F-1 international students who have been enrolled at Carleton on a full-time basis for a full academic year (or 9 months) prior to completion of your studies or graduation may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is an extension of F-1 student status and provides temporary employment related your academic major(s). Although OPT can be utilized during your studies (referred to as pre-completion OPT), most students elect to use this employment authorization after they graduate or post-completion OPT. If doing pre-completion OPT, you must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks).
To qualify for OPT you must maintain lawful F-1 status (full course of study, good academic standing, etc.) for an entire academic year before you apply. Unlike CPT, you do not need a job offer in order to apply. If your employer has agreed to sponsor your H-1B visa, you still need to apply for OPT as H-1B visas are not valid until Oct 1.
When to Apply
The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your completion date. The latest that you can apply is one month after your completion date to make sure that there is enough time for USCIS to receive your application. USCIS will not accept application received 60 days or more beyond your program end date.
Choose Your OPT Dates
The earliest start date that you can choose for OPT is the day after your completion date. For Spring 2021 graduates, this would be 6/13/2021. The latest date that you can pick is 60 days beyond your completion date, or 8/12/2021 for Spring 2021 graduates. Your OPT will be for exactly one year from the date that you select, i.e. if you pick 8/12/2021 as your start date, your end date will be 8/11/2022. If you have already used some Pre-Completion OPT, please check with OIIL staff to find out how much OPT time you have remaining.
Apply for Post-Completion OPT
Travel on OPT
It may take 3-5 months (or more) to process an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), the OPT employment card. You cannot start work until your EAD is issued. You are strongly advised to apply for your OPT before you graduate and to remain in the U.S. while your application is pending. If you depart the U.S. after submitting your application but before OPT is granted or leave while you are unemployed and on OPT, you may face difficulties when you re-enter as Port of Entry Officers at airports and border crossings could refuse your entry. You should bring copies of documents that demonstrate you are actively seeking employment, your EAD application receipt notice (Form I-797) and/or written job offer. If you travel while on OPT, you should also bring a letter confirming your employment. When you travel you should have a valid passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future), current visa (you can apply for a new visa during OPT but it may be difficult to prove ties to your home country), and an I-20 with a valid travel signature (signed within the last 6 months). While under F-1 status and OPT, never enter the U.S. under any other visa, including tourist, as it will invalidate your OPT application or/and EAD card. See our OPT Travel Page for more information.
Maintaining Your F-1 OPT Status
During OPT, you should not be unemployed for more than 90 days or you will be out of status and must leave the U.S. immediately (there is no grace period). You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern related to your studies with a minimum of 20 hours a week to meet the employment requirement. You may be employed with more than one employer or volunteer organization at a time and all employment must relate to your studies. You may have a series of part or full-time positions (or “gigs” as an artist/performer). You may be self-employed but you should provide proof of your business registration, your active involvement in it, and how it is related to your studies. At all times you should maintain documentation of your employment, e.g., position held/job title, proof of the duration of that position, contact information for your supervisor or manager and a description of the work.
To maintain your F-1 status and work authorization during OPT, you must report within 10 days to Carleton the following changes:
- Legal name
- Residential or mailing address in U.S. and home country
- Employer name and/or address (for all employers)
- Any periods of unemployment
- Change in nonimmigrant status, e.g., change from F-1 to H1-B, attendance at another (graduate) school, etc.
- Departure from U.S.