Girls on stage at the Culture Fest.

Students wishing to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must first have read through the ISSO OPT Guide, located on our Forms page, and complete all necessary documents.

Prior to applying for F-1 CPT, OPT, or 24-Month STEM Extension, please listen to the presentation by an ISSO Advisor:

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view any pdf files. It can be download for free from the Adobe website.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month period of work authorization afforded to all F-1 visa holders that can be used either prior to or after they have completed their program of study. The employment must be in the student’s field of study as listed on their Form I-20 F-1 visa document; the employment cannot exceed 20 hours/week during academic semesters, but can be full-time during breaks and after the student’s program completion; and the employment can be paid or unpaid.

Who is eligible for Optional Practical Training?

Any F-1 student who has completed one academic year of full-time study while actively pursuing their degree is permitted a total of 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) per higher educational level.

When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

An F-1 student can apply for OPT once they have completed one academic year of full-time study, and can apply to engage in OPT either before they have completed their program or upon graduation. The former is referred to as “pre-completion OPT”. Any pre-completion OPT time used prior to graduation is counted against the total 12 months of OPT that student would have otherwise been eligible to apply for upon graduation. Post-completion OPT refers to the OPT time available to the student after they have completed their degree program. 

The application can be submitted to USCIS within 90 days of the student’s anticipated completion date or within the 60-day period beyond their completion date (be very careful that you understand the definition of completion date as listed above). In the case of pre-completion OPT, the student can apply as early as 90 days prior the requested start date of the OPT.

How do I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Students wishing to apply for OPT must first submit a completed application with all requested documents to the ISSO. The OPT Guide provides an explanation of the OPT application process. The ISSO will process the student’s OPT application within 5-7 business days of receipt and email the student when their OPT I-20 has been processed. The student must then proceed to gather documentation for Step 2 of the OPT Process. Once USCIS approves the OPT application, they will issue an Employment Authorization Card (EAC) that the student must obtain in order to work in the U.S.

What if I have trouble finding a job while on OPT?

Students are allowed no more than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT, and this 90-day period begins on the start date of the student’s EAC. Students who have applied for and are granted a 24-month STEM extension of OPT (see below), are granted an additional 60 days of unemployment, effective once the STEM OPT period becomes valid.

How do I report my Post-OPT/STEM Employment?

Once you receive your Employment Authorization Card (EAC), please scan a copy and email it to: Once you obtain employment, please fill out all of the applicable information on the OPT & STEM Employment Reporting Tool. Students can sign into the application by inputting their UMass Lowell student email and password. Any changes of employment must be reported to the ISSO within 10 days of the change.

What is a STEM Extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

F-1 Students from STEM fields are also eligible for an additional 24 months of Post-OPT time (36 months in total work time) if they are employed by an e-verify employer. The student is limited to unemployment of 90 days during the 12 month-period of Post OPT and an additional 60 days during the 24-month STEM extension for a total of 150 days of available unemployment. F-1 students can only apply for a STEM extension once they are within 90 days from the expiration of their Post-OPT work authorization. All STEM employment must be with an e-verify employer for a minimum of 20 hours per week in a job that is within the student’s field of study, and the job must be paid.

Please visit the STEM Extension of OPT section of our website.