Office of International Programs and Services

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Traning (OPT) allows F-1 students to gain work experience during their time studying in the United States either during or after their program and must be in a job directly related to your field of study. OPT is recommended by the International Programs and Services Student & Scholar Advisor and entered by the DSO in SEVIS and approved by USCIS. Once approved you will be issued an Employment Authorization Document card with the dates you are authorized to work. 

Please Note: OPT is not the same as Curricular Practical Training, which is authorized off-campus work that must be completed during your program.

Am I eligible for OPT?

To be eligible you must have been in F1 status (versus J1) for at least 2 semesters prior in full-time (12 credit hours) for two semesters (fall/ spring) before becoming eligible for OPT. You do not to be included as an internship/practicum required to complete a degree (unlike CPT) nor are you required to have a job offer to apply for OPT.

How long can I work with OPT?

An F-1 student may be authorized up to a total of 12 months of full-time practical training at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate). So, if you do a Bachelors and Masters in the US, you could do 12 months for each degree, so 24 months.

With pre-completion OPT, a student may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session but may work full-time during his or her annual vacation and other times when the school is not in session.

Certain degrees are eligible for a 17 month “STEM” extension. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and generally extends only to these fields.

Can I do pre AND post-completion OPT?

Yes, If a student engages in pre-completion OPT, the student’s eligible period of post-completion OPT will be reduced by 1 month for every 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT that is worked when he or she graduates.

What kinds of jobs can I do?

The following are allowable on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, but all must be directly related to the student’s program of study:

  • Regular paid employment: Students may work for multiple employers, as long as directly related.
  • Payment by multiple short-term employers: Students such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers. Students should maintain a list of all dates /duration.
  • Work for hire: This is commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner: Students may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Volunteers / unpaid interns: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence from the employer to verify a minimum of 20 hours per week during the period of employment. (Only for standard pre/post OPT-not STEM).

How do I apply for OPT?

Please make sure to make copies of all documents before sending your application packet to USCIS.

  1. Form I-765 from the USCIS.
  2. I-20s: New I-20, which lists OPT recommendation on the 3rd page, plus all prior I-20s. Be sure to print, sign and date the bottom of all I-20s before making copies. (Only pages 1 & 3 are needed) If you attended another institution prior to WCU (including English language schools and high schools), you must submit those I-20s also. If you no longer have copies of one or more I-20s, contact your previous institution’s international student office and ask if they can send copies.
  3. I-94 Record: Print a copy of your electronic record. If applicable, should you have a paper I-94 stapled in your passport, include a copy of the front and back of your I-94 card.
  4. Visa: Copy of the most recent F1 visa. If you are in the process of Change of Status (COS) to F1 and do not have an F1 visa yet, include a copy of your most recent visa.
  5. Passport: Copy of the most recent passport biographical page. The passport should be valid for the period of OPT if possible, but at least 6 months into the future from the time the application is being reviewed by USCIS. If the passport is not still valid for 6 months, you will need to obtain a new passport before applying for OPT. If you have received an extension on your passport, please include a copy of the biographical page and the page that shows the extension.
  6. Photos: Two identical color photos of the applicant taken within 30 days of filing the application. Photos must be 2” by 2”, color with full face, frontal view on a white background. The applicant’s head must be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by your religion.
  7. Employment Authorization Documents: Any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) (if applicable)
  8. Payment: Fees are $380 USD. You can pay in three ways: 
  • By Mail: a check or money order, payable to U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityBe sure to sign and date the check, and put the I-94 number in the memo section.
  • Electronically: credit/debit card, American Express, Discover, MasterCard, or Visa. If using an American Express credit card, you will be asked for the card’s security indicator, a three or four-digit number on the front or back of your credit card.
  • E-file: electronic transfer of funds from a checking or savings account. You will need your bank account and bank routing number. Your bank’s 9-digit routing number is on the bottom left corner of your checks and is set off by colons. Some banks/credit unions may not allow electronic payments from your account.

When do I apply for OPT?

For post-completion OPT, students can apply up to 90 days before graduation, and as late as 60 days after graduation. The date within that window is up to you to decide. Undergraduate students who apply for post-completion OPT may not begin working until after their program end date.

Thesis (Graduate) and Ph.D. students who apply for post-completion OPT may not work until they have completed all course requirements but can work during their thesis.

How long do I wait?

USCIS can take as many as 3 months to process an OPT application. Students may use the case number (the number begins with “SRC” for applications filed with the Texas Service Center) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of the application.

