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 (post-completion OPT). You are only permitted 12 months of OPT per degree level. Once you have applied for OPT at a degree level, you only become eligible for more OPT upon completion of a degree at a higher level (for example, by completing a master's degree after a bachelor's degree).
OPT requires a detailed application process to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that takes approximately 90 days. You will receive an EAD card authorizing you to work at the end of this process. You do not need a job offer to apply.
Please read below for detailed instructions.
To be eligible for OPT, you must:
- Have been a full-time student for at least one academic year.
- Have completed, or be in the process of completing, final degree requirements (except for pre-completion OPT).
- Be in F-1 status at the time of application.
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 are generally not possible. Please contact GA_CISS@bentley.edu for further information.
You are eligible to submit your application for post-completion OPT to USCIS between: 90 days before program completion / your I-20 end date* until 60 days after program completion/I-20 end date. Before submitting to USCIS, you must submit certain documents to the CISS for review and to receive a new I-20. You must obtain a new I-20 from the CISS in order to apply through USCIS. DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR USCIS APPLICATION BEFORE RECEIVING THE NEW I-20. You should begin the process to obtain this I-20, as described in the sections below, at least 2-3 weeks before you plan to apply to USCIS. You may need some time to compile your application documents, and the CISS requires approximately 7 business days to create your new I-20.
*You can figure out your application window by taking a look at you program end date listed on page 1 of your I-20. Generally, your I-20 end date will be the last day of classes of the semester you complete all degree requirements. If you have questions about your I-20 end date, please email GA_CISS@bentley.edu. If you will be graduating before or after the date currently listed on your I-20, you will need your I-20 updated. You can do this by submitting a Request to Modify I-20 End Date form
To calculate your application window, you can use an online date calculator.
When you apply for OPT using the method described in the sections below, you will need to choose your requested OPT start date. This will be printed on page 2 of the new I-20 that CISS will issue for you, and will be used by USCIS as a recommendation for the dates to list on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) that you will receive upon OPT approval.
Your OPT start date can be any day during your 60-day grace period, from the day after your I-20 end date, to as late as 60 days after your I-20 end date. You can use a simple date calculator to figure out the latest possible start date based on your I-20 end date.
- Example: I-20/program end date: August 20th, 2021
- Latest possible start date: October 19th, 2021
Your requested start date is based on personal preference. Some things to keep in mind when choosing your start date:
- Will you want to start work immediately OR do you plan on taking any vacation after graduation?
- Will you need additional time to find a job OR do you have a job that wants you to start as soon as possible? (Note: you do not need to start employment exactly on your EAD start date. You have 90 days of unemployment during standard OPT. See below section entitled "Employment and Reporting Requirements...")
- Major U.S. holidays and weekends. Generally, students choose a Monday (or a weekday) for their OPT start date and avoid beginning around major U.S. holidays, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. Most companies have employees start on a Monday, and do not hire around major holidays.
Step 1) Read thoroughly the information on this website and attend an OPT Information Session to confirm your application timeline, choose a start date, and clearly understand the process.
OPT Information Sessions are held multiple times per semester.
Here is a link to one of of our OPT Information Sessions:
Step 2) Apply for program completion in Workday and obtain an OPT Status Letter from the Registrar's Office.
OPT Status Letter Request Forms should be completed and submitted to the Registrar's office. Please allow at least 5 days for processing. When ready, you will receive an OPT Status Letter, which you should keep for use during the below steps.
Step 3) Pay the Bentley I-20 Maintenance Fee of $150* Keep your receipt.
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.
Step 4) Submit web form to the CISS to request an OPT recommendation I-20 OPT Acknowledgement and I-20 Request Form
DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION TO USCIS WITHOUT THE OPT RECOMMENDATION I-20, AS IT WILL BE DENIED. WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU WAIT TO EVEN BEGIN THE APPLICATION UNTIL YOU HAVE THE NEW I-20 IN HAND.
Please only submit this form once you have reviewed all instructions and have decided on your requested OPT start date. This form will take you 10-15 minutes to complete.
Have ready to upload:
a) $150 I-20 maintenance fee receipt
b) Copy of your most recent i94
c) OPT Status Letter (completed by the Registrar's office upon submitting request form)
Step 5) Obtain OPT recommendation I-20 from CISS. This will be sent to you as a link within 7 business days of submitting the above form. Sign and date the bottom of page 1. Your recommended OPT dates will be listed on page 2. USCIS will refer to this I-20 when listing your EAD card employment authorization dates.
