used 365+ days of full-time CPT
*Attempts to recover unused OPT may only be possible if a) you were not granted 12 months of OPT by USCIS, as reflected on your USCIS-issued EAD card or b) You requested with your previously submitted OPT application to split your OPT into multiple periods. This means that if you received 12 months of OPT at the same degree level and were subsequently granted the full period, you are not eligible to apply again, regardless of whether you used it or were employed.
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. If you are applying for OPT in your 60-day grace period, USCIS must receive your application before you depart from the USCIS.
**Note: At the time of your OPT application, you must have registered for your final courses and have received approval for any final semester Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
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.
Compile and fill out documents to apply for OPT (see below.) Some of these documents will be sent to USCIS, while others while remain with the CISS office. This includes receipt of payment for the Bentley I-20 Maintenance Fee of $150
Submit completed documents the CISS. Single-sided documents without staples are preferred. For submission, come to the CISS Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 4:30 (all applications will be reviewed by an advisor).
Wait for email notification from CISS that your application materials have been reviewed and your OPT request I-20 has been created.
Make any necessary corrections, read mailing checklist and instructions, and mail application materials (including new OPT recommendation I-20) to USCIS
Wait for approval/ EAD Card from USCIS (60-120 days)
To apply for OPT, you must first give the application documents to the CISS.
- Completed OPT Acknowledgement Form*
- $150 I-20 Maintenance Fee receipt (Payable here)
Bentley students submitting an OPT application 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. 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 five business days for your academic career to be audited and for the letter to be completed.*
- Completed Form I-765. (Refer to this I-765 sample letter and instructions.)
- 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.
11) A check OR money order for $410 made out to "Department of Homeland Security." See the "Filing Fee" section for instructions.
Please note: USCIS now accepts credit card payments, but we do not recommend using the credit card option due to a high rate of card rejections and processing errors.
12) Two color U.S. passport-sized photos.
*NOTE: These items are for the CISS to review, but will not be mailed to USCIS. 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 your 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 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
Enter your OPT Employer Information using the CISS web form. Please also email GA_CISS@bentley.edu or use the web form to update your local address. This is the preferred method for updating your information while on OPT.
On March 23, 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) launched the SEVP Portal. You can use this portal while on post-completion OPT to report your own changes to your home address, telephone number, and employer information directly to the SEVIS system, as well as view your OPT information and any previously-submitted employer information without contacting our office. You will receive an email with instructions on creating a portal account. The email will come from email@example.com. If you do not see this email, check your spam or junk mail folder. If you still do not see it, contact GA_CISS@bentley.edu to check that we have your correct email. We must have a valid email on file for you in order to gain access to the portal. The portal will be accessible from both your mobile device and your computer.
Use of the portal is voluntary, and if you update your information using the portal, you should also contact GA_CISS@bentley.edu to update your Bentley record.
Employers sometimes have questions about employing international students. Your employer may find this guide helpful.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card
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.
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 information from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Can I 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."
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.
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, email GA_CISS@bentley.edu.
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Information Systems
- Data Analytics
- Mathematical Science
- Information Systems Audit and Control
- M.S. Audit Analytics
- M.S. Business Analytics
- M.S. Human Factors in Information Design
- M.S. Information Technology
- M.S. Marketing Analytics
- M.S. Finance - Quantitative Track
As an F-1 student, you must first be approved for and engaged in a period of 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 must be registered and be in good standing with the E-Verify program
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)
You must work at least 20 hours per week in a job that is related to your approved STEM degree.
- 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 proprietorship, 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].
- The Employer must be enrolled in E-Verify. Search a list of E-Verify employers.
- The employer must have an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- The employer must complete and sign the Form I-983 Training Plan, agree 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.
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.
- 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:
- Completed Form I-765. (Refer to this I-765 sample letter and instructions.)
- 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 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
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
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.
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 (submitted every six months
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, even if nothing has changed. If you fail to do so, SEVIS will automatically terminate your record rendering you out of legal immigration status. Use this form to validate your STEM Extension OPT employment. This validation must be done every six months while on OPT.
Mandatory I-983 Evaluations and Updates (submitted every 12 months)
Any changes to the information in the I-983 training plan must be submitted to the CISS. This includes, but is not limited to, if your work site, supervisor, role at your company, or company itself changes. Any changes in employer or additional employers require submission of an updated training plan.
Regardless of changes, students are also required to submit self-evaluations every 12 months of the STEM extension. You must complete the Evaluation on Student Progress at 12 months, and the Final Evaluation on Student Progress at 24 months, or the completion of your STEM extension period.
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.
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 Cap Gap Information Sheet and Request Form.