What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month employment authorization for F-1 students to gain work experience in the academic subject they study. Prior to apply for OPT, students must have full-time F-1 enrollment for at least one academic year. Optional Practical Training is a benefit for F-1 visa students. You remain an F-1 visa student (you DO NOT change your visa) during OPT.
Requirements for students approved for Optional Practical Training
- Look for and get a job. New rules require student to have authorized work during approved OPT. If you have more than 90 days, collectively, of no employment your OPT approval is cancelled.
- Report all jobs. You must report all employment to the International Office to be considered approved employment.
- Report your home address. All international students must report any change in address within 10 days of moving.
- Travel only when approved. Students on OPT need valid employment.
SPECIAL NOTE: MiraCosta College is NOT responsible for your F-1 status when you approved for Optional Practical Training. International students are solely responsible for maintaining all F-1 requirements while on Optional Practical Training, including finding an approved job and maintaining work throughout approved OPT.
When to Apply for OPT
International student can apply for Optional Practical Training in TWO situations:
- While going to school full-time. Students can apply for Pre-Completion OPT for up to 20 hours per week when school is in session. Students must be an F-1 student for a minimum of 1 academic year
- When student is graduating with an Associate’s Degree or Certificate of Achievement. Students can apply for Post-Completion OPT for full-time employment. Post-Completion optional practical training can be no more than 12 months total and must be approved within 60 days of graduating. Students must be attending school full-time for a minimum of 1 academic year. A student can apply for Post-Completion OPT 90 days before graduating up until graduation day.
How to Apply for OPT
You must attend one of the OPT workshops offered by the IIP and take the OPT Quiz. You are recommended to attend the workshops provided by the Career Center to prepare for your resume and begin looking for employment.
You will need to complete and receive a 100% on the OPT Quiz in order to be eligible to participate in OPT. You may take the quiz as many times as you need to in order to pass. Your results will be sent to the International Office.
You need to complete the following OPT application requirements:
- Form I-765 (see Instructions and Application Checklist for more information)
- Form I-538 (you only need to fill out section A) Students can choose a START DATE from the day after graduating up to 60 days after graduating. End date is one year later.
- Form 1145 (you will be notified by the USCIS directly via email and text when they receive your OPT application)
- Take two (2) passport-sized photos meeting the picture specifications
- Read and Understand the Frequently Asked Questions
You are required to make an appointment at the International Office by calling 760-795-6897 to review your application.
When meeting with the International Student Advisor, please bring the following documents:
- All of your I-20 Forms (from MiraCosta College and any other colleges or language schools you may have attended)
- Completed Form I-765
- Completed Form I-538 (2 pages)
- Two passport-sized photos
- Passport, visa and I-94 card
- Unofficial transcript (printout from SURF) and copies of your graduation petition reviewed by academic counselor
- Check or money order in the amount of $410.00 payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
- Resume (see Career Studies and Services, Bldg. 4700, for assistance in developing a resume
After your application is reviewed, you need to mail* the documents by using certified mail with return receipt to the following address:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Bring your OPT receipt notice and OPT/EAD card to the IIP for copy.
Once the OPT/EAD card is received, you will be eligible for applying for a Social Security Card.
Reporting Requirements While on OPT
- Report any change of your name or address of residence
- Report the name and address of your employer. If you have more than one employer, you must provide each employer's name and address.
- Report any change to employment including employment end date and any changes to employer's name or address. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns in your major field of study.
- If you decide not to use post completion OPT and depart the U.S. to return home or to another country.
Want to know how many hours you can work? What is considered work? How many jobs can you have? Click HERE for Department of Homeland Security's Policy Guidance for OPT. Failure to report any information required for OPT students will result in your F-1 status termination.
SEVP Portal for OPT Students
On Friday, March 23rd the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented a new online tool for students on OPT to keep your information up to date in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This new SEVP Portal allows students to view certain information from their SEVIS record, and update some information directly to the SEVIS record. This is a GREAT opportunity for you to make sure your employment information is valid at all times.
SEVP has created an SEVP Portal Help section on Study in the States with:
- Information about the portal.
- The SEVP Portal User Guide which provides screenshots and detailed step-by-step instructions for using the portal.
- SEVP Portal videos
- A useful one-page reference sheet on the portal
Who has access to the SEVP Portal?
International students who are on active post-completion OPT have access to the portal. You will receive an email from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov once your OPT request is approved and the OPT start date has reached. Please contact the International Office if you can not find this email in your messages.
How will I access the SEVP Portal?
After receiving the email from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov, you will be able to create your account by using your SEVIS ID number.
What can I see in the portal? What can I update in the portal?
The Portal allows you to:
- view your name and date of birth, address, telephone number, dates of your OPT authorization, and your employer information.
- update your physical address, telephone number, and add or remove employer and employment information. This information must be correct at all times.
Who do I contact if I have problems using the portal?
- contact MiraCosta at firstname.lastname@example.org if you did not receive an email inviting you to create your account, or if you are locked out of your account
- contact the SEVIS Response Center at 703-603-3400 if you are having technical difficulties using the portal
Am I required to use the portal?
Currently, the portal is the only option to report updates to your employment and physical address while on OPT. Remember youare required to report updates within 10 days of any change.
How long after I report updates in the MiraCosta OPT Update Form can I see those updates in the portal?
Please allow at least 1 week after you submit your OPT Update Form to see those updates to your SEVIS record through the portal.
Traveling While OPT Pending and After OPT Approval
Can I re-enter if my request for OPT is pending?
The information below is based on the website administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as of December 4, 2014.
Yes, but traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution. USCIS may send you a request for evidence while you are away, however, so you would want to make sure you have provided a correct U.S. address both to your DSO and on the application and would be able to send in requested documents. Also, if USCIS approves your OPT application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States. Like a request for further information, USCIS can only send the EAD to your U.S. address.
You will need the following documents in order to return to the U.S. after receiving OPT approval
- Valid passport and valid F-1 visa
- I-20 form with OPT recommendation printed on page 3
- Employment Authorization Card showing approved OPT
- A letter from your current employer showing you are working in a job directly related to your field of study you completed; or looking for work directly related to your field of study.
Tax Issues While Employed on OPT
Can I go to school while on OPT?
While on OPT, students must be working. However, a student can enroll for one or two classes with approval from MiraCosta College but CANNOT begin a new program of study.
Do I need to pay income taxes while employed on OPT?
Yes, all F-1 students with employment in the U.S. must file federal and state income taxes each year. Based on your income level and other factors, you may be subject to paying income taxes. See instructions on how to file income taxes here.
Do I need to pay Social Security and Medicare Taxes?
Generally speaking, all F-1 students on OPT are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes. Please refer to the Internal Revenue Services' website for additional information.
Steps After OPT
How long can I stay in the U.S. after my OPT expires?
You can stay in the U.S. up to 60 days. This only applies to students who have completed OPT. Students on post-completion OPT who have accrued more than three months of unemployment are considered "out of status" and are not eligible for a grace period.
Can I return to school after completing OPT?
Yes, if you obtain a new I-20 for the next program of studies within 60 days of your OPT completion. Before receiving the new I-20, you must complete a school transfer request and fax or email it to the International Office at 760-757-8209 with the admissions letter from the new school.
Can I change to another status in the U.S. after completing OPT?
You must contact an immigration attorney to figure out your options prior to the expiration of your OPT.