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Office of International Student Services
2 East South Street
Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
Working after your degree
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is "temporary employment for practical training, directly related to the student's major area of study." 8 C.F.R.§ 214.2(f)(10)(ii). OPT is a benefit which gives F-1 students the opportunity to gain experience in their field of study. Most students at Knox who engage in OPT do so after graduation ("Post-Completion OPT"). Students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT per education level (bachelors, masters, etc.), which must be used within 14 months of completing your degree. You must be in "good status" with the Department of Homeland Security and you must have been enrolled full time for the previous academic year. OPT applications generally take about 90 days to process, so you are encouraged to apply early. You do not need to have a job in order to apply for OPT, but the job you accept must be related to your studies and require a college degree in order to be hired. Be sure to confirm with your academic advisor that you are on track to complete your studies before you apply for OPT.
You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before your program end date, and up to 60 days after your program completion. This practice allows you to determine graduate school admission before applying for OPT. You may apply for and receive an I-20 for a graduate program at any point during your OPT year. However, you must end your employment before reporting to your new school.
Gather the following before your OPT appointment with the international student advisor:
You may also include Form G-1145 if you would like to receive e-notification when USCIS receives your application.
Bring those documents to your meeting with the international student advisor. The advisor will help you ensure that you have all of the required documents and that your forms are accurately completed. He or she will recommend you for OPT in SEVIS and print you a new Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation notated. You must mail this with your complete application to USCIS within 30 days. Once OPT authorization is requested it may be possible to withdraw your request, but your application fee is nonrefundable.
An I-797 Receipt Notice confirming that USCIS has received your OPT application will be sent to Knox within 3-4 weeks. This document allows you to track the status of your application. Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) should arrive within 90 days of the I-797 notice date. Be sure to keep your EAD in a safe place. If you lose it, you must file another OPT application and pay the fee again. You may begin employment after you have received your EAD card and presented it to your employer. You may only work within the authorized dates listed on the card. Please consult with the international student advisor for more information about maintaining F-1 status while engaged in OPT.
During your OPT year you may take short-term vacations authorized by your employer. For ease of return if you will travel outside the United States, bring an official letter from your employer stating your name, your position, authorization for vacation, and when they expect you to return and resume your employment.
If you are interested in extending your employment, please consult with the international student advisor. Students who majored in a STEM field may be eligible for the OPT STEM Extension. Additionally, your employer may be able to sponsor you for an H-1B working visa application.
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