Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment in the student’s field of study after the student’s program completion date.

The completion date reported in SEVIS for undergraduate students will typically be the end of the semester in which they graduate. For graduate students, the completion date reported in SEVIS will typically be the end of the semester in which they defend their thesis/dissertation or the semester that will be their final term of enrollment.

Students planning to apply for Post-Completion OPT should note the following:

  • Students must use Post-Completion OPT directly following program completion and may not “save” OPT to use at a later time. The initial 12-month period of OPT must be completed within a 14-month period following completion of the course of study.
  • Students may request the Post-Completion OPT start date to be any day within the 60-day grace period following the student’s program completion.
  • Upon submission of the OPT application, the student’s program dates in SEVIS will be updated if necessary; the program may be shortened to reflect the expected date of completion.  The student’s new Form I-20 recommending OPT will also show the new dates (if any change is required). The 60-day grace period will be based on the program end date on the new I-20.

Failure to complete the program of study as expected for any reason – an incomplete or failing grade, or otherwise failing to meet graduation requirements – can impact a student’s eligibility for Post-Completion OPT. Students must apply for an extension of their Form I-20 (prior to its expiration) if they will not complete their studies before the expiration date on their I-20.

All students are advised to confirm their eligibility for graduation with their academic advisor or department prior to applying for Post-Completion OPT, since change or cancellation of an OPT application at a later time may not be possible. Students who have a pending application for Post-Completion OPT (not yet approved) and who learn they may not graduate as expected should contact ISSS immediately to determine if cancellation of their OPT is possible.

Application Process

When to Apply

We recommend students submit completed applications to ISSS as early as possible (three to four months in advance of the intended OPT start date) as it can take this long for USCIS to reach a decision on the application. Please check current USCIS processing times.

  • Students may submit their Post-Completion OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days prior to completion of the course of study, and up to 60 days after the date of completion.
  • USCIS must receive the OPT application no more than 30 days after the Form I-20 recommending OPT has been issued by ISSS.
  • Students do not need a job offer at the time of application.
  • When timing submission of the application students should be aware they may not begin employment until they have received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and until the start date indicated on the EAD.
  • Students may remain lawfully in the U.S. beyond the end of the 60-day grace period if the OPT application is still pending at USCIS.
  • Students who wait to file their OPT application after the completion of their program must be aware that they cannot choose an OPT start date later than the last day of their 60-day grace period and could lose some of their OPT time if their application is not adjudicated quickly.
  • Students must apply for OPT from within the United States. If a student departs the U.S. during the 60-day grace period without having applied for OPT, the student’s F-1 status ends and the student is no longer eligible for OPT.

Students who wish to apply for OPT should follow the procedure outlined below:

Submit Completed Application to ISSS

Students must submit application materials to ISSS here, please use your UNCW credentials to login. ISSS requests 2-3 weeks processing time to review the application and issue a new Form I-20 recommending OPT.  The student will be contacted via email once the document is ready and should come to ISSS in person to pick up their new I-20. After the student receives their updated I-20 the student can mail their application to USCIS.

Mail the Application

Applications must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the Form I-20 recommending OPT has been issued by ISSS.

The student is responsible for mailing the OPT application to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facility. If a North Carolina address is listed on Form I-765 (the USCIS form used to apply for OPT), the application should be mailed to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox facility.   If you are using an address outside of North Carolina you may need to submit your application to a different USCIS address. Please check this link to verify which address to mail your application: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses#Lockbox Addresses.

If unsure about where to mail the application or which mail/delivery service to use, students should speak with an ISSS advisor.

USCIS Processing Timeline

Form I-765 Address

All correspondence from USCIS, including the receipt notice, requests for additional documents if applicable, and the OPT card itself, will be sent to the address listed on Form I-765. Students should list an address at which they will be able to receive mail for at least three to four more months.  Students should also provide a copy of the EAD Card and receipt notice to ISSS.

Receipt Notice

USCIS will send an official Form I-797 Notice of Action: Receipt Notice to the student approximately two to four weeks after receiving the application. This notice will confirm official receipt of the application by USCIS and indicate a case number which can be used to track the application.

Request for Evidence

In the course of adjudicating the application, USCIS may send a Form I-797 Notice of Action: Request for Evidence to an applicant if an item is missing, or if USCIS requires additional information before making a decision on an application. Students who receive a Request for Evidence are advised to contact ISSS immediately for assistance with preparing the additional documentation.

Checking the Status of the OPT Application

Students may check their case status online at USCIS. It may take up to 90 days for USCIS to reach a decision on the case. If the application takes longer than 90 days from the date on the official Receipt Notice, students may contact ISSS to inquire about procedures to request information from the appropriate USCIS service center.

Cancellation/Amendment of OPT Application

Please be aware there is limited opportunity to amend or cancel applications after they have been mailed to USCIS. There is no provision for amending or canceling an OPT recommendation after approval by USCIS. Students should carefully choose dates of employment and be certain of those dates before submitting the application to ISSS.

Approval

Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the applicant. Please note it can take up to two weeks for the EAD card to arrive once the online case status at uscis.gov is updated to “Approved”. Students may not begin employment before receiving the EAD and before the start date on the card.

EAD (OPT Card)

Upon receipt of the EAD, students should check the card for accuracy (they should check name spelling, date of birth, and OPT authorization dates). If there are any errors, students should notify ISSS immediately.

STUDENTS MUST SUBMIT A COPY OF THE EAD TO ISSS. 

Maintenance of F-1 Status

Students completing their programs and commencing Post-Completion OPT employment must keep in mind the following regulations and guidelines so as not to violate the rules of their F-1 status:

OPT Employment

Students may only work after receipt of the EAD, only for the dates as specified on the EAD, and only in positions related to the field of study and degree program for which the OPT was recommended. Students should only engage in employment appropriate to their level of education.

