The OPT Process

If you are a student on an F-1 visa, Optional Practical Training allows you to be employed within your major area of study for up to 12 months per educational level – bachelor’s, master’s, and/or doctoral degree. You may be employed on or off campus.

Details about your OPT application

Start with the required tutorial

To expedite the OPT application process the tutorial will allow you to:

  1. Learn about the standard (12-month) OPT
  2. Understand the application process
  3. Submit your request via myPassport

Read this information with care so you are aware of all the rules and regulations concerning your OPT. Once you complete the tutorial you may begin the application process.

This is a required tutorial outlining in detail the application process and OPT regulations. You must read the OPT Tutorial before completing the OPT I-20 Application Form. Please meet with an international student advisor in International Student and Scholar Services if you have questions regarding OPT.

Considerations

Unable to graduate on time?

If you have applied for OPT and it looks like you will not be able to complete your program as expected, notify International Student and Scholar Services immediately. International Student and Scholar Services will need to extend your program to match expected enrollment for the next term. This applies only to undergraduate degree seekers or graduate degree seekers who will not complete coursework on original schedule.

Withdrawing your OPT application

If you have decided not to engage in OPT, please notify your International Student and Scholar Services advisor immediately. You may withdraw your OPT application as long as the approved start date has not been reached. You will receive a letter from International Student and Scholar Services once your OPT cancellation has been processed. USCIS will not refund your OPT application fee.

After applying

After USCIS receives your OPT application

Pick up your receipt notice. USCIS will send a Form I-797 “Notice of Action” to arrive about 2 weeks after you submit your application. If you used the address for International Student and Scholar Services, you will receive an email from International Student and Scholar Services when this receipt arrives. If you do not receive your OPT receipt notice within 2-3 weeks of submitting your application, please contact International Student and Scholar Services.

Check the status of your application

The receipt number is printed in the upper left corner of the USCIS Form I-797 “Notice of Action” receipt. If you have your receipt number, you can check the status of your application on the USCIS Case Status web page.

Pick up your OPT card

Your OPT card (also known as an Employment Authorization Document or EAD) should arrive around 90 days after you apply. If you used the address for International Student and Scholar Services, you will receive an email from International Student and Scholar Services when your OPT card arrives. Pick it up at the International Student and Scholar Services front desk in Bryan Hall 206. You are authorized to work when you have the card in hand and the effective start date on the card has arrived.

Notify International Student and Scholar Sevices when you begin employment

You must report your employment as soon as you begin working. To maintain lawful F-1 status, you cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days during the 12-month OPT period. You must also notify International Student and Scholar Services if you change employers or lose a position. All employment changes can be reported in myPassport.

International travel while on OPT

Travel regulations vary depending upon your OPT status and whether you have graduated. Before you plan a trip, explore detailed information about travel regulations.

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending

As CBP requires the EAD card to be on hand to reenter the United States, it is not recommended that students travel internationally while OPT is pending. If you intend to travel during the time that your OPT is pending, please speak with an International Student and Scholar Services advisor.

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within 6 months*
  • I-797 receipt notice (OPT receipt)

If you have graduated and your OPT has been approved

You may travel outside of the United States if you have a valid EAD card as well as passport with a valid U.S visa. It is recommended that you carry a copy of a job offer or job confirmation with you as well. Please note reentry can never be guaranteed. To apply for reentry to the United States, you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within 6 months*
  • EAD card
  • A letter from your employer confirming your job and their approval of your travel (recommended)

*An International Student Advisor must endorse your I-20 within 6 months of your reentry date. To request an endorsement, bring your completed Travel Endorsement Request Form, accessible in the international student portal, and your current, original I-20 to International Student and Scholar Services in Bryan Hall 206. Allow up to 5 days for processing.

When you finish OPT

When your OPT card expires, you have several options. If you want to stay in the United States to continue school or work, you should explore your options and begin the necessary process well in advance.

Here are your post-OPT options.

Depart the United States

You can stay in the Unites States for up to 60 days after your OPT expires as long as you have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment.

Begin a new program at WSU

You will need to be admitted to a new program of study and request a “change of program I-20” at WSU. Be certain that the new program information is added to your F-1 record within 60 days of your OPT expiration. Your new program of study must begin the next available regular session, not to exceed 5 months from your OPT end date.

If you return to school to pursue a degree at a higher level than your previous degree (e.g., you have an M.S. and are going to work on a Ph.D.), you may apply for another year of OPT when you return to school. You will need 1 year of full-time enrollment before applying.

Begin a new program at another school

You must initiate a SEVIS school transfer within the 60-day grace period to maintain your status. Once your SEVIS record is released from WSU to your new school, you are no longer eligible to engage in OPT, even if your OPT card is still valid.

