Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment directly related to the student’s field of study after a student completes their coursework.

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 post-completion OPT must be completed within a 14-month period following program completion.
  • 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. Confirm your program end date with your F-1 advisor.
  • Upon submission of the OPT application, the student’s program end date in SEVIS will be updated if necessary; the program may be shortened to reflect the expected date of program completion. The student’s new Form I-20 recommending OPT will show the new program end date if any change is required. The 60-day grace period will be based on the program end date on the new I-20.

All students are advised to confirm their eligibility for graduation with their academic advisor or department before applying for Post-Completion OPT. It may not be possible to change or cancel an OPT application after it has been submitted to USCIS. Students who learn they may not complete their program as expected must contact OISS immediately as this can affect your application for OPT.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for OPT, a student:

  • Must be maintaining lawful F-1 status.
  • Must have been enrolled as a full-time degree-seeking student for at least 9 consecutive months or one academic year (fall and spring semester).
  • Must be in good academic standing with UNCW. Students who are currently on a leave of absence are not eligible.
  • Must be making normal progress towards their degree or have completed it.
  • Must not have already engaged in post-completion OPT for that particular level of study.
  • Must not have worked 12 months or more on full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT). If a student has engaged in 12 months of full-time CPT during a program of study, the student is not eligible for OPT at that degree level.
  • Can only engage in employment that is directly related to their major field of study.

A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, any OPT period approved by USCIS will count against the total 12-month period of OPT allowed per educational level, regardless of whether the student ever secured employment.

Application Process

When to Apply

OISS recommends students submit their OPT application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as soon as they are eligible. USCIS may take 3-5+ months to process the application and issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card, or OPT approval). Check current processing times on the USCIS website.

  • Students may submit their Post-Completion OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before completion of the course of study, and no later than 60 calendar days from the student's I-20 program end date. Confirm your program completion date with your F-1 advisor.
  • USCIS must receive the OPT application within 30 days of the Form I-20 recommending OPT being issued by OISS. They will reject applications received more than 30 days after the new I-20 was issued.
  • Students do not need a job offer at the time of application.
  • When considering the timing of the application, students should be aware they must have the EAD card in hand and must wait until the start date of the EAD before beginning work.
  • Students may remain lawfully in the U.S. beyond the end of the 60-day grace period if their OPT application is pending at USCIS.
  • Students who wait to file their OPT application after the completion of their program should be aware that they must choose OPT start date within their 60-day grace period and could lose some of their OPT time if their application is not processed quickly by USCIS.
  • Students must file their application for OPT with USCIS while they are physically present in the U.S.
  • 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.

How to Apply:

Submit a Request for New I-20 with OPT Recommendation

Students must receive a new I-20 from OISS recommending the student for OPT before they can submit their application to USCIS. Students must submit their request for a new I-20 through the OISS portal. This application requires a recommendation from your academic advisor, sent directly to them through the online portal, to confirm your major field of study and program completion date. It is not a full letter of recommendation.

Students should plan for 1-2 weeks for OISS to process your request for the I-20 recommending OPT. You will be notified by email when the new I-20 has been processed. You can then mail a copy of the new I-20 to USCIS with the other documents required to apply for OPT.

Prepare Your Application for OPT

  • Students may use the OPT application review and I-765 guidance to assist them in this process.
    NOTE: The purpose of these documents are to provide guidance and examples for applications for Optional Practical Training (OPT). The information provided is not legal advice, and it is not a guarantee of OPT approval by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. OISS staff are not able to predict USCIS adjudication decisions or eliminate all variability or unknowns in USCIS processing. Ultimately, it the student's responsibility to carefully review the USCIS I-765 instructions and I-765 form, and to properly complete and file their application in a timely manner.
  • Complete the USCIS Form I-765 - Make sure you submit the correct edition date of the form.
  • Review the OPT checklist and collect the documents you need to submit to USCIS. 
  • Make a copy of your complete application before mailing it.

Mail the Application to USCIS

Applications must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the Form I-20 recommending OPT being issued by OISS. Look for "Date Issued" in the School Attestation section on page 1 of the I-20. USCIS will reject applications received more than 30 days after this date.

On the day of mailing your application, check the I-765 website to confirm you are sending the correct filing fee and edition date of the form. Also verify the correct mailing address for the USCIS Lockbox Facility. USCIS sometimes updates their forms, fees, and mailing addresses, so it's important to confirm this information before mailing.

OISS recommends you mail your application with tracking so you can verify when it's received by USCIS.

USCIS Processing

USCIS may take 3-5+ months to process an application for OPT and issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). Check current processing times on the USCIS website.

Form I-765 Mailing Address

All correspondence from USCIS, including the receipt notice, requests for evidence (RFE) or additional documents, and the EAD card (OPT employment authorization document), will be sent to the mailing address listed on Form I-765. Students should provide an address where they will be able to receive mail for at least 3-5 months after submitting their application to USCIS.

Receipt Notice

Within 30 days after USCIS receives your application, you should receive an official Form I-797 Notice of Action: Receipt Notice. This notice will confirm official receipt of the application by USCIS and will include a case number which can be used to check the status of your application. Contact OISS if it’s been more than 30 days since USCIS received your application and you have not received an update. 

Request for Evidence

In the course of adjudicating (processing) the application, USCIS may send a Form I-797 Notice of Action: Request for Evidence if they require additional information or documents before making a decision. Students who receive a Request for Evidence should contact their OISS advisor immediately for assistance preparing the additional requested documentation.