Students must be engaged in appropriate employment activities to maintain F-1 status. Students may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment within the OPT period; those who have accrued 90 or more days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately. A student’s SEVIS record will be automatically terminated if he or she has accrued 90 days of unemployment OR if it appears that the student has accrued 90 days of unemployment because the student has failed to report his or her employment information to ISSS. (Refer to the SEVIS Reporting Requirements section below for more information.)

Delayed Completion of Course of Study

For students who have applied for OPT to begin after completion of study, failure to complete the program of study as expected (due to an “incomplete” or failing grade, or otherwise failing to meet graduation requirements) can impact students’ eligibility for OPT. Students must apply for an extension of the Form I-20 prior to the Program End Date if they will not complete their studies before the Program End Date listed on the current form.

60-Day Grace Period

Once students have completed their period of Post-Completion OPT, they are permitted to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status up to sixty days in order to prepare for departure from the U.S. During this period, a student may also have his or her SEVIS record transferred to a new school if starting another academic program, or file an application to change to an immigration status other than F-1 if eligible. Students are not permitted to continue employment during this period. Travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period, however, departure from the country and re-entry in F-1 status is not permitted during this time (once a student departs the U.S. after the OPT end date the grace period is concluded).

SEVIS Transfer or New Academic Program at UNCW

Students approved for Post-Completion OPT are eligible to transfer their SEVIS record to begin a new program of study at another institution at any time during the OPT period. Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated as of the SEVIS release date. Students may also continue their education at UNCW, however, if a student begins a new program of study at UNCW prior to the expiration of OPT, the OPT period will automatically terminate as of the start of classes. If beginning a new program after the OPT end date, whether completing a SEVIS transfer to another school or remaining at UNCW, students must obtain a new Form I-20 within the 60-day grace period and must begin the new program of study within five months of the end of the OPT period.

SEVIS Reporting Requirements

SEVIS Reporting Requirements During the OPT Period

Students are required to update ISSS with documentation and information as specified below on an ongoing basis (when applicable) for the duration of the OPT period. Students must:

  • submit a copy of the EAD card, once received.
  • report any change in residential address within 10 days of moving through MySeaport.
  • report all employment activity – PAID or UNPAID – as soon as any new employment commences by submitting the OPT Employment Reporting Form.
  • report any termination of employment, specifying the employment end date.
  • notify ISSS if permanently leaving the U.S., changing to a status other than F-1, or transferring to another school in the U.S.

Reporting OPT Employment Information

DHS requires F-1 students to report the employer’s name and address, and dates of employment, for all jobs held while on OPT. No employment information is entered in SEVIS when ISSS submits the initial OPT recommendation. Students should report the employer’s information as soon as possible after beginning work in order to avoid losing F-1 status due to excessive unemployment time. Once the information is reported, ISSS will update the student’s SEVIS record accordingly.

Students must also provide an explanation of how each job held is related to their major or program of study at UNCW.

Students should report the required information using the OPT Employer Form here. 

Reporting New Address Information

All updates to your residential address should be reported through MySeaport.

Types of Allowable OPT Employment

All employment activity while on OPT must be related to the student’s field of study and appropriate to their level of education. Students may work for multiple employers, and may be employed part-time (at least 20 hours per week), full-time or overtime. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week. Keep in mind that OPT activity less than 20 hours per week will count toward unemployment accrual.

The following types of employment are allowed during Post-Completion OPT:

Paid employment: Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on Post-Completion OPT) or full time.

  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program.
  • Work for hire. This is also 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 on OPT 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 or consulting firm. Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

Unpaid employment: 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, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

90-Day Unemployment Limit and SEVIS Termination

Students approved for Post-Completion OPT may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment within the OPT period. Students must be engaged in at least 20 hours of employment or other OPT activity per week; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual. Students who have accrued 90 or more days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately.

The SEVIS system will auto-terminate records of students on OPT who are out of compliance. A student will be considered out of compliance if they have exceeded the 90-day limit on unemployment time, and also if they have failed to report their employment information to their school, even if unemployment time was less than 90 days.   A termination in SEVIS will immediately cause a student to fall out of status, ending his or her eligibility for employment and other immigration benefits.

To avoid a SEVIS termination, F-1 students must report all required information about their employment activities while on OPT, whether paid or unpaid, in a timely manner to the ISSS office.

The Importance of Documenting Employment Activities

It is strongly recommended that students keep accurate records of their OPT employment as they may be required by USCIS or the Department of State to show proof of their OPT activities. These documents may include:

  • job postings and formal job descriptions
  • timesheets and paystubs
  • job offer letters and employment verification letters confirming starting and ending dates of employment

Such documentation may also be extremely important at a later date for individuals considering long term employment in the U.S. as they may be requested during the course of future immigration benefit applications such as an H-1B (work visa) petition or application for U.S. permanent residency. 

Travel

Students should consult with an advisor at ISSS BEFORE traveling outside the U.S. In order to reenter the U.S. in F-1 status during OPT, ISSS recommends students travel with the following documents:

  • EAD (if received),
  • Form I-20 with the OPT endorsement and a travel signature less than six months old at the time of re-entry
  • a valid F-1 visa
  • a valid passport
  • proof of employment or a job offer (if applicable).

Students who are on OPT and have a pending H-1B petition should be especially careful about travel. Please consult an immigration attorney or the employer before traveling in this circumstance.

Note on Extended Absence from the U.S. or Entry to the U.S. in a New Immigration Status: Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if the student is physically absent from the U.S. for more than five months or if the student is admitted to the U.S. in another temporary non-immigrant status (such as entry as a B-2 visitor).