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:
- Learn about the standard (12-month) OPT
- Understand the application process
- 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.
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 USCIS receives your OPT application
Pick up your receipt notice.
USCIS will send a Form I-797 “Notice of Action” that will 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 ISSS that this receipt is ready for you to pick up. We will hold your unopened mail for 30 days, after which time we will return it to the sender. Please make sure to check your WSU email regularly to be sure you do not miss the notification that your mail has arrived. If you are no longer in Pullman, you will need to provide ISSS with a prepaid FedEx label so we can forward your mail to you.
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 ISSS when your OPT card arrives. You will have 30 days to pick up your document or provide the office with a prepaid FedEx label for forwarding. We will hold your mail for 30 days before returning it to the sender. 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.
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.