F-1 international students who have been enrolled at Carleton on a full-time basis for a full academic year (a Fall, Winter, and Spring term) prior to completion of their 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 to 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 (post-completion OPT). If doing pre-completion OPT, you must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (except 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 applications 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 2023 graduates, this would be 6/10/2023. The latest date that you can pick is 60 days beyond your completion date or 8/9/2023 for Spring 2023 graduates. Your OPT will be for exactly one year from the date that you select, i.e. if you pick 8/9/2023 as your start date, your end date will be 8/8/2024. If you have already used some Pre-Completion OPT, please check with ISL staff to find out how much OPT time you have remaining.
Apply for Post-Completion OPT
Travel on OPT
It typically takes 2-3 months to process OPT, but it may take up to 5 months 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), a current F-1 visa (you can apply for a new visa during OPT), 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 any employment you pursue 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 the U.S.
OPT SUGGESTED TIMELINE
(For example only, your actual dates may be different than those illustrated)
90 days before: Apply for OPT — You can apply no more than 90 days before program end date.
Program End or Graduation Date
60 days after: You have a 60-day grace period during which time you should do one of the following:
- Prepare to depart the U.S. within 60 days — NO WORK or STUDY during the grace period.
- Apply for OPT if you have not.
- If accepted to graduate program, have your SEVIS record transferred — releasing SEVIS record to a new school cancels OPT/EAD on the release date.
- Change status to another nonimmigrant status if eligible.
12 months: Maximum length of your OPT & during OPT keep these numbers in mind:
- 90 days — maximum unemployment length (120 days maximum with STEM extension).
- 10 days — MUST REPORT to the office within 10 days of any of these changes: legal name, any address change, employer name, employer address and/or unemployment.
- 90 days before end of 12-month OPT — apply for STEM extension if you are eligible.
60-day grace period (see above)
3 Months before POST OPT expires: If you qualify, apply for 24-month STEM extension 90 days before the initial 12-month OPT expires.
For information on documents needed and applying for OPT, click here.