Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a specific work authorization granted by the Department of Homeland Security to allow students to obtain training in their field of study. In most cases, this application is filed as post-completion OPT in the graduating term of an Associate Program and, if approved, grants the student a full-time work authorization for up to 12 months in a field related to his/her program of study.
Steps to Apply for OPT
Step 1: OPT Tutorial
Review the Online OPT Tutorial (See video above)
Step 2: OPT Quiz
Complete the OPT Quiz included in the Online OPT Tutorial video and print Confirmation Form
Step 3: Review OPT Guidelines
Step 4: Collect required OPT documents
Refer to the OPT Online Tutorial video for a list of the required documents.
Step 5: Submit completed OPT packet
Submit completed OPT packet in person at:
Office of International Student Services & Study Abroad (OISS&SA)
3200 Main St.
Houston, TX 77002
(Entrance is located at the intersection of Elgin and Travis, on the street level of the parking garage)
Step 6: Pick up OPT packet from OISS&SA
Pick up completed OPT packet from from the Office of International Student Services & Study Abroad (OISS&SA) for mailing after being contacted by an HCC Designated School Official (DSO). Normal processing time is 3-5 business days.
Step 7: Mail completed OPT documents to USCIS
After receiving SEVIS Form I-20 and completed OPT packet, mail all documents to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) per the DSO’s instructions.
OPT Application Checklist & Documents
While on Post-Completion OPT
What the student needs to know
- You are still in F-1 Status (OPT is a benefit of F-1 Status)
- Do not attend school full-time while you are on OPT; you are limited to part-time attendance as non-degree seeking student only. Check with a DSO prior to enrolling
- The U.S. Post Office will not forward the EAD, so make sure that you or someone reliable will be at the address you place on your I-765 form to receive the mail. Undeliverable mail will be returned to the Service Center.
- Always check with a DSO if you have questions about any of the above.
- There are limits on total days you can remain unemployed without affecting your F-1 Status. You cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment status during the 12 months of PostCompletion OPT; any unemployment period exceeding the 90 days may result in violation of your F-1 status.
What the student needs to do
- Submit a copy of your EAD to your assigned OPT contact (the DSO who assisted with your OPT)
- Actively search for employment
- Any time your personal information changes, report it within 10 days by emailing your DSO
- Submit any employment information using the OPT Employment Information Form found on the international student website under F-1 Services and Forms. *According to the federal regulations [8 CFR 214.(f)], F-1 students are responsible for reporting the address, employer’s name and address, and any periods of employment and unemployment while on OPT. The DSO is responsible for updating the student’s SEVIS record to reflect these changes. This reporting requirement is an on-going requirement.
You may choose to end OPT before the end date on your EAD and do any of the following:
- Return home immediately
- Transfer to another college and get a new SEVIS I-20 Form
- Apply to start a secondary program at HCC and get a new SEVIS I-20 Form.
Frequently Asked Questions: Post-completion OPT
What is OPT?
OPT is an acronym for Optional Practical Training, a specific work authorization granted by the Department of Homeland Security to allow students to obtain training in their field of study. In most cases, this application is filed as post-completion OPT in the graduating term of an Associate Program and, if approved, grants the student a full-time work authorization for up to 12 months in a field related to his/her program of study.
Who is eligible for post-completion OPT?
Students must have completed one academic year (fall and spring semesters) as a full-time student and be in F-1 status at the time of application. Student must have applied for graduation in one of the Associate Degree programs or full-time certificate programs at Houston Community College.
Who is not eligible for post-completion OPT?
Students in the Intensive English Program are not eligible to apply for OPT. Also, students who have already completed OPT at the community college level or a higher degree level are not eligible to apply for OPT.
Do I get another year of post-completion OPT if I complete a new degree?
Students become eligible for another 12 months of OPT benefits upon completion of another degree at a higher level (e.g. Associate to Bachelor, etc.). Students are only eligible for one OPT period at the associate level. If the student applied for OPT benefits on a certificate level, and uses the same credits to complete an Associate’s Degree in the same program of study, this student is not eligible to apply for OPT benefits on that Associate Level.
When should I apply?
You may apply for post-completion OPT 90 days before the completion of your studies BUT PRIOR TO 60 DAYS AFTER THE COMPLETION OF YOUR STUDIES. Since the application process may take up to 90 days and employment cannot begin until you have received an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), we recommend that you apply early. Your application must arrive at the U.S. Texas Service Center and be officially receipted before the 60th day after the completion date of your degree program.
What if I am planning to move to a new address while my application is pending?
The US post office will not forward your EAD. Make sure that the address provided on the application (Form I- 765) is where the student or some other (authorized) reliable person will be to receive the EAD when it arrives 2 to 3 months from the application date.
You must report a change of address within 10 days of moving within the United States or its territories.
If your case is pending and you have the Receipt Number, report your change of address online to USCIS.
You have to also report the change of address in the HCC Student System, where you can update your Mailing and SEVIS addresses.
When will my OPT begin?
Your employment authorization does not necessarily begin when your EAD arrives. The authorized employment period is indicated on the EAD card with a start date and an end date.
Can I travel while waiting for my OPT approval?
When you are pending to receive your OPT card, we recommend you not to travel outside the U.S. unless you have an emergency. In this scenario, please schedule an appointment with your Designated School Official to discuss the risk and the required documents.
Can I travel while I am on OPT?
If your OPT has been granted, you should be able to travel with the following documents:
- Valid F-1 visa
- Passport valid at least 6 months into the future
- Valid EAD card
- Employment letter (s) It is best to have an official letter of employment and 2 to 3 recent pay stubs.
- Proof that you have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment
- SEVIS Form I-20 with valid travel endorsement (Please be aware that the travel endorsement for OPT is valid only 6 months from the date of signature on Page 2)
Time spend outside the U.S. counts towards your total 90 days of unemployment unless you are employed and take approved vacation or business travel.
Can my dependents travel when I am on OPT?
It is best to have an official letter of employment and 2 to 3 recent pay stubs. Your dependents must have their own I-20, passport, F-2 visa and copy of the F-1 student’s SEVIS Form I-20, copies of the EAD card and your employment letter in order to travel.
May I get a temporary employment card if my application is delayed in processing?
No. This option is no longer available.
How is OPT different from Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?
With OPT, the student receives an EAD from the Department of Homeland Security. With CPT, the authorization is granted by a Designated School Official (DSO) and is indicated on Page 2 of the student’s SEVIS I-20 Form. Participation in CPT does not affect your future OPT benefits as long as you work less than one year full-time under the CPT program. If one year or more of CPT is used, the student is no longer eligible for OPT for that degree level. CPT must be an integral part of the curriculum. OPT does not have to be connected to the curriculum, but it does have to be in the field of the student’s major.
What do I do if I am not going to complete my degree as expected?
You should report immediately to the Office of International Student Services & Study Abroad (OISS&SA) for further guidance.