Please note: While waiting we recommend that you do NOT change your mailing address, as this often results in a delay of receipt in your EAD card. It is highly recommended to use a mailing address you know will be valid for at least 3 months on your application, so that your EAD card will be delivered.

What about after I am approved?

Review your EAD card to makes sure there are no errors and e-mail or drop off a copy of your EAD card to IPS. You may begin working on the employment start date shown on your EAD card. USCIS determines the start based on your new I-20.
You must report the following to the International Student & Scholar Advisor/DSO while on OPT:

  • Change of name
  • Change of foreign or US address
  • Name of employer, and any change of name of employer
  • Address of employer, and any change of address of employer


Please note:
Since you will not be a student, you will no longer be enrolled in WCU insurance and should seek personal medical insurance.

How do I complete the I-765? (Step-by-Step)

  1. Check the box "Permission to accept employment"
  2. Section 1: Write your last name in all capital letters and your first and middle name with only the first letter capitalized
  3. Section 2: Write other ‘alias’ names (on your passport, visa, I-20, other immigration documents)
  4. Section 3: Include your US mailing address where (not IPS address)
  5. Sections 4-10: Write your biographical information
  6. Section 11: Indicate whether you have applied for OPT before. If yes, complete all information.
  7. Sections 12-13: Enter your latest arrival information into the US
  8. Section 14: Enter your status when you last entered the US (most likely "F-1 Student")
  9. Section 15: Write “Student” as your current status
  10. Section 16: If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, write “C3A", if applying for post-completion OPT, write "C3B". For STEM extension to your OPT, write, “C3C".
  11. Certification: Sign within the lines of the box in blue pen. Include your phone number and the date signed.

How do I file the I-765 application?

Generally, you are allowed to file in two ways, by mail or electronic filing.

You can sign up to receive an E-Notification when your Form I-765 has been accepted. To do so you must complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance and clip it to the front of the first application in the package.

File by Mail:

If you live in one of the following US States: 

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia
Mail to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox...

For U.S. Post Service (USPS) Deliveries:

USCIS

PO Box 660867

Dallas, TX 75266

 

For Express Mail and Courier Deliveries:

USCIS, Attn: AOS

2501 S. State Hwy.

121 Business, Suite 400

Lewisville, TX 75067

 

If you live in one of the following US States:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands
Mail to the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox...

For U.S. Post Service (USPS) Deliveries:

USCIS

PO Box 21281

Phoenix, AZ 85036

 

For Express Mail and Courier Deliveries:

USCIS, Attn: AOS

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100

Phoenix, AZ 85034

 

File by E-file:

Be sure to read the form instructions first and verify you can e-file. If you are eligible to e-File, fill out Form I-765 online. Once you have paid, USCIS will provide you with an electronic confirmation receipt that includes your receipt number and tells you where to mail the required supporting documents. If you do not send the required documents, your application may be delayed or denied.

USCIS will mail you a Form I-797, Notice of Action. (This is the notice you should use as evidence that you filed this application.) If biometric services are required, we will send you an appointment notice to appear at an Application Support Center. The USCIS office where your case is assigned will adjudicate your application.

What is International Programs and Services’ role during the application process?

IPS will issue your recommendation for OPT, which is reflected in a new Form I-20. We also offer to review your application materials to help ensure smooth processing with USCIS for you.

How does my SEVIS transfer affect my OPT authorization?

If you are currently authorized for OPT, choose carefully when deciding what date you would like your SEVIS record transferred to your new school. OPT authorization ends on the "transfer out" date, even if the EAD card is not yet expired. If you plan to work between programs while on OPT coordinate with your international student advisor at both schools to determine an appropriate "transfer out" date. The transfer release date must be no earlier than 5 months before the new program start date and no later than 60 days after the expiration date on the EAD. Students may request a release date in the future and continue working on OPT until that date as long as the EAD has not expired.

HOW DO I MAINTAIN STATUS DURING OPT?

You are considered to be in lawful F-1 status as long as you meet the following requirements:

  • You have employment for more than 20 hours per week in your field of study and commensurate with your degree level.
  • You have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during your 12 months of OPT.
  • You report to OIS any changes of address within 10 days of occurrence and changes in visa status.

What if I cannot find a job?

Unemployment is allowable while you are on post-completion OPT. However, you may not accrue more than a total of 90 days of unemployment during the initial 12 months of post-completion OPT. Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. Remember that your OPT unemployment clock continue even if you are outside of the U.S. Report that you are unemployed to the International Student and Scholar Advisor at IPS.

