F-1 Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of the F-1 visa that allows you to work off campus, post-graduation for a period of 12 months. The employment must be directly related to your major field of study.

Students must attend an OPT workshop to receive the information regarding OPT and then be eligible to apply through our office.

Who is Eligible for OPT?

F-1 students who:

  • Have completed (or will complete) one full academic year (fall and spring semesters)
  • Is in good academic standing and in their final semester
  • Have not used 12 months of full-time CPT
  • Have not previously received OPT at the same level of education

Keeping Your Information Up To Date

While you are on your OPT, you are required to report information to ISSS any time any of the following change:
  • Your employer name and address
  • Any changes in employment (ending a job or switching jobs)
  • Any changes in your personal address
  • If you change your immigration status (i.e. H-1B, H4, F2)
  • If you leave the U.S. and no longer using your F1 OPT/STEM

OPT STEM Extension

The STEM Extension is an additional 24-month extension of F-1 OPT for students who have a U.S. degree in an approved STEM Field (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ) and are working in a field that is directly related to their major.

F-1 students who are eligible are:

  • Currently on their first 12 months of OPT
  • Within three months of the end date of the 12 months of OPT
  • Degree recipients in a STEM field
  • Working for an employer that is enrolled in E-verify program
  • In a paid position. Unpaid positions will not be eligible for OPT STEM.

How to Apply for OPT STEM

All communication for OPT STEM application is done via email. Please send your request for the application materials to isfo@niu.edu.

OPT H1B Cap-Gap Extension

The cap-gap extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of the F-1 status and the start of H-1B status, allowing the student to remain in the U.S.

The cap-gap extension is available to students who, as of April 1, were either on approved OPT/STEM or in their 60 day grace period and have a pending or approved change of status October 1 H-1 petition with USCIS that was filed prior to the expiration of their OPT/STEM or 60 day grace period.

You may be eligible for one of two cap-gap extension benefits if:

  • The employer filed your H-1B (change of status) petition and it is received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prior to your OPT or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) expiration date, you qualify for an extension of your OPT employment authorization.
  • The employer filed your H-1B (change of status) petition and it is received by USCIS after your OPT OR stem expires but during your 60 day grace period following the OPT/STEM, your F-1 status and permission to remain in the U.S. are extended but you are not eligible to work.

How to Apply for Cap-Gap Extension

If your H-1B (change of status) petition has been filed and receipted by USCIS, you are eligible for an automatic cap-gap extension I-20 until September 30. To request this I-20, email ISSS (isfo@niu.edu) with "Cap-Gap Extension" in the subject line with the following information:

  • Full name
  • Z-ID
  • Scan and attach to the email a copy of the I-797 Receipt notice from USCIS

What happens if my H-1B is denied after applying for Cap-Gap Extension?

If the student's H-1B is not selected, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice to depart the US, transfer the I-20 to a new program or apply for a change of status. However, if a denial is based on a discovered status violation, no such grace period exists and the student must leave the US immediately.

Can I travel during a Cap-Gap Extension period and still return with my OPT/STEM I-20 and EAD?

Please note, traveling outside the US may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. NIU ISSS strongly advises students to consult with their employers and the legal counsel processing the H1-B regarding all travel plans before departing the US. We cannot advise directly on the impact of travel on your individual H1-B application.

In general- during the cap-gap period, you can travel and re-enter the U.S. if:

  • You have a valid F-1 visa at the time of re-entry
  • You have an I-20 that reflects the cap-gap benefit and has a travel signature (no older than 6 months)
  • The H1-B petition filed on your behalf has been approved before you travel

Per Department of Homeland Security policy, an applicant who departs the U.S while a change of status application is pending is considered to have abandoned the application.

Contact Us

International Student Scholar Services (ISSS)
Williston Hall

Phone: 815-753-1346
Email: isss@niu.edu

Staff Office Hours

8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Walk-in Appointments

No scheduled appointment needed in these hours

10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.