Optional Practical Training

Optional practical training (OPT) is another type of practical training available to F-1 students. OPT allows you to obtain practical hands-on work experience in a job that is directly related to your academic program of study. OPT differs from CPT in that OPT is not an integral part of a student’s academic program.

OPT is available while you are completing your program of study (pre-completion OPT) or upon completion of your program of study (post-completion OPT). You must be enrolled full-time for a full academic year before being eligible for OPT. You can participate in a total of 12 months of OPT. Certain students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT through the OPT STEM Extension.

OPT requires authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This means that you must submit an application to USCIS (USCIS Form I-765) requesting OPT and wait for the application to be approved before beginning your employment. Refer to the F-1 OPT Guide for full details on OPT rules and the application process.

OPT Application Process

There are two main parts to the OPT application process: obtaining the OPT Form I-20 from the Center for Global Health and submitting the OPT application to USCIS.

Timing is extremely important with the OPT application process. Before beginning the OPT request process in Terra Dotta, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the rules around the timing of OPT applications with USCIS, including:

  • Your OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the issuance of the OPT Form I-20.
  • Pre-completion OPT: You can submit the OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before being enrolled full-time for one academic year or 90 days prior to the requested employment start date.
  • Post-completion OPT: You can submit the OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before the program completion date on your Form I-20.
  • Post-completion OPT: Your OPT application must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the program completion date on your Form I-20.

Part 1: Submit OPT Request to Center for Global Health

To request an OPT Form I-20, you must submit the Optional Practical Training request through your Terra Dotta portal. We recommend that you begin the OPT request in Terra Dotta approximately 4 months prior to your current F-1 program end date. Refer to the F-1 OPT Guide for more details on what you must submit with the Optional Practical Training request.

After submitting the request, it may be 2-4 weeks before your request is processed by the Center for Global Health. The exact processing time is highly variable and depends on the overall volume of requests at the time. If your request is approved, you will be notified by email, and an updated Form I-20 will be issued for you showing the OPT request. 

Part 2: Submit I-765 Application to USCIS

Once you receive the Form I-20 recommending OPT, and once you are in the application time frame (see above), you can proceed with the USCIS I-765 application. You are required to complete USCIS Form I-765 and gather supporting documentation to submit with the form. You are also required to pay the application fee. Refer to the F-1 OPT Guide for more details on filling out the Form I-765 and submitting the application to USCIS.

There are currently two options for F-1 students to submit the OPT I-765 application to USCIS:

  1. Submit paper I-765 application to the appropriate USCIS service center or lockbox
  2. Submit I-765 application online

The decision regarding how to submit your I-765 application (paper or online) is completely up to you. Regardless of which method you choose, you  must read the I-765 instructions and review your application materials thoroughly before submitting to ensure that you are submitting a complete application.

If you choose to submit the paper application, you must check the USCIS I-765 website and the USCIS fee calculator on the day that you are submitting your application to be certain you are using the correct form edition and submitting the correct fee. You should print the USCIS fee calculation sheet on the date of mailing to include with your application. Make sure the printout sheet includes the date (typically in the header or footer). If you choose to submit the application online, you will automatically be utilizing the current USCIS form.

Again, keep in mind the application time limits outlined above. If you submit your application to USCIS too early or too late (even by one day), it will be rejected.

If USCIS approves your OPT application, you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD card). You cannot begin your OPT employment until you have received the EAD card from USCIS and the valid from start date on the card has been reached.

Once you receive your EAD card, you must upload a copy through the Optional Practical Training record within your Terra Dotta portal. Refer to the OPT Terra Dotta User Guide for detailed instructions on this process.

During Active OPT

During your active period of OPT, you are required to report the following to the MUSC Center for Global Health:

  • Contact information (address, email, phone)
  • Employment details

Remember that, during OPT, MUSC is still the sponsor of your F-1 status, even if you are employed at another organization. This means that you are responsible for maintaining your F-1 status and complying with the MUSC reporting requirements.

All reporting is done through your Terra Dotta portal. Refer to the OPT Terra Dotta User Guide for detailed instructions on this process. After you complete your degree program and graduate from MUSC, you will no longer be using the MUSC NetID to log in to Terra Dotta. Instead, you will set up a separate log in using your personal email address. Contact the Center for Global Health if you have issues in accessing your Terra Dotta portal.

As soon as you have found employment, you must submit the OPT Employment Verification. You must report your employment within 10 days of your start date.

If you change jobs during OPT, you must do the following:

  • Update the previous OPT Employment Verification record in your Terra Dotta portal (accessed through your User Home Page) and enter your last day of employment
  • Submit a new OPT Employment Verification within 10 days of your start date with the new employer

You can have no more than 90 days of unemployment during standard post-completion OPT. You are responsible for keeping track of your days of unemployment. SEVIS will also track your days of unemployment. If you do not have active employment reported in SEVIS, weekend days will also count towards the unemployment maximum.

Exceeding the amount of allowable days of unemployment is a violation of your F-1 status. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the authority to terminate your F-1 SEVIS record if you exceed the allowable days of unemployment.

Completion of OPT

Once you have completed your period of post-completion OPT, you are permitted to remain in the United States for 60 days following the OPT end date. This grace period is intended for you to be able to settle your affairs in the U.S. and prepare to return to your home country. You are also permitted to travel within the U.S. during this grace period.

During the 60-day grace period, you cannot do the following:

  • Apply for re-entry into the United States in F-1 status
  • Apply for an F-1 program extension
  • Work or study

If you received a degree in a STEM field, you may be eligible to apply for the OPT STEM 24-month extension of OPT employment authorization. Refer to the OPT STEM Extension page for more details.