International students who graduate from a U.S. university on an F-1 visa have a special opportunity to work in the US, in their degree field, for 1 to 3 years through Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). To be eligible for OPT, a student must be in legal F-1 status and have been a full-time student for at least one academic year. Students require an OPT I-20 from UCIE as part of their application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Students in all majors are eligible for 12 months of OPT; in addition, students in most science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are eligible for a two-year extension for a total of 36 months. Visit our STEM OPT Extension page to find out more.
How to Apply for OPT
- Begin by completing our Pilot course, OPT Workshop - Optional Practical Training. Log into Pilot and click Self Registration in the top left of your screen. Students must complete the course with a score of 100% to move forward. *This course walks you the process of OPT application by mailing, if you plan to file online, please refer to instructions on Steps for filing the Initial OPT (I-765) Application online.
- Apply for OPT I-20 through e-form Post-Completion OPT I-20 Form, Wait for UCIE to send your new OPT I-20 to you via email.
- With the OPT I-20 from UCIE, you are now ready to apply to USCIS for OPT authorization. While waiting for your OPT I-20, prepare the following materials to mail to USCIS OR file your application online. (On 4/12/2021, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) can now file their form I-765 online if filling under the pre-completion, post-completion and the STEM extension categories. For the full news release, please visit the USCIS website.) We highly recommend you file your application online.
- While Your OPT Application is Pending
- It typically takes 90 days for your OPT application to process. Regularly check the status of your OPT application on the USCIS case status website. You might wonder if it's possible to expedite your application. In most cases, it is not possible to expedite an application. There are limited reasons for expedition of an OPT application; read the USCIS expedite criteria webpage for details.
- After your OPT is approved
- After approval, you should receive your employment authorization card (EAD card) within 1 - 4 weeks to the address you listed on your I-765.
- If you already have employment, you can be legally hired after receiving your EAD card. *You cannot start employment without receiving your EAD card.
- If you are still searching for employment, you have up to 90 days to find a job from the start date on your EAD card.
- For more details on job requirements while on OPT, see UCIE OPT Process Document (PDF) on page 4.
- It is very rare for a student's OPT application to be denied as long as the application guidelines were followed appropriately. If your application is denied, contact us immediately so we can be of support to you.
- After you get your job offer, you will need to report your employment. When your OPT start date gets closer or has started, you will receive an email with instructions to create your SEVP Portal account. *This email will come from email@example.com. If you do not see the email, check your spam or junk mail folder. This email will be sent only to your WSU email address in your SEVIS record.
- You will need to use the SEVP Portal to report your employment within 10 days from the start date of the employment. To learn more about the SEVP Portal, visit the SEVP Portal Help Hub. After updating your employer information in the SEVP portal, please submit the Post OPT Reporting Form to receive an updated I-20.
- You are permitted only 90 days of unemployment between the start and end dates on your EAD card. In addition, you are required to report the following information while on OPT:
- When you start a new job.
- When you change addresses.
- 6-month validation (that means you still need to log onto the SEVP Portal to report your employment even if you haven’t changed your employment)
- OPT can only be extended beyond 12 months (for up to 24 additional months), under certain conditions. Please see our STEM OPT extension page for more information.
- Travel On OPT
If your EAD card has not been issued by USCIS, and you do not have a job or a job offer, you may leave and then re-enter the U.S. to continue to look for employment. There is some risk in this scenario. In order to have the best chance of re-entering the U.S. without problems, prepare the following documents:
- Passport valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the U.S
- Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport
- I-20 with a travel signature no older than six months
- I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797)
If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa when your post-completion OPT application is pending, you should also be sure to have your I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application.
If your EAD card has been issued by USCIS and you have a job or a job offer, you may leave and reenter the U.S. in order to begin or resume employment. If your EAD card has been issued and you leave the U.S. before getting a job or a job offer, your OPT ends and you cannot re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student. After USCIS has issued an EAD card, in order to have the best chance of re-entering the U.S. without problems, prepare the following documents:
- Passport valid for six months after you plan to re-enter the U.S.
- Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport
- I-20 with a valid travel signature no older than six months
- EAD card
- Evidence that you already have a job in the U.S. or that you have a job offer.
If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa, you should also be sure to have your EAD card and evidence that you already have a job in the U.S. or that you have a job offer in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application.
For more questions, please review the UCIE OPT process document (PDF).
Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
No, but you are only permitted to be on OPT for 90 days without employment. This 90 day time period is cumulative, and the clock begins on the start date printed on your EAD card.
Where can OPT students work?
Anywhere in the US. Remember, the work they are doing on OPT must be directly related to their degree field and must be at least 20 hours per week. There are currently over 900 International Raiders taking part in OPT around the country.
How do I choose my start date? What should my end date be?
Your requested start date must fall between your program end date and the end of your 60 day grace period. Because OPT applications take 3 to 5 months to process, depending on when you file your actual start date may be later. It is important to understand and share with your future employer that the start date is not certain until you have your EAD card.
What happens after I submit my application?
Approximately 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the UCIE. The receipt includes a tracking number to check the progress of your OPT application online. Your card should arrive at the UCIE approximately 3-5 months after USCIS receives your application.
What do I have to do to maintain status on OPT?
You are permitted only 90 days of unemployment between the start and end dates on your EAD card. In addition, you are required to report the following information while on OPT:
- When you start a new job.
- When you change addresses.
- Periods of unemployment.
- 6-month validation
Note: The SEVP Portal does not currently include the option to reprint your I-20. After updating your employer information in the SEVP portal, please submit the Post OPT Reporting Form for an updated I-20.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get more time on OPT?
OPT can only be extended beyond 12 months (for up to 24 additional months), under certain conditions. Please see our STEM OPT extension page for more information.
Do I have to get an OPT visa?
During the period of OPT, a student continues in F-1 student status. There is no need to change your visa unless it has expired and you plan to travel internationally.
How can I get my OPT permission faster?
USCIS usually requires three to five months to issue the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT. In most cases, it is not possible to expedite an application. There are limited ways to expedite the OPT application; read the USCIS expedite criteria webpage for details.
I’m working on campus and will continue working the same job for OPT. Can’t I just continue working?
No. On-campus work authorization ends on the date of graduation/completion of degree requirements. After this date, you cannot work on-campus or off-campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your OPT start date has arrived.
I think I made a mistake on my application. What can I do?
After the OPT application is submitted to the USCIS, it is very difficult to change or cancel the application. Please read the checklist and I-765 directions very carefully. If you are unsure about any aspect of the application, please email our office for clarification before you mail your packet. If you did make a mistake on the application and it has already been mailed to USCIS, talk to a UCIE advisor for help.
Can I travel between applying for OPT and starting OPT?
It is risky to travel without having your EAD card. If you plan to travel outside the U.S. after your degree completion date, you must submit the I-765 first (even if you plan to return within 60 days) and you will need your EAD card and a job offer letter in order to re-enter.
What are some common reasons for OPT Denial or Rejection?
- Signature – the I-765 must be signed in black ink – e-signatures are not valid.
- Version of I-765 - Make sure to use the most recent I-765 from the USCIS website. The current "expiration" date on USCIS forms is located at the bottom of the form, not the top. The top date is the OMB expiration date, and for filing purposes, is irrelevant. The expiration date on the current I-765 form is 12/26/2019.
- Reason for Applying – you must mark an item in Part 1.
What if I have completed all required coursework and I am now engaged only in research?
In this case, Master's and Ph.D. students have the option to request their I-20 be ended early. They can then apply for OPT and complete required research while engaged in OPT. Think carefully about your study and career plan to determine if this strategy may be right for you. Interested graduate students must contact an ISSS advisor for guidance.
How can I get health insurance between graduation and a new job?
There are many options for getting insurance for international students. See our Health Insurance page for links to resources to research health insurance coverage options.
More information regarding OPT can be found at the Study in the States, Department of Homeland Security website.