Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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

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

  • You will be limited to working part-time (20 hours/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).
  • Your work authorization for Pre-Completion OPT may not extend past your expected program completion date; if you wish to use any remaining OPT after graduation, you will need to submit a separate OPT application to USCIS in order to get authorization for Post-Completion OPT.
  • You must continue to maintain valid F-1 status, including full-time enrollment when required. Failure to do so automatically invalidates OPT authorization.

Application Process

When to Apply

We recommend students submit completed applications to OISS 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 OPT application to USCIS up to 120 days prior to fulfilling the one full academic year (9 month) requirement. The requested employment start date must be on or after the date that the academic year requirement is met.
  • Students who have already fulfilled this requirement may submit their OPT application to USCIS up to 120 days prior to the requested start date.
  • 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.

Submit Completed Application to ISSS

Students must submit application materials to ISSS through the online OPT application, please login with your UNCW credentials. OISS 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 OISS in person to pick up their new I-20, and then they can mail off their OPT packet 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 OISS.

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: Addresses.

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

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 OISS immediately for assistance with preparing the additional documentation.

Checking the Status of the OPT Application

Students may check their case status online at; they should click on “Check your Case Status” and enter the case number from the Receipt Notice. 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 OISS 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 OISS.


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 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 OISS immediately.


Maintenance of Status

Students commencing Pre-Completion OPT employment must keep in mind the following regulations and guidelines in order to maintain 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 name or address to OISS throughout a student’s stay in F-1 status, including periods of OPT. Failure to report these changes within 10 days of the change could be considered a violation of F-1 immigration status.

All updates to your residential address should be reported through MySeaport under “Personal Information”. For instructions on how to update this address, please see our Address update instructions.

Restrictions on OPT Employment

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

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.