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Optional Practical Training


Alex Pia

Director of International Student Services

2 E. South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401



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Working in the U.S. after your Degree

What is OPT?

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). Students may engage in up to 12 months of Post-Completion OPT after the program end date on the I-20, to be completed within 14 months after graduating from Knox. You must apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for OPT authorization and work full-time in a field related to your major during OPT. Students who majored in a STEM field may also be able to apply for 24 additional months of OPT through the STEM OPT Extension.

Eligibility. To apply for OPT, you must have completed at least one academic year at Knox immediately prior to applying. You may apply for OPT 90 days before the program end date on your I-20 or up to 60 days after your program end date. When you apply for OPT, you may request that your OPT authorization begin on any day within the 60 days after your program end date.

Applying for OPT

You can apply for OPT with hard copies (paper) or apply online. Your application for OPT must be adjudicated by USCIS. It often takes USCIS about 90 days to process an OPT application, so we recommend that you apply early. 

To apply for OPT with hard copies, follow the steps below:

  1. Complete the OPT Request Form and gather the materials on the attached application checklist.
  2. Complete Form I-765. See guidance on how to complete this form.
  3. Meet with the international student advisor and bring your application materials.
  4. Mail your application to USCIS (see mailing information for foreign students). Your application must reach USCIS within 30 days of the issuance of your OPT I-20, and before the end of your grace period.

To apply online, follow the steps on this link.

Applying for the STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT Extension allows STEM students to extend their OPT authorization for an additional 24 months beyond their initial year of OPT (for a total of 36 months). For more information about the STEM OPT Extension, also see the Study in the States STEM OPT Hub.

Eligibility. To be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension, you must:

  • Hold a degree in a USCIS designated STEM field (Find your major and CIP code on your I-20)
  • Be currently authorized for 12 months of OPT and be working in a job directly related to your STEM major
  • Be employed by (or have a job offer from) an employer registered with E-Verify
  • Have previously received no more than one STEM extension. Though you are eligible to apply for OPT after each educational level (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral), you may receive a STEM extension only twice.

To apply for the STEM OPT Extension, follow the steps below:

  1. Complete Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, with your employer.
  2. Use the Knox College SEVIS Record Update Form to request recommendation for the STEM Extension. When you submit this form, be prepared to upload your Form I-983. Knox College will issue you an I-20 recommending you for the STEM Extension and mail it to you.
  3. Send your STEM Extension application to USCIS, and include all documents on this checklist. See guidance here on how to complete Form I-765.

Your application must reach USCIS prior to the expiration of your current EAD and within 60 days of the DSO recommendation for the STEM Extension. You may apply for the STEM Extension beginning 90 days before the end of your OPT.

While your STEM Extension application is pending, your current OPT employment authorization will be automatically extended for up to 180 days, per F-1 visa regulations outlined in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv), provided that your application is timely and properly filed.

Maintaining F-1 status while on OPT or STEM OPT

Full time work requirement and unemployment allowance. You may begin your OPT employment on the date authorized by USCIS, and after receiving your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from USCIS. To maintain F-1 status on OPT or STEM OPT, you must work full-time (21+ hours per week) in job(s) relating to your major(s). After your OPT begins, you may accrue up to 90 of unemployment over the course of your OPT. If you are close to accruing 90 days of unemployment, you should make plans to depart the U.S. or talk with a Knox College DSO about your F-1 status. Students on STEM OPT may accrue up to 150 days of unemployment total throughout their OPT and STEM OPT.

Types of employment. Employment through OPT and STEM OPT must relate to your major(s). The following types of employment are allowed on OPT:

  • Paid employment
  • Unpaid employment such as volunteering or an internship, as long as this does not violate labor laws (Note: OPT students only)
  • Multiple employers: You may work for multiple employers as long as all jobs relate to your major(s), and you’re working at least 21 hours per week.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): You may work for multiple, short-term gigs. Be sure to keep records of all gigs.
  • Work for hire: contract employment.
  • Self-employed business owner: You must have all required business licenses.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm.

Most students on OPT or STEM OPT will have paid employment that is 35 to 40 hours per week. If your employment falls into another category, consult a Knox College DSO to ensure that you are meeting the full-time work requirement and maintaining proper employment records.

Note for STEM Extension students: Employment on the STEM Extension must be paid, and your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.

Reporting Requirements

While on OPT or STEM OPT, Knox College retains your SEVIS record and is responsible for updating it. You are required to report any change of employer, employer address, or personal address to a Knox DSO (Designated School Official) within 10 days of the change. Please use the Knox College SEVIS Record Update Form to submit updates about your address or employment, including if you stop working.

Note: When submitting employment information, you will need to know your employer’s EIN (Employer Information Number). You may need to ask your employer’s HR office for this information.

SEVP Portal: The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recently launched an SEVP Portal for OPT and STEM OPT students to view and update their address and employment information. There is an online SEVP Portal Help section on Study in the States website with the following information:

Use of the portal is voluntary but highly encouraged by SEVP. Once OPT is approved by USCIS, students will receive an email from SEVP with information about how to create their SEVP Portal. If you have any questions about the portal or need assistance, talk with a Knox College DSO or call the SEVP Response Center at 703-603-3400. 