Step 6) Prepare your documents and file your application with USCIS online or by mail. You only need to choose one of the below options.
- Option 1: File Online: You can find complete instructions for online document submission here: OPT Online Filing guide [RECOMMENDED]
- Option 2: File By Mail: You can find complete instructions for filing by mail here: OPT Paper Filing Guide
If mailing hard copy documents, you may choose to have your documents reviewed by a CISS advisor. Please review hard copy mailing instructions above, then email GA_CISS@bentley.edu to request an in-person or Zoom appointment [for paper applicants only].
You will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) once approved for OPT. Please see online or paper filing instructions above for detailed information about what you should do while waiting for your EAD card. This card will contain your personal information and authorization dates. You will use this card, along with your F-1 visa and OPT I-20, to show your employer and prove your eligibility to work.
Make sure that your card contains accurate information, including your full legal name. Please contact the CISS for assistance if your EAD card contains incorrect information, or is lost, damaged or stolen.
On March 6, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the expansion of Premium Processing to applications for F-1 employment benefits, including pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, and STEM extension OPT. This allows applicants to expedite a work authorization application for a fee. USCIS has stated that the expected processing timeline for Premium Processing cases will be 30 calendar days.
March 6, 2023: USCIS will accept requests for Premium Processing from students with already pending OPT or STEM OPT applications filed via paper or online. Applicants must have a receipt notice for their application.
Beginning April 3, 2023: USCIS will accept requests for Premium Processing filed alongside an OPT or STEM OPT application.
You can apply for Premium Processing via Form I-907 for a $1,500 fee. This is in addition to the $410 I-765 application fee.
Students are encouraged to apply for OPT early within their 90 day application window to avoid the need to pay Premium Processing fees and to check USCIS I-765 processing times prior to submitting a Premium Processing request.
While you are not required to have a job to apply for OPT, you will need one during your OPT period. As detailed in the below section entitled "Employment and Reporting Requirements...," you are only permitted 90 days of unemployment during the standard OPT period. Bentley has many resources available to international students during the job search. We highly recommend that students utilize the Pulsifer Career Development Center, including CareerEdge, Interstride, and other international student resources.
As you search for a job and speak to prospective employers, Bentley CISS offers a guide for Explaining your Work Authorization, as well as a Guide for Employers.
You must update your employment information while on OPT. You have a limit of 90 days of unemployment during your 12 months of OPT. You can change employers multiple times during your OPT period. Failure to update your employment information during your OPT could result in automatic termination of your SEVIS record.
To count as OPT employment, your job must be:
- Directly related to your field of study
- At least 20 hours per week (if working multiple jobs, must be a combined 20 hours per week)
- Can be classified as a full-time or part-time job, internship, self-employment, contract, or temporary position
- Paid or unpaid
Method 1: Enter your OPT Employer Information using the CISS web form.
Method 2: Use the SEVP Portal. Upon OPT approval, you will receive instructions (to your Bentley email) from the government (email@example.com) with instructions to create an account. You can use this account to update your employment information. If you do not see this email, check your spam or junk mail folder.
Please note that surpassing the 90-day unemployment limit is a status violation. If you are approaching your 90-day unemployment limit, please contact GA_CISS@bentley.edu for instructions on next steps.
Be sure to report any of the following changes to your Bentley DSO at GA_CISS@bentley.edu within 10 days of the change:
- Legal name
- Employer address or details
- New employment or termination of employment
Travel with pending or approved OPT is allowed.
- If your OPT is pending and you are still a student (before your I-20 end date): carry your usual documents, including passport valid 6+ months into the future, unexpired F-1 visa, and most recent I-20 signed for travel in the past 12 months,
- If your OPT is pending and you are no longer a student (after I-20 end date): carry your passport valid 6+ months into the future, unexpired F-1 visa, OPT I-20 signed for travel in the past 6* months, and your i797c receipt notice from USCIS (received immediately upon online filing, or within 2-4 weeks for paper filing). You must be cautious in this scenario, as USCIS may send you notices about your application while you are away. Make sure that you are regularly checking updates to your application. 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."