Does participation in CPT affect my eligibility for OPT?

If you engage in more than 11 months and 29 days of full-time CPT, you become ineligible for OPT. Please note that this only applies to full-time CPT, not part-time CPT.

Can I study while I am on OPT?

You may take classes as long as they are supplemental to your employment. You may not start another degree program. (If you would like to start another degree program, your OPT would be canceled and you would receive a new F-1 student record).

I plan to complete two masters degrees, could I use OPT for both degrees?

It is possible to split your OPT time between two degrees at the same level. You have to make this decision when you graduate with your first masters/bachelors/Ph.D. degree. In the first application, you will indicate how many months of OPT you would like to use. Once you finish your second same-level degree, you would apply for the remainder of OPT. (Please note that you cannot be enrolled in a degree program and do OPT at the same time).

Can I apply for the 17-Month STEM OPT Extension?

 

The 17-month STEM OPT extension is an opportunity for students who have received a bachelor's, master’s, or doctorate degree in a STEM-eligible program to extend their post-completion OPT for an additional 17 months. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. F-1 students can apply for the STEM OPT extension only once, no matter if they return and receive additional degrees. If you have earned degrees in two majors you are eligible for the extension as long as one of the programs of study is STEM eligible AND any job worked during the 17-month extension is related to your STEM-eligible major. It is important that your I-20 reflect your STEM eligible major.

Unlike applying for post-completion OPT, you must have a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. Your work can be paid or unpaid, but must be directly related to your STEM eligible degree with an e-verify employer working least 20 hours per week. A volunteer position is not permitted.

You can apply for the 17-month STEM OPT extension no sooner than 120 days prior to your current OPT end date and must apply before your current EAD card expires. As long as your application is received by USCIS by your current EAD end date, you will be allowed to remain in the U.S. and continue employment for 180 days or until a decision is made on your application.

If your employment is terminated or you depart before the end of the extended STEM OPT period, your employer must agree to report this termination/departure to IPS within 48 hours of the event. A STEM OPT student can be unemployed during 17-month STEM OPT no more than an aggregate 120 days, applied to the entire 29-month period of post-completion OPT.

Can I travel while my OPT application is pending with USCIS?

 

We do not recommend traveling while your application is pending. If necessary, travel during this period of time should be undertaken with caution for the following reasons:

  • If a request for biometrics appointment (fingerprints) or a request for more evidence (RFE) is issued by USCIS: An RFE requires immediate attention by the applicant.
  • If the application is approved while the applicant is abroad, the student will be required to present the EAD upon return.
  • Students are highly discouraged from leaving the U.S until after the application has been at least received by USCIS, and the I-797 receipt notice has been issued.
  • Students should travel with the receipt notice with them as proof that an application has been submitted. Keep in mind, still, entry into the U.S. is up to the discretion of the CBP officer, and there have been reports of students without their EAD work permit having problems at the port of entry.

Can I travel after I am approved for OPT?

Students who accrue more than 90 days of unemployment while participating in post-completion OPT will likely be deemed not eligible for reentry into the U.S. by a CBP officer. We do not recommend that you travel if you do not have employment. If you have to travel, bring evidence that you have been actively looking for a job and that you (if applicable) have interviews scheduled in the U.S. upon your return. This is because USCIS has made the recommendation that you should have proof of employment upon re-entry to the U.S. when you’re in F-1 OPT status. Remember that your OPT unemployment clock continue even if you are outside of the U.S. Pre-completion OPT students are still enrolled and follow the same procedures as F1 students. Post-completion OPT students are eligible to travel abroad on a temporary basis (less than 5 months) and re-enter the U.S to continue employment.

  • Be sure to have the following with you to present to CBP at reentry:
  • Passport valid at least 6 months into the future from the date of reentry
  • Valid F-1 Visa stamp
  • I-20 containing the OPT recommendation, and a travel signature less than 6 months old.
  • Unexpired EAD work permit
  • Proof the student is returning to resume employment-(preferably a job offer letter or a letter written on letterhead from the student’s supervisor confirming employment. A pay stub or other documentation showing intent to return to work may suffice.

What should I keep to prove I have been employed during OPT?

  • Job offer letters, including start and end dates.
  • Job descriptions- job title, duties, location, pay rate and proposed hours per week
  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements- that show direct deposits from your employer
  • W-2 tax forms

What about after my OPT?

You have a grace period of 60 days before you must depart the US. If you decide to return home permanently before the end date on your EAD card, inform IPS so that we can close out your F-1 record accordingly.

Reference

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