F-1 Optional Practical Training

Students must NOT pursue any off-campus employment without proper authorization. Authorization must be received BEFORE beginning any off-campus work, internship, or related employment activity.  Pursuing off-campus employment activity without proper authorization could jeopardize the ability to complete your MIT academic program and obtain any future US visas. 
Students obtaining Post-Degree-Completion OPT MUST have their OPT approved, and EAD card in hand, to work on-campus at MIT or off-campus after their degree program completion. 


What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is a benefit authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that extends the F-1 student status to allow you to work in the U.S.A. in order to gain practical training in your major field of study.

  • An employment offer is not required to apply for OPT.
  • OPT must be directly related to the student's major field of study.

Off-Campus Employment (including Optional Practical Training) Must be Directly Related to MIT Degree Field of Study
F-1 visa regulations require all authorized off-campus employment be "directly related to the student's major area of study" and an integral part of the student's established curriculum [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)], in addition to other criteria. 
The U.S Department of Homeland Security reviews employment by international students with great scrutiny, and therefore all activity must be directly related to the student's major field of study for the degree earned at MIT. 
USDHS, on September 30, 2019, issued
Policy Guidance re-affirming this requirement and their additional focus on this issue, including a new requirement that ISO Advisors review employment under CPT/OPT/STEM OPT Extension to confirm it meets these requirements.  The ISO had seen additional scrutiny even before this Policy Guidance -- with student visa applications at US Embassies/Consulates, as well as applications for employment authorizations and Change of Status (including H-1B and Green Card) with USCIS, be delayed with questions about direct relationship to degree.  Students must take great care to be sure the position being pursued under CPT, OPT, or STEM OPT requires their specific degree program and is an application of that degree (not just general concepts or one course taken during a degree program).  The ISO addresses this requirement further in our Employment webpages and in our Employment Information Sessions.  Please feel free to contact your ISO Advisor if you have questions about an internship/training/employment being directly related to your degree field of study.
(**NOTE: Students who have completed their degree, and are applying for Post-degree-completion OPT, MUST have their OPT approved, and EAD card in hand, to even work on-campus at MIT after their program completion date.)


F-1 Employment (OPT-CPT) Information Sessions

For F-1 students, ISO recommends that students first review the ISO website information on "On-Campus Work for F-1 and J-1 Students" and "Practical Training for F-1 Students (off-campus work/employment)". The ISO host weekly F-1 Employment Information Sessions, focusing on on-campus and off-campus employment eligibility and procedures (including Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, STEM Optional Practical Training Extension), which students must attend in order to apply for an off-campus employment benefit. Students can sign up to attend an F-1 Employment Infomation Session by logging into iMIT, view the "Events" section on the right-hand side, and select an "F-1 Practical Training (OPT-CPT) Info Session" date, click on "Details", and then click "I'm Going" to register for the session.

NOTE: Due to the transition from on-campus to online/remote instruction at MIT, and requirement to limit in-person programming, the ISO is making available our "F-1 Practical Training (OPT-CPT) Information Session" presentation slides for students to review in place of attending an in-person session.  For students submitting an I-20 Request for OPT applications in iMIT, on the eform "Attending the OPT Information Session" under the scheduled session date type the date you completed your review of all of the presentation slides; and under ISO Advisor who conducted your workshop" please type "Online". 
The "F-1 Practical Training (OPT-CPT) Information Session" presentation slides are available

Eligibility Requirements

Students who have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least "one full academic year" (a combination of Fall and Spring terms) are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT. Any period of OPT used before the completion of the program is subtracted from the 12-month total limit. Students may be authorized for 12 months of OPT and become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when they change to higher education level (i.e., from Bachelors to Masters; from Masters to PhD). The 12-month total limit of OPT applies to each educational level (Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degree programs).

  • Only students pursuing a degree are allowed to apply for OPT.
  • Special non-degree students are not eligible to apply for OPT.

Students may apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time or full-time, during the annual school vacations (e.g. summer vacation, IAP)
  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time only (max. 20 hours/week), while school is in session, with permission of academic department
  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time or full-time, after completion of all course requirements but before completion of required dissertation/thesis with permission of academic department
  • Post-completion OPT, full-time, after completion of course of study

Application Deadlines

  • For Pre-completion OPT, not earlier than 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year
  • For Post-completion OPT, within 90 days prior to and no later than 60 days after completion of the program

The USCIS Processing Center must receive the complete OPT application and all required documents (see below) before the final deadline, which is the 60th day from the official program end date. Failure to comply with this deadline will result in loss of the entire OPT benefit.

