If you are an F1 student in US, your options to work are either CPT, OPT or STEM OPT. Applying for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is very simple and does not involve working with USCIS. Unlike, for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT Extension F1 student needs to submit an application for Employment Authorization using form I-765 with USCIS.
Processing times can be long and stressful for students waiting to get the receipt notice. To help students, on April 12th, 2021 USCIS announced that F1 students can file I-765 form online for OPT and STEM OPT extension. They also organized a stakeholder call on April 22nd, 2021 clarifying many things. In this article, we will look at step by step guide with screenshots on how to submit form I-765 online for OPT.
Eligible I-765 form EAD Categories to file Online
As per USCIS, below are the eligible USCIS EAD Category Codes for OPT & STEM OPT who can file the form I-765 online.
- Pre-completion OPT – (c)(3)(A) : The category code (c)(3)(A) of Employment Authorization Document(EAD) is used by F1 students for pre-completion OPT that is applied during studying, before completing their degree.
- Post-completion OPT – (c)(3)(B) : The category code (c)(3)(B) of EAD is used by F1 students after graduation or completing their degree.
- 24 Months STEM OPT Extension – (c)(3)(C) : The category code (c)(3)(C) of EAD is used by F1 students applying for 24 month OPT extension, who are part of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.
Documents needed for completing OPT Application online
You need to gather the below documents before you start filling out the I-765 form for OPT or STEM OPT online.
- Govt Issued Photo ID: You need a copy of a Government issued photo ID. This can be one of the below
- Scan copy of your OPT EAD Card (if you are applying for extension)
- Scan copy of your Passport with your Photo & Biographic info (name, picture, date of birth).
- Scan copy of Birth Certificate with Photo ID
- Scan copy of US Visa issued by consulate
- Nation ID document with Photo & bio info
- Passport Photo: Scan copy of recent 2 inches x 2 inches color passport photo. Whole face must be visible and meet US Dept of State Photo Requirements. It must be a JPG, JPEG or PNG file
- Legal Status Proof: You need copy of I-94 Arrival / Departure Record (front and back) or Electronic Copy of I-94 printed online.
- F1 Enrollment Documents:
- Copy of Form I-20 that is endorsed by DSO.
- Copy of previous form I-20s that were issued for CPT or OPT.
- For STEM OPT, the I-20 must be endorsed within last 60 days.
- For Post-completion OPT, DSO must update SEVIS system within 30 days of submission of I-765 form online.
- Accepted Scan copy file formats: When uploading scanned copies, the online system will only accept file formats: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF or TIFF. For Passport Photo, the system will only take JPG, JPEG or PNG file.
- Fee Payment Options : The fee is $410 USD. You can use one of the below options and have details of the same during filling of online application.
- Credit Card for Fee payment: You need to have a valid credit card with enough amount to pay the I-765 form fee.
- ACH Payment using Bank : You need to have your Bank Check that has details related to your Savings or Checking Account. The bank need to have enough amount to pay the I-765 form fee.
Step by Step Guide to fill Form I-765 for OPT or STEM OPT Online
Below is the complete guide with step by step instructions on how to fill the I-765 form online for OPT or STEM OPT extension, including screenshots.
Step 1 – Create USCIS Account
Create an USCIS account online at myaccount.uscis.gov. During the signup process and login process, you need to select account type.
Account Type: If you are applying as F1 student by yourself, select “ I am an applicant, petitioner or requestor”. see below screenshot.
Login to USCIS Service : You need to select MyUSCIS icon under “Login to a USCIS Service” and select the one that says “Apply for immigration benefit, find tools….”. see below screenshot.
Step 2 – Select File a form Online
After you created account and logged in, you will see few options like in below screenshot. If you are applying for OPT or STEM by yourself online, then you should select “File a form online” as shown below.
Alternatively, you can find the same under My Account >> Account Actions >> File a Form Online
Step 3 – Select Application for Employment Authorization(I-765)
You will get an option to select the type of form. In this section, you need to select “Application for Employment Authorization (I-765)” as show in below screenshot and click on “Start Form” button. This option clearly tells OPT, STEM OPT extension under the option button.
Step 4 – Info on Eligibility, Fee, Documents, Tracking, Validity
You will get an information page with details on eligibility requirements, how much fee you need, all documents you would need, and what happens after you submit the form. We have listed all in the beginning of the article. It looks like in below screenshot; you can read the details and click on Next.
