How to Check OPT Status Online

Updated on August 12, 2023
At a Glance: OPT, or Optional Practical Training, allows F-1 visa students in the US to work for up to one year, either during or after their studies. It provides practical training in their field of study and complements their education. There are different types of OPT, including pre-completion, post-completion, and STEM extension. To be eligible, students must meet certain criteria, and the application process involves working with a Designated School Official (DSO) and submitting the necessary forms to the USCIS. The status of the application can be tracked online, and once approved, students receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

If you’re studying in the U.S. on an F1 student visa, you might be eligible for OPT. This is great for students who want to be employed and gain some experience straight out of college. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this training program, which has shaped the careers of millions of foreign students in the U.S.

What Is OPT?

OPT, Optional Practical Training, is a period in which PG and UG students with an F-1 visa status are eligible to work in the U.S. This is irrespective of whether they have completed their degrees or are still pursuing them. Foreign students generally are not allowed to obtain a work permit, and hence cannot gain employment. But with OPT, they can work for one year on a student visa, which helps them gain practical training and serves as a complement to their education. So, the first and primary condition is the work should be related to their field of study. OPT covers all fields of study with no exceptions.

OPT is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program and has been around since 2008. Initially, OPT was a 12-month permit for students in any field outside of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). For STEM students, the permit was for 17 months. In March 2016, it was extended to 24 months for non-STEM students and 36 months for STEM students.

The training program can be utilized during any level of higher education. That means, 12 months for your Bachelor’s Degree and 12 months for your Master’s Degree.

OPT, under no circumstances, should be confused with a work permit. It is a temporary work authorization, and there are strict rules that govern this program.

Types of OPT

OPT doesn’t mean just one type of permit. There are different types of OPT you need to be aware of. Generally, these can be divided into three categories. Those are:

  • Pre-Completion OPT: you can only apply for this temporary work permit before you have completed your degree. The duration is commonly 12 months.
  • Post-Completion OPT: you can apply for this permit after you have completed your degree.
  • STEM Extension OPT: only STEM students can apply for this 23-month training permit.

Who Is Eligible for OPT?

Foreign students applying for OPT must meet the eligibility criteria laid out by the USCIS. These vary depending on the type of OPT you are applying for. But the mandatory criteria for eligibility are:

  • You must be a full-time student studying for at least one year in a SEVP-certified college, university, seminary, or conservatory.
  • You can not be studying English as a Second Language.
  • The OPT you are applying for must be strongly related to your area of study. For more information, please visit this document.
  • As a student, you must not have used all optional practical training at your current level of education.
  • You are not eligible for a full-time, 12-month Curricular Practical Training or CPT.

If you are applying for STEM OPT, your course must be listed in the official STEM Designated Program List. Also, your employer must meet certain eligibility criteria. First, they must be enrolled in E-Verify and have a Federal Employer Identification Number. Secondly, they must submit Form I-983 and agree to all terms and conditions.

How to Track OPT Status Online

If you haven’t heard back from the USCIS after three weeks, you can track your application here. This will take you to the portal where the USCIS maintains all records. It’s worth mentioning that the USCIS does not regularly update the status of every student on the portal, so most students see their status as “initial review.” All the statuses you can see on the portal are:

  • Requested
  • Pending
  • Approved
  • Denied
  • Canceled
  • Withdrawn

Your status must be approved. If you have not received your OPT EAD within 90 days, you can request the USCIS issue an interim employment authorization document by presenting the receipt notice. This will be valid for 240 days, and you can work normally until your EAD finally arrives.

OPT Application Process

While a Designated School Official (DSO) will recommend OPT, it is wholly the student’s responsibility to apply. After going through the eligibility criteria, you can get started with the OPT application process by following the steps mentioned below.

Get in Touch With Your School DSO

A DSO is usually in charge of handling all matters related to OPT. They will guide you through the entire process and recommend the best way forward.

Submit OPT Request on the OISS Portal

You’ll be required to submit a request to your academic advisor stating the start and end dates of your training via the OISS Portal. But it is highly recommended to discuss this with your advisor before you submit the request. The college will not process your request until your advisor has approved it.

OPT Authorization Process

Your advisor will process the OPT authorization. During this process, your college will prepare Form I-20 for you to fill out and submit. You should have all OPT materials in your possession at this stage. Some of the most important ones are I-94 record print outs, an F-1 visa stamp, passport photocopies, a check of $410 to be paid to the USCIS, two recent and identical passport-size photos, and photocopies of previously issued EAD (if any).

Fill out Form I-20, Form I-765, and Form G-1145

You must complete and sign Form I-20, the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigration Student Status. You will also file Form I-765, which is the Application for Employment Authorization Document. For standard post-completion OPT, you have to file for EAD starting from 90 days before you have completed your degree to 60 days after. Form G-1145 is the E-Notification Form and instructs the USCIS to keep you updated on the application process electronically.

Mail Application to the USCIS

After you have filled out everything correctly, send the forms to your nearest USCIS office within 15 days, after which it will be rejected. Please refer to Form I-20 for the correct mailing address.

Wait for Confirmation

The USCIS will contact you with the status of your application within two–three weeks. If approved, you will receive an account from SEVP and your EAD after three–four months.

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This is everything you need to know about OPT. Any questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.