Checking the Status of the OPT Application

After receiving a receipt notice, students may check their case status on the USCIS website. It may take up to 90 days or longer for USCIS to reach a decision on your application. If the application takes longer than 90 days from the date on the I-797 Receipt Notice, students may contact USCIS.

Canceling or Amending the OPT Application

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 their requested dates of employment and be certain of those dates before submitting the application to USCIS.

Approval

Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) to the applicant. It can take up to two weeks for the EAD card to arrive once the online case status is updated to “Approved”. Students must have the EAD card in hand and must wait until the start date of the EAD before beginning employment on OPT.

EAD Card (OPT Employment Authorization Document)

When you receive the EAD card, check the card for accuracy: spelling of your name, date of birth, and OPT authorization dates. If there are any errors, notify OISS immediately. Students must submit a copy of their EAD card to OISS.

Maintenance of F-1 Status

If approved for OPT, you will remain on UNCW’s F-1 visa sponsorship and OISS will continue to maintain your immigration record for the duration of OPT. You will also retain access to your UNCW email account for the duration of OPT. OISS will continue to send important immigration updates to your UNCW account, so please continue to check it frequently while you are working on OPT.

Students on OPT are required to continue following F-1 regulations and must report certain information to OISS to remain in lawful F-1 status.

OPT Employment

  • Students must have the EAD card in hand and must wait until the start date of the EAD before beginning employment on OPT.
  • Students may work only for the dates specified on the EAD card.
  • All OPT employment must be directly related to the student's major field of study/degree program for which the OPT was recommended. Students on OPT cannot pursue employment related to a minor.
  • Students may only engage in employment appropriate to their level of education.
  • Students approved for post-completion OPT cannot accrue more than 90 days total of unemployment for the duration of their approved OPT period. Students who reach 90 days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately.

Delayed Completion of Course of Study

Students who experience a delay in their program completion after they have applied for post-completion OPT must notify OISS immediately. This can impact your OPT.

60-Day Grace Period

Students have a 60-day grace period after their OPT ends. Students cannot continue employment during the grace 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. Once a student departs the U.S. after the OPT end date, their F-1 status and grace period ends.

SEVIS Transfer or New Academic Program at UNCW

Students approved for post-completion OPT are eligible to transfer their F-1 SEVIS record to another institution to begin a new program of study during OPT. OPT authorization is automatically terminated on the SEVIS transfer release date.

Students may also continue their education in a new degree program at UNCW. However, OPT authorization is terminated when the I-20 for the new program is processed in SEVIS. Students should plan accordingly and work with their OISS advisor on the timing of the new I-20.

If beginning a new program after the OPT end date, whether completing a SEVIS transfer to another school or continuing at UNCW, students must obtain a new Form I-20 within the 60-day grace period. You 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 OISS as specified below for the duration of the OPT period:

  • submit a copy of the EAD card to OISS.
  • report any change in U.S. residential address to OISS within 10 days of moving.
  • report all employment activity, paid or unpaid, as soon as any new employment commences.
  • report any termination of employment, specifying the employment end date.
  • notify OISS 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

For all jobs a student holds while on OPT, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires students to report:

  • employer’s name and address
  • dates of employment
  • explanation of how their employment is directly related to their major field of study/degree program
No employment information is entered in SEVIS when OISS processes the I-20 with OPT recommendation. Beginning on the EAD start date, SEVIS will automatically begin counting unemployment days, including weekends, if no employment information is entered in your record. Unemployment days are counted even if a student is outside of the U.S. Students must report all employment information, paid or unpaid, to OISS as soon as possible so your SEVIS record can be updated.

Types of Allowable OPT Employment

All employment on OPT must be directly related to the student’s major field of study and appropriate to their level of education. Students on post-completion OPT may work for multiple employers and must work at least 20 hours per week. If a student has a variable schedule within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week. OPT employment 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, or full-time.

  • Multiple Employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be directly related to student’s major field of study.
  • 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 on post-completion OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove they have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to their 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 from their employer to verify they worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

90-Day Unemployment Limit

Students approved for post-completion OPT cannot accrue more than 90 days total of unemployment for the duration of their approved post-completion OPT period. Students who reach 90 days of unemployment are expected to leave the U.S. immediately. 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 days.

No employment information is entered in SEVIS when OISS processes the I-20 with OPT recommendation. Beginning on the EAD start date, SEVIS will automatically begin counting unemployment days, including weekends, if no employment information is entered in your record. Unemployment days are counted even if a student is outside of the U.S. Students must report all employment information, paid or unpaid, to OISS as soon as possible so your SEVIS record can be updated.

The Importance of Documenting OPT Employment Activities

It is strongly recommended that students keep detailed and accurate records of all OPT employment. USCIS may request a student to show proof of their OPT activities. These documents may include:

  • job postings and descriptions of job duties
  • timesheets or paystubs
  • job offer letters or employment verification letters confirming start and end dates of employment

Documentation of employment on OPT is extremely important for individuals considering long-term employment in the U.S. USCIS may request this information with future immigration applications such as an H-1B work visa petition or application for U.S. permanent residency (green card).

Travel

Students with pending or approved OPT must consult with their OISS advisor before traveling outside the U.S. In order to reenter the U.S. in F-1 status during OPT, you will need:

  • Valid F-1 visa and passport valid at least 6 months into the future
  • EAD card
  • Valid Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation and a travel signature issued within the past 6 months
  • Proof of employment or a job offer

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

Extended Absence from the U.S. or Entry to the U.S. in a New Immigration Status: Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if a student is outside of the U.S. for more than five months or if the student is admitted to the U.S. in another temporary nonimmigrant status, such as a B-2 visitor.