Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of temporary employment authorization for F-1 students, which allows them to gain practical experience in their field. Post-completion OPT occurs after a student has finished his/her degree program. A student approved for Post-completion OPT is authorized to work in the U.S. in a job directly-related to his/her field of study for up to 12 months. F-1 students can apply for OPT following each higher degree level.
If all of the below statements are TRUE, then you are eligible to apply for OPT:
Step 1: Read through the information in this section of the website and determine whether you are eligible for OPT. If you are unsure whether you are eligible for OPT or have questions about the application process, please contact your ISSS Advisor. Please choose your advisor's name from the Staff Listing page to see their most up-to-date contact information and walk-in schedule.
Step 2: Submit an OPT Request. Please note: Applications will not be accepted more than five business days in advance of your earliest filing date (90 days prior to program end date). This policy is in place to help avoid application denials due to timing errors. There is a very useful Planning Tool for Post-Completion OPT located on the Study in the States website, which can help you determine your filing deadlines.
Step 3: Pick up and sign your new I-20 from ISSS on the second floor of Fell Hall. You will be notified via email when your I-20 is ready and available times for pick-up.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to COVID-19, all I-20s will be shipped. The notification email you receive will describe your shipping options.
Step 4: Download the OPT Application Checklist or view the checklist from within your ISSS Portal and gather your OPT application materials. For full details on what is required for your OPT application, please visit the USCIS website. The downloadable checklist and the below list of application materials is provided for your convenience and is not meant to replace the official instructions listed on the USCIS website.
Step 5: Mail your complete application to USCIS. You should include all the documents listed in Step 4 above. If you would like ISSS to review your application prior to mailing, please visit the office during walk-in hours and bring your complete application with you. You can also have your advisor review your application remotely/electronically. If you choose this option, please omit/hide your social security number when providing the documents for review. Please choose your advisor's name from the Staff Listing page to see their most up-to-date contact information and walk-in schedule.
Two to three days after USCIS receives your OPT application, you should receive an email and/or text message from them indicating that they have received your application (USCIS will contact you based upon the information listed on the Form G-1145 you submitted with your application). Within two weeks of receiving the text/email, you should receive a paper Receipt Notice (Form I-797) in the mail. Both the text/email and the Receipt Notice should contain a Receipt Number which can be used to check your application status online.
To get a general idea of how long it will take USCIS to process your OPT application, you can visit the Check Case Processing Times page of the USCIS website. You will need to choose the appropriate service center from the pull-down. The service center processing your case will be listed in the bottom left corner of your I-797 Receipt Notice.
OPT processing times can range anywhere from 2-5 months. There is no guarantee USCIS will process your application within 90 days. If your application is processed and approved, your EAD card should arrive in the mail in approximately 7-10 days.
You may only begin working after you have received your EAD card and the start date on the card has been reached.
Both the text/email from USCIS and the I-797 Receipt Notice should contain a Receipt Number which can be used to check your application status online at the USCIS Case Status website. You can also Create a USCIS Account to receive case status updates via email or text message.
If you have entered your Receipt Number in the USCIS website and the number was not recognized, you should email email@example.com.
Once your application is approved and the EAD card is shipped, the USCIS Case Status website will provide the USPS tracking number for the envelope containing your EAD card. If you created a USCIS account and signed up for case status updates, you should automatically be notified via email when your card has been shipped.
Even though you may have finished your program at ISU, you continue to have reporting obligations to ISSS.
Before you graduate: you should continue to report any changes to your personal contact information (phone, address, etc.) by updating your contact information in your MyIllinoisState account.
After you graduate: you will report any changes directly through the ISSS Portal. When you submitted your OPT Request to ISSS, you provided a personal (non-ilstu) email address in your request. Your new ISSS Portal login instructions will be sent to this personal email address shortly after you graduate. The email will ask you to create a new login for your "non-integrated" ISSS Portal account. Basically, what "non-integrated" means is that your ISSS Portal account will no longer be connected to your My account, since you are no longer a student.
Once you have your new "non-integrated" ISSS Portal login, you will be able to report any changes to your personal contact information by editing your profile information directly in your ISSS Portal. You will also use the ISSS Portal to report any updates to your employment while on OPT. See the Reporting Requirements section of this page for further details.