Knox College is still using our SEVIS Record Update Form to collect updates from OPT and STEM OPT students; updates submitted through this form will be added to your SEVIS record by a Knox DSO. You should report any updates to your employment or address within 10 days of change to either the Knox College update form or to the SEVP Portal, but you do not need to make updates in both places. STEM OPT students: please note that due to the requirement to submit Form I-983, new employers need to be added by a DSO to SEVIS. When adding a new STEM OPT employer, you will need to use the Knox SEVIS Record Update Form.

Form I-983 and additional reporting for STEM OPT students: STEM OPT students must keep Form I-983 current. If there are any material changes to your training plan (including change to your employer’s EIN, a reduction in salary not tied to reduction in hours worked, change in learning objectives, etc.), an updated I-983 must be submitted. In addition, the I-983 has an Evaluation on Student Progress that should be completed by the student and employer by the end of the first STEM year, and a Final Evaluation on Student Progress that should be completed by the end of the second STEM year. The evaluations and all changes to the I-983 should be submitted to Knox College through the SEVIS Record Update Form.

Record keeping. Be sure to keep a copy of all your OPT/STEM OPT application materials and make a copy of the front and back of your EAD when it arrives. You should also keep evidence that you are maintaining F-1 status throughout your employment—evidence could include your job offer letter, a description of your job position, pay stubs, or other documents that show your employment history and relation to your major(s).

Travel Outside the U.S.

You may travel outside the U.S. while on OPT or STEM OPT. In addition to the normal documents you should carry when reentering the U.S. (I-20, passport with valid F-1 visa, evidence of financial resources), you must also carry your EAD. While on OPT or STEM OPT, the travel signature on your I-20 should be less than 6 months old when you reenter the U.S. You may also want to carry proof of employment (such as your job offer letter or recent pay stubs). If you plan to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT or STEM OPT, especially if you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa, talk with your DSO.

It is possible, though riskier, to travel outside the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, but you must have your I-797C OPT application receipt in order to reenter the U.S. Be sure to talk with your DSO if you are considering travel while your OPT application is pending. It is not recommended to travel outside the U.S. with a pending OPT application if you will need to apply for a new visa (wait until your OPT is approved before applying for a new visa).


Grace period. There is a 60-day grace period following OPT and STEM OPT. You may not work during this time, but you may remain in the U.S. and you may transfer your SEVIS record to a graduate school if you are continuing your studies.

STEM Extension after OPT. See above for information about applying for the STEM OPT Extension after your first year of OPT. Please note that you must apply for STEM OPT before the end of your OPT authorization.

Transferring your SEVIS record. If you will continue your studies at another U.S. institution, you may transfer your SEVIS record during OPT or STEM OPT, or during the 60-day grace period following OPT or STEM OPT. As long as you will begin studies at your new institution within 5 months of finishing your OPT or STEM OPT, you may remain in the U.S. until your graduate program begins, and your SEVIS number will remain the same. You may also continue using your Knox F-1 visa if it is still valid. Note that your OPT or STEM OPT will end if your SEVIS record is transferred before the end of your OPT or STEM OPT authorization. Work with a DSO to schedule a transfer date that allows you to complete your OPT or STEM OPT if applicable.

H-1B visa category. H-1B status is generally issued for a period of 3 years (renewable up to 6), and allows you to remain in the U.S. and work. Your employer must sponsor you for H-1B status. The H-1B application period opens each year on April 1, but because the number of visas issued are capped, the application period closes quite quickly—often in just a few days. If you are interested in H-1B status, talk with your employer well in advance of April 1 about the possibility of them sponsoring you. Learn more about the H-1B visa here.

If granted, you will be authorized to begin work in H-1B status on October 1 of the same year. If your employer files an H-1B application for you on time, and your application is selected by USCIS for processing, you may be eligible for the “cap-gap extension.” This extends the duration of your F-1 status through September 30 and allows you to continue working on OPT or STEM OPT while your H-1B application is pending, even if the OPT or STEM OPT authorization end date on your EAD has passed. If your employer files an H-1B application for you, be sure to talk with your Knox DSO about the cap-gap extension.

Please note that if your employer files an H-1B petition for you while you’re working on OPT, and you change to H-1B status in the U.S., you will not be granted an H-1B visa at that time. Visas may only be granted at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. If you change to H-1B status in the U.S., you will need to apply for an H-1B visa before reentering if you depart the U.S.


While on OPT or STEM OPT, you should file a tax return annually. Learn more here about taxes. Note that you should first determine whether you are a resident or nonresident for tax purposes.

Resources and Application Forms

Knox College OPT Application Form: Use to request your OPT I-20

Knox College SEVIS Record Update Form: Use this form to update your employment/address information, and to submit your I-983 for the STEM Extension

I-94: Find your I-94 record

Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization

Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

Form G-1145: E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance

STEM OPT Hub: Information for students and employers about STEM OPT and Form I-983

E-Verify: Information for employers and employees

Knox College

Printed on Tuesday, August 9, 2022