The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that beginning April 12, 2021, F-1 students applying for optional practical training (OPT) may do so online, rather than through a paper filing.
OPT allows international college and university students to use what they have learned in a real-world context by working in the U.S. in a position related to their field of study. Eligible students can apply for up to 12 months of employment authorization—in rare cases, before earning a degree (pre-completion) but generally after finishing their academic studies (post-completion). Students who earn STEM degrees—science, technology, engineering, or math—are eligible to extend their stay in the U.S. by applying for an additional 24 months of STEM OPT.
F-1 students apply for OPT by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with USCIS and specifying the appropriate category:
- (c)(3)(A) – Pre-completion OPT
- (c)(3)(B) – Post-completion OPT
- (c)(3)(C) – STEM OPT extension
The filing fee is currently $410 USD. Students are generally not eligible to begin OPT employment until their Form I-765 is approved and they have received their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). F-1 students seeking post-completion OPT can file Form I-765 up to 90 days before, but no later than 60 days after, the end date of their program of study. Students seeking a STEM OPT extension can file Form I-765 up to 90 days before, but no later than, the expiration of their current OPT authorization.
Online filing is expected to increase efficiency and may reduce the processing time for these applications. To file online, individuals must first create a free USCIS online account at https://myaccount.uscis.gov/. Online filing is optional, and paper applications are still accepted by USCIS.