- During approved OPT period (during EAD authorization dates): carry your passport valid 6+ months into the future, unexpired F-1 visa, OPT I-20 signed for travel in the last 6* months, and EAD card. Some students may also choose to carry proof of employment or a job offer letter, although not required.
*Please note that I-20 travel endorsements are only valid for 6 months during post-completion OPT.
To renew your F-1 visa on OPT, contact the consular post in your home country to inquire about the visa renewal process. You may be required to schedule an appointment OR you may be able to submit renewal documents by mail. While renewing on OPT, you should keep in mind that the purpose of the F-1 visa is for educational purposes, and that you must prove non-immigrant intent, or plans to return to your home country once your educational objectives are completed. 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
For international students, Social Security Numbers (SSN) are used primarily for tax purposes. They do not serve as proof of employment authorization, but they are needed in order for your employer to pay you and so that you can pay taxes.
Some students may already have a SSN from previous on-campus or CPT employment. In this case, you do not need a new SSN for OPT. Your SSN will remain the same for all employment in the U.S.
If you do not already have an SSN, you will able to request a Social Security Number and corresponding card with your OPT application on the Form I-765.
Each year, U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike are required to file taxes, generally due April 15th for the previous tax year. While the CISS does not give tax advice nor aid in tax preparation, we do offer resources each year, including access codes to tax preparation software, to help you prepare to file.
Refer to this general information and commons questions about filing taxes as an international student: Tax Information for International Students
STEM Extension OPT
Certain F-1 international students are eligible for a 24-month extension of their standard, Post-Completion OPT work authorization. This STEM OPT Extension is based on having an eligible STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) major and a corresponding STEM CIP code listed on your I-20. In order to obtain this extension, you must apply for a new EAD card.
Please note that all students must first apply for standard post-completion OPT (12 months) using the instructions listed above before requesting the extension.
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Information Systems
- Data Analytics
- Mathematical Sciences
- Information Systems Audit and Control
- Quantitative Economics
- M.S. Accounting Analytics
- M.S. Business Analytics
- M.S. Human Factors in Information Design
- M.S. Finance – Financial Analytics Track
- M.S. Accounting [as of Fall 2022]
- 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 a qualifying employer. See below "STEM OPT Employer Eligibility" section for details on employer requirements.
- You must have an E-Verify employer. This can be the same employer as during your standard 12-month OPT or a different employer, but you must have this employer identified and have a job offer with a start date in order to apply. The employer must be registered and be in good standing with the E-Verify program.
- The employer must agree to fill out and monitor a STEM training plan for you, as well as sign periodic self-assessments using Form I-983.
- The employer must agree to report to the CISS - within 48 hours - when you are terminated or leave employment.
- The employer must have a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- Employment must be compensated and the employer must provide experience that is similar to that of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation. The STEM OPT student cannot replace a U.S. worker.
- Employment must be at least 20 hours per week.
- Self-employment is not allowed. All employment must be supervised and the employer must maintain a "bona fide employer-employee" relationship with the student employee. This means that third-party or contracting arrangements may be problematic. See USCIS website for complete information on employer requirements
Please note that the CISS cannot confirm eligibility of a STEM employer. You should review the STEM employer requirements and i-983 training plan from USCIS above directly with your employer to confirm eligibility. USCIS will review eligibility upon application approval.
You can apply for STEM Extension OPT as early as: 90 days before your current 12-month OPT expires
You can apply for STEM Extension OPT as late as: the last day of your current EAD card (not recommended)
STEM Recommendation I-20 Validity: To apply for STEM OPT, you will need a special I-20 from CISS (described in detail in the instructions below). This I-20 must be valid when you apply for STEM OPT. STEM recommendation I-20s are valid 60 days from issuance.
DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION TO USCIS BEFORE RECEIVING THIS NEW I-20.
Unlike standard post-completion OPT, once you have properly filed a STEM OPT application, you can continue to work for up to 180 days beyond your standard OPT expiration date while your STEM OPT application is pending. You can confirm this here on the USCIS website.
For I-9 purposes, employers can use your STEM recommendation I-20 which will be issued to you by CISS, as well as your expired EAD card as proof of your continued authorization. Reference to this is located in the I-9 Employer Handbook.
