Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Pre-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 before degree completion.

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

  • You are limited to working part-time (20 hours per week or less) during the academic year (fall and spring semesters) unless you are a graduate student completing thesis or dissertation credits only. You may work full-time during the summer semester.
  • Any OPT used before completion of your degree will be deducted from the 12 month total. For example, if you use 6 months of full-time OPT before graduating you will be eligible for 6 months of OPT after you graduate.
  • Part-time Pre-Completion OPT is deducted at a half-time rate. If you use 4 months of part-time Pre-Completion OPT, only 2 months of OPT will be deducted from the 12 months of Post-Completion OPT available.  
  • Your work authorization for Pre-Completion OPT may not extend past your expected program end date. If you want to use any remaining OPT after graduation, you will need to receive an I-20 with a new OPT recommendation and submit a separate application to USCIS in order to request authorization for Post-Completion OPT.
  • You must continue to maintain lawful F-1 status, including full-time enrollment, while working on OPT. Failure to do so automatically invalidates OPT authorization.

Application Process

When to Apply

When considering when to file an application for Pre-Completion OPT with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), keep in mind that USCIS may take 3-5+ months to process the application and EAD card (OPT approval). Please check current USCIS processing times.

  • Students may submit their Pre-Completion OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days prior to fulfilling the one full academic year (fall and spring semester) requirement. The requested Pre-Completion OPT employment start date must be after the academic year requirement is met.
  • USCIS must receive the OPT application within 30 days of the recommendation for OPT being issued in SEVIS by OISS.
  • Students do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • When timing submission of the application, students should be aware they cannot begin employment until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and until the start date indicated on the EAD card.

Submit Application for I-20 Recommending OPT to OISS

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 online OPT application. Login with your UNCW account credentials (username without "@uncw.edu").

Students should plan for 10 business days 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 with the other required documents to USCIS for processing of your OPT.

Mail the Application

Applications must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the recommendation for OPT being issued in SEVIS by OISS. If you have concerns about missing this deadline, contact your OISS F-1 advisor before mailing your application.

The student is responsible for mailing the OPT application to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facility. Please check the USCIS website to verify where to mail your application.

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

If you are unsure about where to mail the application, contact your OISS F-1 advisor.

USCIS Processing Timeline

Form I-765 Address

All correspondence from USCIS, including the receipt notice, requests for additional documents if applicable, and the EAD card (OPT employment authorization document), 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 five months after submitting their application to USCIS.

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 (processing) 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 OISS immediately for assistance with preparing the additional documentation.

Checking the Status of the OPT Application

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 the case. If the application takes longer than 90 days from the date on the official Receipt Notice, students may contact OISS to inquire about procedures to request information from the appropriate USCIS service center.

Cancellation or 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 for a new I-20 with OPT recommendation to OISS.

Approval

Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the applicant. It can take up to two weeks for the EAD card to arrive once the online case status on the USCIS website is updated to “Approved.” Students must have the EAD card from USCIS to begin working on OPT and cannot begin working until the start date on their EAD card.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card)

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

Students must submit a copy of their EAD card to OISS.

Maintenance of Status

Students working on Pre-Completion OPT employment must keep in mind the following regulations and guidelines in order to maintain lawful F-1 status throughout the OPT authorization period:

Full-Time Enrollment

A student engaged in Pre-Completion OPT must continue to enroll full-time during the fall and spring semesters, and in the summer if the student’s program requires it.

SEVIS Reporting

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires students to report changes in their name or U.S. address to OISS for the duration of their F-1 status, including periods of OPT. Students on OPT are also required to report all employment information to OISS as soon as employment begins or ends.

Restrictions on OPT Employment

  • Students authorized for part-time OPT must limit work hours to 20 hours or less per week. OPT employment hours cannot be changed after the EAD is issued.
  • Students may only work after they receive the EAD card from USCIS, and only within the dates specified on the EAD.
  • Students must work in a job directly related to their field of study and education level as indicated on Form I-20.

It is strongly recommended that students keep accurate and detailed records of all OPT employment as they may be required by U.S. immigration agencies to show proof of their OPT activities.