F-1 Optional Practical Training

As an F-1 Student, you can seek authorization for practical training to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience directly related to your field of study upon completion of your degree.

Optional Practical Training is a work authorization available to international students who are in valid F-1 status for two consecutive semesters and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study in order to enhance their educational experience. Students are permitted one year of OPT for completion of each level of study (bachelors, masters, PhD). During the period of OPT, a student continues in F-1 status since OPT is considered to be a part of the program of study. NOTE: You do not need to have a job offer prior to applying for OPT; however the regulations only allow 90 days of unemployment during the 12 month OPT period.

Certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 17 month extension of OPT time.

To be eligible for Optional Practical Training, you must:

1. Have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year
2. Currently be maintaining a full-time program of study and valid F-1 visa status
3. Work in a job directly related to your major field of study
4. ELI students are not eligible for OPT

Important notes on eligibility:

1. You do not need a job offer prior to applying for OPT
2. During post-completion OPT, there is a 90 day limitation on unemployment
3. You can file for OPT no more than 90 days before your program end date and no more than 60 days after your program end date
4. All applications must be received within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date
5. You will risk denial from USCIS if these timelines are not adhered to

We strongly urge you to continue health insurance coverage while on OPT. Here is information on a policy that allows you to pay month by month: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/schools/university-nebraska-kearney-opt.php.

ISS highly recommends that you complete the application early in your 90-day application period. Processing times are currently running around 90 days and it’s important to have your EAD card (Employment Authorization Document) in hand when you graduate so that you can accept employment if offered.

1. Complete the Optional Practical Training Request Form on page 1 of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Instructions and Checklists document.

2. Complete USCIS Form I-765. Please fill in the blank form online from the USCIS website to ensure you are using the most recent form, and then print.

a. For the question "I am applying for" please mark "Permission to accept employment"

b. Item #3: Use Welch Hall address for the mailing address of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)

i. 2504 19th Ave Welch Hall Kearney NE 68849-4911

c. Item #9: If you have not worked in the U.S., you may not have a Social Security number (SSN). If this is the case, you can leave this space blank. You will be able to apply for a SSN after you receive the EAD.

d. Item #10: Enter your complete 11 digit I-94 number. Students do not have an A-Number.

e. Item #11: If you check YES for this question, fill out the next two questions on the form.

f. Item #16 will be:

i. (c)(3)(B) for Post-Completion OPT (lower case "c", capital "B")

ii. (c)(3)(C) for a 24- month STEM extension. If applying for a STEM extension, please fill out section #17 on the I-765.

3. Complete a G-1145 if you would like to be electronically notified of the status of your application. This form is optional.

4. Compile the following documents:

a. All previous and current I-20’s

b. Passport

c. Printout of your I-94. Go to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/

d. Two U.S. passport-style photos.

e. Fee of $380.00 in the form of a personal check

i. Write your I-94 number at the top of the check

ii. Write “OPT application fee” on for/memo line

iii. Make the check payable to Department of Homeland Security

5. Confirmation of completion letter from your academic advisor (refer to sample)

6. Letter of Request for OPT written by you. (See sample)

7. Bring all documents from items 1-6 to an adviser in Welch Hall. The adviser will review your documents, make copies of your entire application for your permanent file, and answer any additional questions you may have about OPT.

International students are required by U.S. law to abide by immigration regulations throughout their stay in the U.S., including the time they are on authorized F-1 OPT. Current regulations require F-1 students to continue to report specific information to the Designated School Official (DSO) with the school that issued their I-20 even if they have completed studies at the school. The DSO is required by Department of Homeland Security regulations to input this information into SEVIS. Students who fail to comply with these requirements are considered to be out of status by Department of Homeland Security.

Reporting Requirements while on OPT:

All students on OPT (whether employed or not) are required to report the below information to the UNK International Student Services Office within 10 days of the change.

  • A change in your name or address of residence
  • Once employed, the name/address of your employer
    • If you have more than one employer, you must provide each employer’s name and address
  • The name and address of any new employer
  • Any change to an employer’s name and/or address
  • Any period of unemployment, including those days between the end of one job and the beginning of the new job
  • If you decide not to use OPT and depart the U.S. to return home or to another country
  • Any change to a new or different non-immigrant status in the U.S., such as H-1, or obtaining Permanent Residence status

OPT Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What counts as employment?
OPT is intended to enhance your academic program by providing a means to gain experience in your field of study. The USCIS considers working in a job that is not related to your program of study a violation of F-1 status. Students must work at least 20 hours a week in either a paid or unpaid position to qualify as employment. Below is a listing of types of employment that are allowed for post-completion OPT:

  • Paid Employment: Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full time
  • Multiple Employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the program of study shown on the I-20
  • Short-Term Multiple Employers (performing artists): students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should keep a list of all gigs, dates, and durations.
  • Self-Employed Business Owner: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency: Students must be able to provide evidence showing that they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to prove evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

2. How to prove that the employment is directly related to your degree program:
SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) recommends that students maintain evidence—for each job—of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the supervisor/manager, and a description of the work.  If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to your degree, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the employer’s hiring official, supervisor, or manage stating how the degree earned is related to the work performed.

3.What happens if I cannot find a job?
During post-completion OPT; students may not have a total of more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial post-completion OPT authorization. Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins counts as unemployment. If you travel outside of the U.S. during a time of unemployment, the days that you are traveling still count towards the 90 days. If you accumulate more than 90 days or more of unemployment, you are in violation of status which may affect your ability to travel in and out of the U.S., future immigration benefits, and change of status applications. Please contact a DSO in the International Student Services Office if you are approaching 90 days of unemployment.

4. Can I travel while on OPT?
Since you will remain in F-1 status during your OPT, traveling abroad and re-entering the country is allowed. Please make sure to have the following documents prior to any travel outside the U.S.: proof of employment, EAD card for OPT, a valid passport, form I-20 endorsed for travel, and a valid F-1 visa stamp. If you are living/working outside of Kearney, you will need to mail your I-20 to Welch Hall for a travel signature. Please mail it at least 1 month in advance so that there will be enough time for it to arrive and be mailed back to you at your address.

5. What happens if I want to transfer to another school or begin studying for another degree?
OPT will end and you will need to forfeit any remaining OPT time if you transfer to another school, enroll as a full-time student, or begin a new program of study. If you are thinking about any of these options, contact a Student Advisor in the International Student Services Office at UNK immediately for further instructions.

6. Can I extend my OPT after the 12 months?
You can apply for a STEM extension if your degree is in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. Please email the DSO for details on this extension.

7. Options after OPT expiration:
You have 60 days after your OPT end date to prepare to leave the U.S. If you plan to continue with your studies, you must be accepted into a new program of study and have your SEVIS I-20 transferred to the new school BEFORE the EAD card end date.

Please click HERE for helpful guidelines on how to report OPT employment or a change in employment to your UNK International Student Services Student Advisor.