You will receive an email with a link to setup your SEVP Portal account soon after the start date listed on your EAD card. After you have setup your SEVP Portal account, you should only use it to review your current information for accuracy.
You should MAKE NO CHANGES to the information in your SEVP Portal. All changes should be reported through your ISSS Portal.
While your OPT application is pending, you must report any changes in address to both ISSS and USCIS within 10 days of moving to the new address. It is also important to update USPS with any changes of address to ensure the proper delivery of your EAD card.
If your application has been pending for longer than the processing time posted on the USCIS Case Processing Times website, and you have not received your EAD card, you can call the USCIS Customer Service number listed on your Receipt Notice and ask that they open a service request. You can also submit a case inquiry for Outside Normal Processing Time online.
If the USCIS site shows that your card was delivered, but you have not yet received it, then you should contact your local post office. If you are still unable to locate the card:
Possible reasons for non-delivery:
After you receive your EAD card, you should look it over and make sure everything is correct. If you find any errors on the card, the process of correcting them depends upon the cause of the error:
Any job you take while on OPT must be directly related to your field and level of study. To be considered "employed" while on OPT, you must be working for at least 20 hours/week in a paid or unpaid position. If you are working multiple jobs, they must collectively add up to at least 20 hours per week.
You cannot begin working on OPT until you have your EAD card in your hand and the start date has been reached, and you must stop working on the end date listed on the EAD card.
If you are uncertain whether a potential job would be considered in your field of study, ISSS recommends that you obtain a signed letter from your employer and/or a faculty member within your previous ISU academic department stating how the job duties directly relate to your field of study.
While on OPT, you cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment for the entire 12 months. Staying past the 90-day limit may be considered a violation of status by DHS.
"Cap Gap" is a term used to describe the "gap" between the end of OPT/STEM Extension and the beginning of H-1B status with an employer subject to the H-1B "cap".
You are eligible for a Cap Gap Extension to your OPT employment if:
IMPORTANT: If your H-1B petition was receipted after your OPT EAD card had expired (but before your 60-day grace period ended), then your are eligible for a Cap Gap Extension to your F-1 status, but not to your employment authorization. You can remain in the U.S. in F-1 status, but you cannot work during the "gap" period.
F-1 students who are eligible for Cap Gap and would like a new I-20 printed reflecting the extension of their status/employment should submit a Cap Gap Request.
Your are NOT eligible for a Cap Gap Extension if:
Shortly after you graduate, you will receive an email to setup your new "non-integrated" ISSS Portal account. This email will be sent to the personal (non-ilstu) email you provided on the OPT Request you submitted to ISSS. Once you have created your new "non-integrated" account login, you will be able to make personal contact information updates directly in your ISSS Portal user profile and also submit any employment updates. Your ISSS Portal account will no longer be tied to your My account because you will no longer be a student.
Illinois State University F-1 students on OPT must report ALL changes through the ISSS Portal.
You will gain access to the SEVP Portal through a link sent to you via email. This email will come from firstname.lastname@example.org and will be sent to the email address currently listed in your ISSS Portal profile. The email with the link to the SEVP Portal will only be sent after:
If you believe you should have received this email, but did not, please first check your spam or junk mail folders. If you still do not see it, please submit an SEVP Portal Account Reset request.
If you have been locked out of your SEVP Portal account, click the "Reset Password" link on the SEVP Portal Login page. The SEVP Portal will send you an email with a temporary password, so you can login and create a new password.
If you already attempted to reset your password and are still unable to login to the SEVP Portal, please submit an SEVP Portal Account Reset request.
You must report any changes in your personal contact or employment information to ISSS while on OPT. All ISU F-1 students on OPT must report changes as follows.
You should not make any changes to the information in your SEVP Portal. All changes should be reported through your ISSS Portal. You should only use the SEVP Portal to review your current information for accuracy.
You must report ALL CHANGES through the ISSS Portal. DO NOT use the SEVP Portal to report any changes.
If any major change related to your visa status occurs, such as the following, please notify ISSS directly by emailing email@example.com.
Traveling outside of the U.S. prior to receiving work authorization is strongly discouraged. Attempting to enter the U.S. without proof of employment may result in denial. When traveling outside of the U.S. following OPT approval, the following documents are required:
If the travel signature on page 2 of your most recent I-20 has expired, you can request a new signature by submitting a Travel Signature Request.