You would get more information on how to complete the form online, DHS Privacy notice and Paperwork Reduction Act and security reminder that tells the form will be deleted after 30 days if you do not update it. This is to avoid storing personal information too long without submission. It looks like in below screenshot. You need to click on “Start” button after you review these steps.
Step 5 – Getting Started – Eligibility, Reason, Preparer & Interpreter
In the getting started section, you would fill out your eligibility, reason for applying and preparer information. Let’s look at each of them. The below pages appear in sequence as listed and you need to click next after completing each page to go to next.
Select OPT Eligibility Category
You will be given an option to select the eligibility category. Depending on the reason for your application you need select from one the options as listed in dropdown: (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT, (c)(3)(B) for regular/post-completion OPT or (c)(3)(C) for OPT STEM Extension. See below screenshot.
Reason for applying
You need to select, if you are applying for the first time, renewal or if you have lost your OPT card or damaged. Also, you need to select if you have previously filed I-765 or not. If you are applying OPT after graduation, you would select the below option.
Preparer or interpreter Information
You will be asked to answer if you are completing the application by yourself, or someone is helping. If you answer ‘No’, no other questions need to be filled. If you answer ‘Yes’ indicating that someone is helping, then you would be asked to fill in their name and contact information. See below screenshots on how it looks for both cases.
Step 6 – About You – Name, Contact, Immigration Info
In this section you would need to fill out your name, contact info, description about you, your birth info, immigration, and other information. Below is how it looks for each of these details. The below pages appear in sequence as we have listed. You need to click on next button after completing each of the pages.
You need to fill out your legal name as it appears on your birth certificate or passport. If you have initial only in birth certificate for family name, you can expand it as it appears on passport. If you have used other names, you need indicate the same here too and click on ‘Next’ button. See below screenshot on how it looks.
Your contact info
You need to enter your contact information such as daytime phone number, mobile number, email address and mailing address. Also, if you are living in a different physical address, then you need to add those details as well. See below screenshot on how it looks.
You need to describe your gender and marital status. It looks like below screenshot. Select accordingly as per your gender and marital status.
When and where you were born
You need to share details of your date of birth, place of your birth like city, town, or village where you were born and state or province, including country. It looks like in below screenshot. Fill in details as per your date of birth information.
Your Immigration Information
You need to fill out your country of citizenship, US immigration details like I-94 info, arrival & departure info, status at arrival into US, your passport info, Travel Document info, your current immigration status, SEVIS Number that appears on the I20. If you had multiple SEVIS numbers, you need add them in additional information section. See below screenshot on how it looks.
Other Information A-Number, SSN, USCIS Online Number
If you have an Alien Registration Number (A-Number) or USCIS Online Account number based on previous filings with USCIS, you should enter them. Also, if you worked before in an On-Campus Job as international Student, then you may have SSN and need to enter that info as well. It looks like in below screenshot.
Step 7 – Evidence – Photo, I-94, EAD, I-20 Info
In this section you would need to submit evidence related to OPT, photo, previous EAD, I20, and other info. Let’s look at each of them. The below pages appear in sequence
2 x 2 Photo of You
You need to upload a recent color photograph that measures 2-inch x 2-inch. You whole face must be visible and you need to meet all the digital photo requirements as on Dept of State website and use the travel.state.gov photo tool there. The photo needs to be in JPG, JPEG, or PNG file format and less than 6 MB size. It looks like in below screenshot.
Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record
You need upload electronic copy of the I-94 record. Check How to get I-94 electronic record online to print a copy of the same. Instead of I-94, if you were issued any other travel document and your passport was stamped, you need to upload copy of the travel document or passport. You need to apply only one of the travel documents that captured your arrival and departure information. You can upload scan copy of the I-94 or other documents in JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF or TIFF file format. See below screenshot.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Government ID
If you were issued EAD card before, you need to upload a scan copy of the EAD Card. If not, you need to upload a scan copy of Government issued Photo ID that shows your full face, biographic information such as date of birth, name, etc. You can use Passport, Birth Certificate (if it has photo in it), US Visa issued at foreign consulate, or National ID document for the govt issued photo ID. You just need to upload one of the Government ID. The accepted file formats are JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF or TIFF.
Previous CPT, OPT evidence
If you were authorized for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or OPT during your studies, you need to upload evidence for the same. Usually, the CPT and OPT are captured in I-20 that was endorsed by DSO. You need to upload the I-20 forms that indicated the CPT and OPT that were issued. Also, if you were issued an economic hardship work authorization, you need to upload that relevant copies as well. You do not have to upload initial I-20 or copies that do not have work authorization on them. See below screenshot on how it looks.