Step 1) Read thoroughly the information on this website, confirm eligibility, and attend a STEM OPT Information Session to confirm your application timeline and to clearly understand the process.
Spring 2023 STEM OPT Information Session Recording
Step 2) With your employer, fill out a STEM OPT training plan Form I-983. (Refer to this I-983 sample and government I-983 instructions for guidance). This document must be complete and signed by both you and your employer in ink.
Step 3) Submit web form to the CISS to request a STEM OPT recommendation I-20 STEM OPT Acknowledgement and I-20 Request Form
Please only submit this form once you have reviewed all instructions.
Have ready to upload:
a) Signed and completed i983 training plan
b) [Only if applying for STEM based on a prior degree] Copy of your STEM eligible I-20 for your previous non-Bentley program.
DO NOT SUBMIT TO USCIS BEFORE RECEIVING YOUR NEW I-20.
Step 4) Obtain STEM OPT recommendation I-20 from CISS. This will be sent to you as a link within 7 business days of submitting the above form. Sign and date the bottom of page 1. Your STEM OPT dates will be listed on page 2. USCIS will refer to this I-20 when listing your EAD card employment authorization dates.
If CISS has indicated that you must make any corrections to your i983 training plan, you must do so and provide the CISS (GA_CISS@bentley.edu) with the finalized version.
Step 5) Prepare your documents and file your application with USCIS online or by mail. You only need to choose one of the below options.
- Option 1: File Online: You can find complete instructions for online document submission here: STEM OPT Online Filing Guide [HIGHLY RECOMMENDED]
- Option 2: File By Mail: You can find complete instructions for filing by mail here: Paper Filing Guide
If mailing hard copy documents, you may choose to have your documents reviewed by a CISS advisor. Please review hard copy mailing instructions above, then email GA_CISS@bentley.edu to request an in-person or Zoom appointment [for paper applicants only]
1) Mandatory 6-month Validation Reports (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, the SEVIS system may automatically terminate your record. Use this form from CISS to validate your STEM Extension OPT employment.
Please note that you may receive automatic emails from the SEVIS system about this reporting requirement. You cannot complete validation requirements yourself, and must submit the above form to have a CISS advisor validate your record for you.
2) I-983 12-Month Self- Evaluations (submitted every 12 months)
STEM participants are required to submit self-evaluations (located on page 5 of the i983 training plan) 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.
3) I-983 Material Changes
Any material 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. Please see the Department of Homeland Security's STEM OPT Hub to learn about "material changes" to the I-983 plan.
4) Changes in Information or Address
Be sure to report any changes of residential or mailing address, legal name, passport country, or change of visa status to your Bentley DSO at GA_CISS@bentley.edu within 10 days of the change. You may use the SEVP student portal, but all updates should also be communicated to CISS.
You can change employers during the STEM OPT extension as long as the new employer meets STEM requirements (see above section on Employer Eligibility).
To change employers, you should email GA_CISS@bentley.edu with:
- A signed, final evaluation from your previous company (page 5 of the i983 training plan)
- A new, signed i983 training plan for your new company (pages 1-4)
Using both of these documents, the CISS will update your employer information in SEVIS, and issue you a new I-20. *Please note that if your STEM OPT application is still pending with USCIS, there are additional steps to update the service center processing your application. Please contact GA_CISS@bentley.edu for assistance.
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:
- Passport valid 6+ months into the future
- Unexpired F-1 visa
- Your STEM OPT Form I-20 form with a valid travel signature (valid for 6 months)
- STEM OPT EAD Card
Some students also choose to travel with their job offer, or letter from employer confirming continued employment. This is recommended but not required.
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. As of 2020, this lottery is now completed electronically after a virtual pre-registration process. Once the selection process is complete and the maximum cap is met, selected registrants are eligible to submit their H-1B applications for government adjudication.
If you are a spring graduate (April/May), 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 H-1B filing in April and the October start date of your H-1B status, USCIS automatically authorizes a "cap-gap" extension of your F-1 status until September 30th. This extension of status will include work authorization if you were on an active period of OPT at the April filing date, or simply an extension of your F-1 status (without work authorization) if you were an active student or on your grace period at filing.
For more information about the H-1B Cap Gap download our Cap Gap Information Sheet. If you would like to request an I-20 reflecting your Cap Gap extension, please complete the Request for I-20 form.