Get an H-1B work visa

H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer. If you intend to continue working in the United States, you may seek to transition from OPT (part of F-1 status) to H-1B status. Your ability to get an H-1B visa will depend on your employer’s willingness and ability to support you in the process. The WSU Office of International Programs cannot advise you on these issues. If an employer has filed an H-1B petition on your behalf, talk with that employer to determine whether you are eligible for the Cap-Gap Extension.

H-1B cap-gap extension

Most employers limit or “cap” the number of H-1B slots available each fiscal year.

New H-1Bs become effective each October 1. If your F-1 status and/or OPT expire before your H-1B is approved to begin, that is known as the “cap gap.”

If your employer in the private sector has filed an H-1 petition on your behalf, ask the Office of International Programs International Student and Scholar Services about your eligibility for an H-1B Cap-Gap Extension.

If you have a pending or approved H-1B petition, the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension may let you remain in the United States in F-1 status until your approved H-1B employment period starts. You could stay even if your OPT authorization and/or F-1 grace period would have otherwise expired before October 1.

Change your nonimmigrant status

If you intend to stay in the United States after your OPT ends, you must apply to USCIS to change your immigration status to whatever category is appropriate for the purpose of your stay.

Apply for 24-month STEM OPT extension

If your post-completion OPT was based on a STEM-designated degree (pdf), and if your OPT employer is an E-Verify participant, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of OPT. You must file an extension with USCIS before your initial OPT authorization expires. The STEM OPT tutorial contains application requirements and deadlines. STEM OPT begins the day after your initial post-completion OPT employment authorization expires. It ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the extension was approved.

Eligibility requirements

You must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Your major or area(s) of study are in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). Check eligible study areas.
  • You are currently approved for post-completion OPT and have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
  • You have a job with an organization registered in the e-Verify employment verification system.
  • You and your employer complete a form I-983.
  • Your employer must agree to ongoing evaluation and reporting during the 24-month period.
  • You have not already used 2 STEM extensions.

Frequently asked questions

You can submit your OPT application up to 90 days prior to and 60 days after your program end date. We generally advise students to apply as early as possible but in some circumstances it may be worth waiting. Please speak with an ISSS advisor if you have questions about your program end date or when to apply. Note however that a late OPT application may lead to unavoidable unemployment days or an OPT period of less than 12 months.

Good question.

  • For undergraduates, it is the day that semester grades post.
  • For graduate students with an assistantship it is the last day of the pay period for their final month (May 15, July 31, December 31); or the day grades post, whichever is later.
  • For graduate students without an assistantship it is the day grades post.

However, other factors may come up that complicate the decision, such as a graduate student taking advantage of the interim exam period. If you want clarification on your exact program end date please see an ISSS advisor.

No, you do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.

Yes. However, expedited requests are rarely approved. You are free to contact USCIS and make the request but our office thinks it is unlikely that you will see a change in your processing time. We cannot assist in this effort.

This is fine. You are still in status as long as you have a pending application for OPT. But you may not start working until you receive your EAD (OPT) card and the approved start date has been reached.

You are still in F-1 status while on OPT.

You must wait. You can’t start working until you have your EAD card and until the start date on your EAD card.

No. An F-1 student’s on-campus employment authorization benefit ends upon the completion of their program. To work on campus again you will need to wait for your EAD card and for your OPT to start.

Yes, you can. The regulations allow graduate students who have finished their coursework to end their program and apply for OPT early. However:

  • This requires that we shorten your program end date, which means you will lose any on campus employment opportunities (such as an assistantship) until your OPT is approved.
  • You need to have a degree in hand to apply for the STEM OPT extension so it’s very important that you complete your academic program while you are on OPT, ideally within the first 6 months.

A student’s OPT period must end no later than 14 months from their program completion date. This means a late submission or approval could result in less than 12 months of OPT.

Generally, roughly 90 days from the day they receive your application. On occasion, we see faster or slower approvals.

Your OPT must start during your 60-day grace period. While your exact start date is up to you, we’d suggest you consider the following factors when making your decision:

  • When will you submit your application? An early submission allows more time for processing and more options when choosing a start date. As a rule, the later you apply the further back you should push your start date.
  • How is the job market in your field? If you think you will need more time to find a job then it’s probably best to choose a later start date.
  • What are your plans during your grace period? If you want to take some time off prior to working you are free to choose a later start date.

No, graduate assistantships require full-time enrollment and full-time enrollment in a degree program is not allowed while on OPT.

We strongly discourage you from any sort of paid or unpaid work (volunteer or otherwise) on campus until you have your EAD card in hand and your OPT has started.

Yes, but the same OPT rules still apply: it needs to be related to your major. We advise students doing volunteer work to document their efforts (letter from supervisor, weekly journals, etc.) in case questions come up in the future. Also note that there are laws related to what is allowed as “volunteer” work and that the abuse of this sort of labor could put you or your company at risk.

CPT is not used to facilitate employment. CPT employment must be an integral part of the major field of study. Once you submit your OPT application you and your department are certifying that all degree requirements are done or will be done. For this reason our office cannot authorize CPT.