USCIS processing times can take as long as 3-4 months. Please apply as soon as possible to ensure that you receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) on time. The EAD is the offical work permit issued by USCIS that allows you to be hired and work in the U.S.A. during OPT. It is not possible to request an expedite of an OPT application from USCIS, so please plan your OPT start date accordingly and allow for at least 100 days to receive your EAD card.
Important: Students are not permitted to begin employment until they receive the EAD and until the approved start date listed on the EAD.

How to Apply

All students who wish to apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT must attend an ISO OPT information session.  Attendance of this session is required to submit your OPT application.

To sign up for an OPT session online at iMIT.mit.edu; under Full Client Services, click on "Session Sign-ups", then select "Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information Session".

OPT Information Sessions are offered once a week during the semesters (twice a week during parts of February and March).  If OPT Information Sessions are full, please email us at iso-help @ mit.edu so that we can arrange for additional sessions.

After you have attended an OPT session, you may submit a request for your OPT Form I-20 online at iMIT.mit.edu; choose “F-1 Practical Training”, then “Optional Practical Training Application”.

It will take our office up to two weeks to prepare your new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, after which you need to submit your application to the USCIS.

For the OPT I-20 request to the ISO, please prepare the following documents.

For post-completion OPT:

  • $150.00 MIT Administrative Fee for post-completion OPT authorization periods of more than 15 weeks
    (Payable by credit card, check, or money order - check or money order should be made payable to "MIT" and submitted to the ISO when you pick up the new I-20 with OPT recommendation.)
  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead (required, upload to iMIT.mit.edu)
    The letter should certify that:
    (a) the student is in good academic standing;
    (b) enrolled in a specific degree level and major field of study;
    (c) the practical experience the student is seeking is directly related to his/her field of study; and
    (d) the date on which the student will complete the program (this is the official graduation date or the date on which you are expected to complete all requirements including dissertation/thesis).
  • Please make a decision about the OPT start date before you request the OPT I-20. Post-completion OPT must begin within 60 days after the program completion date.

For pre-completion OPT:

  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead (Upload to iMIT.mit.edu)
    The letter should certify that:
    (a) the student is in good academic standing;
    (b) the practical experience the student is seeking is directly related to his/her field of study;
    (c) the practical training is recommended;
    (d) the expected completion date of the degree program, and
    (e) if applicable, the student has completed all course requirements except the dissertation/thesis
    (f) if applicable, the student has on-campus employment (including assistantship) that will continue during period of authorized pre-completion OPT
  • Please make a decision about the OPT start date before you request the OPT I-20.

The ISO advisor will issue a new I-20 Form with OPT recommendation on page 2 of the I-20 form. After approximately 5 to 10 business days, you must pick up this I-20 form from the ISO. Please sign it and make a copy of pages 1 and 2. You will need the copy of this I-20 form to apply for OPT.

Mailing the OPT Application to USCIS

Note: Students must be physically present in the US at the time the application is received/receipted by USCIS; therefore, students can only mail/submit the application to USCIS while you are physically present in the US.

Important: The application and the required documents must be mailed and received at the USCIS Processing Center within 29 days from the date the ISO advisor recommended the OPT and issued the new I-20 form.

Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:
(Please put together your application in the following order.  Do not staple your documents.)

  • Check or Money Order for $410 made payable to "US Department of Homeland Security" OR Form G-1450 with credit card information
    (In the memo line of the check/money order, please write "Form I-765" and your SEVIS ID number.)
  • (Optional) To receive a text message and/or email when USCIS accepts your Form I-765, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. You will also receive a physical receipt notice in the mail.
  • 2 passport photos less than 30 days old
    (Write your name and SEVIS # number in pencil or felt pen lightly on the back and towards the bottom of each photo -- so as to not damage the photos or have writing appear on the face of the photo. Paper clip photos on top of Form I-765.  Further information is available at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/photos.html).
  • Original I-765 form application (https://www.uscis.gov/i-765, use most recent edition, read all the I-765 Instructions, type your form instead of handwrite, sign in black ink, please keep a photocopy for your records)
  • Copy of I-20 form with OPT recommendation (pages 1 and 2; please remember to sign your I-20 form)
  • Copies of any previous I-20 forms in reverse date order (pages 1 and travel signature page, all MIT and previous school forms, please sign your I-20 forms)
  • Copy of I-94 card (front and back) or electronic I-94 Form as PDF
    (retrieve the I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/)
  • Copy of identity pages in passport (passport must be valid)
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), front and back, if applicable
  • Copy of F-1 Visa (even if the visa is expired) - NOTE: Does not apply to Citizens of Canada, who are not issued an F-1 visa issued by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Please mail your OPT application documents either via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or via Private Courier Service (FedEx, DHL, UPS) to the address below (USCIS in Texas) ONLY if your physical address is within Massachusetts as stated on #7 of the I-765 form. Please read the I-765 Instructions at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 for details regarding the I-765 form.