I-20 with OPT endorsement by DSO
You need to upload the most recent copy of I-20 that is given by the school and endorsed by DSO for the purpose of OPT application. For post completion OPT, DSO has to update your SEVIS record within 30 days of your submission of online I-765 form. If not, USCIS will deny the OPT application. For STEM OPT extension, the I-20 has to be endorsed by the DSO within 60 days of the submission of form I-765. The accepted file formats are JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF or TIFF.
Step 8 – Additional Information
In this section, you can submit additional information related to the application. You have various options to add additional information related to any previous section. If you want to add anything, you need to first click on “+ Add a Response” button as shown in below screenshot.
After you click on that, you will have option to choose the Section, Page and Question. The details for these are pulled in dropdowns as shown in below screenshot. You need to select the relevant ones, where you want to add more info and then fill up the same. See sample screenshot on how it looks
After you completed entering additional info, you would see that entry appearing in the additional information section. See below screenshot. You can delete or add more. You can add as much information as you want for each of the questions.
Step 9 – Review and Submit
In this section, you would get the option to review and submit the form, pay fee. The below pages appear in sequence as you continue using next button after finishing each page.
Review your application
On this page, the system will automatically check for incompleteness of the application and give alerts, if you are missing any information by showing errors. If everything is filled, it would say that “We found no alerts or warnings in your application”. It is important to note, the system only check, if you filled it or not. It does not check for accuracy of information entered or validity of the data you entered. It is your responsibility to upload correct files, fill correct information. It also shows that form filing fee on this page as $410 and clarify regarding refund. There are no refunds. See below screenshot on how it looks.
Your application Summary
On this page, you will have an option to review all the information that you filled online. Also, the system will give you an option called “View draft snapshot” to download electronic copy of the form I-765 that you would typically fill out in paper-based form. It is good to save a copy of the same for records or print a copy for your records. See screenshot below on how it looks.
In this page, you need to agree to terms saying that you can read English and understand every question. See below screenshot on how it looks.
Applicant Declaration and Signature
On this page, you will be asked to agree and certify that all the info you submitted is true and your documents are correct, and you are not wilfully falsifying information. You need to check the box and then type your name agreeing to the same. See below screenshot on how it looks.
Pay and Submit I765 OPT application
On this page, the system will show the OPT filing fee of $410 USD and then give notice that you would be going to Pay.gov for payment. You need to click on Pay and Submit to go to next step. See below screenshot.
Step 10 – Fee Payment on Pay.gov website, Confirmation
You will be redirected to Pay.gov website for payment of the OPT application fee. You will have two options to pay the fee one is with ACH from Savings or Checking account or using Credit Card. It looks like in below screenshot.
Paying using ACH from Bank Account
If you are paying using Bank account, you will need to enter payment information as shown in below screenshot related to your bank from your Bank check information. There is an agency tracking number for the payment if something fails.
Paying using Credit or Debit Card
If paying using Credit or Debit card, you will need to enter credit or debit card information as shown in below screenshot with address and other details. There is an agency tracking number for the payment if something fails.
If the payment is successful, you will be redirected back to USCIS website and will get confirmation like below indicating that your I-765 application was successfully submitted.
Step 11 – Receipt Notice, Tracking of OPT application Online
The biggest advantage of filing OPT application online is that you will get receipt notice right away and you can use that for paperwork and tracking. Once you go the my cases, you will have option to see your submitted I-765 OPT form online. If you navigate to Document’s tab, you will see a section called “USCIS Notices”. This is where you can download a copy of your I-765 receipt notice. See below screenshot. Also, you can track the status in case history and also upload unsolicited evidence, if you have missed anything and want to send it to USCIS as additional information.
Saving OPT Application Draft – 30 days Validity
The USCIS online system saves your form at each step and prefills if you come back later. You do not have to sit and do it in one shot. You will see the current progress application on the home page, once you login. It looks like in below screenshot. The application draft is valid for 30 days. The system extends the deadline by 30 days, if you make any change and save the same. There is no special save button or anything as such. When you hit next button, it will save it automatically.
That’s it! It is not a difficult form and most of the students can do it on their own. No need to go to an attorney. We will share an article with common FAQs related to filing OPT application online based on guidance given by USCIS in stakeholders call.
What do you think of the OPT application filing online? Share your thoughts in comments.