If your U.S. physical address in #7 of your I-765 form is NOT in Massachusetts, then please consult the filing instructions for the proper USCIS address to mail your OPT application:   https://www.uscis.gov/forms/forms-information/uscis-phoenix-and-dallas-lockbox-facilities

Via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries (choose Express Mail or Priority Mail with Return Receipt) if your mailing address in #7 of I-765 form is in Massachusetts:

P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

Via Private Courier Service (such as FedEx, DHL):

Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Helpful Tips:  

  • Keep a copy of all documents submitted to USCIS for your records.  Also, you should keep a mailing return receipt of your package as evidence that you submitted the application in a timely manner.
  • The U.S. Postal Service cannot forward USCIS government mail using the USPS Mail Forwarding service. If you need to update the mailing address on the Form I-765 after you submit the application to USCIS, please contact your ISO Advisor for more information.

Students must NOT begin their internship/experience until they receive the Approval of their OPT application -- the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card -- in hand and the "valid from"/start date on the EAD card has arrived.  Pursuing off-campus employment activity without proper authorization could jeopardize the ability to complete your MIT academic program, require departure from the US, and difficulty obtaining any future US visas. 

Reporting Requirements while on OPT

Students in F-1 status authorized for employment under OPT are responsible for maintaining their nonimmigrant status. According to Federal Regulations, F-1 students are required to report information directly to the ISO regarding their employment as well as changes to personal information and immigration status. Failure to comply with these reporting requirements may result in denial of future benefits (i.e. extension of employment under the H-1B OPT Cap-Gap rule and STEM OPT program) and termination of status and OPT authorization.

Click on F-1 Post-Completion OPT: Reporting Requirements for detailed information on how to report your information.

Periods of Unemployment While on OPT

Students may accumulate up to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during 12 months of authorized OPT. Days of unemployment begin to accumulate:

  • If employment does not start on the approved start date of OPT on the EAD
  • If you receive the EAD after the approved start date of OPT on the EAD
  • Between periods of employment

Accumulating more than 90 days of unemployment is considered a violation of F-1 status by USDHS.

What constitutes qualified employment?

  • Paid employment in a job directly related to major field of study, part-time or full-time that is for multiple employers, short-term multiple employers, contracting work (evidence of duration of contract, name of company and address needed), self-employed business owner (proper business license and evidence of active engagement in business needed), employment through an agency or consulting firm (evidence of work for at least 20 hours per week).
  • Unpaid employment in a job directly related to major field of study as volunteer or intern that does not violate labor laws and is at least 20 hours per week.

Travel after the Completion of Program while on Post-completion OPT

Travel while on OPT is not restricted. However, based on USDHS practice, the ISO recommends that you wait until you receive the EAD and secure employment before making plans to leave the U.S.A. after graduation.

You must carry the following documents when entering the U.S.A. during post-completion OPT. If you are missing any one of these documents you risk being denied entry and losing your OPT.

  • EAD card
  • Letter from your employer verifying employment
  • OPT I-20 form with travel signature not older than 6 months (Only an ISO advisor can endorse the I-20 form with a signature.)
  • Valid F-1 entry visa stamp issued by the U.S. Consulate (if your F-1 entry visa has expired by the date of your return to the US, you must apply for a new F-1 entry visa while abroad at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Do NOT use a tourist visa or visa waiver program to enter the U.S. while on OPT, as that will cancel your OPT authorization).
  • Valid passport (at least for 6 months beyond the re-entry date)

Social Security Number

You can apply for the Social Security Number on the start date of OPT as printed on your EAD card. Please see instructions at our Social Security Number webpage for more information. If you have already have a Social Security Number, you do not have to apply again.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of Authorized OPT

We have many students on F-1 OPT whose employers will seek to extend their work authorization in the US by applying for an H-1B visa (temporary worker in a professional, specialty occupation). There is a limit (“cap”) on the number of H-1B visas available to employers subject to this cap -- 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for individuals with an advanced degree (Master’s degree or higher) from a U.S. institution. These visas are available during the government Fiscal Year (October 1 through September 30). H-1B cap-subject petitions can only be filed as early as April 1 (for an October 1 start date) each year. In recent years, more than twice the numbers of H-1B petitions are received than there are visas available. Therefore, it is not uncommon for an F-1 student who graduates in the Spring semester with 12 months of post-completion OPT to have their OPT authorization expire in advance of October 1 – leaving a “Gap” between the OPT end date and the H-1B start date of October 1.

Under U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations, a student with an authorized period of post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training or F-1 STEM OPT Extension, who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting “Change of Status” (not “Consular Notification”) filed by their employer, will automatically have their status and employment authorization automatically extended from the ending date of the OPT/STEM OPT period (as indicated on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card) until the starting date of the approved H-1B status (October 1). [8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(vi)]

To clarify, automatic extension of F-1 status and employment authorization is granted if (a) the employer timely-filed cap-subject H-1B petition (generally April 1, or soon after), as communicated by USCIS) and (b) where the student’s OPT authorization is valid past that filing deadline.

If a student’s OPT authorization expires before the H-1B timely-filing deadline (generally prior to April 1), but the petition is still considered timely-filed (the OPT authorization expired less than 60 days prior to the H-1B timely-filing deadline – also called the F-1 “grace period”), a student’s F-1 status is considered automatically extended, but employment authorization is not extended. In this case, a student may be allowed to remain in the US until the start date of the H-1B status, but are not allowed to continue with employment.

Authorization to remain in the US, and any authorized extension of employment authorization, will be valid if the above conditions are met, until September 30, unless the H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, or revoked.

EXAMPLE: An MIT F-1 student graduates on June 3, 2016, and applies for and is granted OPT valid from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Their H-1B cap-subject employer files an H-1B petition (requesting “Change of Status”, NOT “Consular Notification/Processing”) on their behalf on April 1, 2017 for the eligible fiscal year October 1, 2017 start date. The H-1B petition is approved, with the October 1, 2017 start date. While the F-1 student’s 12-months of OPT authorization (and EAD card) ends on June 30, 2017, since the student is the beneficiary of a timely-filed and approved H-1B petition starting October 1, the student can remain in the US from June 30, 2017 through September 30 and continue working under the terms of F-1 OPT, and on October 1, 2017 the student’s status becomes H-1B.

How does the student show evidence of extended work authorization?

The student can first provide (via E-form through iMIT) a copy of the H-1B Receipt Notice (Form I-797), proof of the timely-filed H-1B petition, and then the H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797), to the ISO. The ISO will then issue the student an updated Form I-20 (OPT Cap-Gap I-20).

May a student travel during the Cap-Gap period?

You are strongly advised NOT to travel during the Cap-Gap period since requirements for applying for entry visas from US Consulates abroad, and entry to the US, require a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card. During an authorized Cap-Gap period, a student will not have a new EAD card (only the expired card) and a Form I-20 noting the Cap-Gap authorization. Per US Department of Homeland Security guidance, this is not sufficient documentation for purposes of re-entry to the US in F-1 status.

F-1 OPT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I pursue both a Teaching/Research Assistantship and an off-campus internship under CPT at the same time?

If during an academic term (Fall/Spring) you are pursuing a 20 hour per week research or teaching assistantship, or other on-campus position at MIT, and want to pursue an off-campus internship at the same time, students will require approval of their academic department to do so. Generally at MIT, an on-campus position for the maximum 20 hours per week during academic term plus an off-campus internship is not granted, given concerns of the availability of time to pursue both activities and impact on being able to affectively pursue studies and make proper progress towards completion of degree. Please see current MIT policy on the OGE website.

If the student's academic department feel the additional off-campus internship is beneficial for the student's academic program, support such activity, and the student meets all other eligibility requirements for OPT authorization, the visa regulations may allow such authorization. Please consult with your ISO Advisor for eligibility details.


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