Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
International On Campus

Optional Practical Training

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

If you are in a STEM degree program, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension.

Eligibility

Compare Your Employment Options
OPT vs. CPT

CPT—Curricular Practical Training: Enables F-1 students to engage in off-campus employment or an internship that is integral to completion of their academic program
OPT—Optional Practical Training: Enables eligible F-1 students to engage in employment or internships within their major area of study

When do you participate?

CPT: After completing at least 1 full academic year, but before finishing your degree program
OPT: Most often after completion of a degree program or graduate course work, but may be during a program as well

Eligibility

You must be enrolled full-time under lawful F-1 status for 1 full academic year prior to training. Graduate students whose program requires immediate participation in training are exempt from the 1-year prior enrollment requirement.

CPT

  • Requires a job offer
  • You are authorized to work for a specific employer only
  • 12 months of full-time CPT makes you ineligible for OPT at the same educational level
  • The internship must be a documented part of your program of study’s curriculum

OPT

  • Graduate students who have completed all required courses and passed their preliminary exams are eligible to start OPT
  • Maximum of 12 months of full-time work for post-completion OPT. If you are in a STEM degree program, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension

Enrollment Requirements

CPT

Part-time employment (up to 20 hours per week):

  • Full-time enrollment is required during the academic year

Full-time employment (more than 20 hours per week):

  • Enrolled part-time or full-time
  • Minimum credits determined by your academic department

OPT

Graduate student pre-completion OPT

  • Employment may be part-time or full-time (part-time authorization will apply to the 12-month limit at 0.5 times the full-time rate)
  • Enrollment is not required for immigration purposes

Post-completion OPT

  • Full-time employment only (20+ hours per week)
  • Any volunteer position used to satisfy the minimum 20 hours per week of employment to avoid accruing 90 days of unemployment must be directly related to the student’s major field of study

Applications

CPT

Apply for CPT through the WSU Office of International Programs. Processing time is about 1 week. There are no fees.

Upon approval, you will be issued a CPT I-20 form.

Your academic department will:

  • Determine whether CPT is an integral part of your academic program
  • Determine enrollment requirements (examples: internship course, research credits)
  • Recommend CPT

WSU Office of International Programs will:

  • Verify your eligibility
  • Determine on a case-by-case basis whether CPT is appropriate if a program does not have a required internship
  • Authorize CPT in SEVIS

OPT

Apply for OPT through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Processing may take up to 3 months. There is a $410 fee (subject to change).

Upon approval, you will be issued an Employment Authorization Document.

Your academic program will:

  • Verify completion of all required courses for the program (for graduate students who are ABD)
  • Verify your expected program completion date (for post-completion OPT)

WSU Office of International Programs will:

  • Verify your eligibility
  • Recommend OPT in SEVIS

For more information on Pre-Completion OPT, please contact IP-International Student and Scholar Services.

When You Can Use Post-Completion OPT

After you complete your degree. This is when most students use their 12 months of OPT. It is known as post-completion OPT.

After you complete all graduate course requirements, but before you finish your thesis or equivalent. This is called post-completion OPT for ABD graduate students.

Lawful Status Attending Full-Time for a Full Academic Year

If you have been in lawful F-1 status with the same SEVIS record for 1 full academic year, you are eligible to apply for OPT. You must have a valid I-20, valid passport, and be lawfully enrolled in a program of study.

Apply 3 Months before Degree Completion

If you intend to engage in post-completion OPT, start the application paperwork three months before you finish your degree requirements, but no earlier. It usually takes 90 days to receive approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

USCIS must receive your OPT application within 60 days of your program end date or you will become ineligible to apply for OPT for that degree.

No Job Offer Needed

You do not need a job offer when applying for your initial 12 months of OPT. However, if you complete your OPT and file for a 24-month extension, you will need a job offer at that time. While on a STEM extension, your employer must complete a form I-983 Training Plan and be enrolled in the E-verify program.

Your Status and OPT

When you obtain OPT authorization, you are still in F-1 visa status. You will simply receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also called your OPT card. The OPT card does not replace the need for other documents. You need a passport, visa, I-20, and the OPT card to re-enter the United States.

Working with an Expired Visa Stamp

If the visa stamp in your passport is expired while you are on OPT, you may still be lawfully employed. An F-1 visa needs to be valid only when you are entering the United States and being processed for admission at the U.S. port of entry. You can legally maintain your immigration status with an expired visa.

Traveling Outside the United States.

If you wish to travel outside the United States while you are on OPT, check the travel regulations.

Work Related to Your Field of Study

OPT has a clear purpose. It allows you to engage in work that directly applies knowledge you acquired during your program of study. Immigration regulations do not specify what “related to major field of study” means. You are responsible for determining that your employment is related to your field of study. If you hold multiple positions at the same time during OPT, each position must be related to your major field of study.

How to Apply

OPT is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Application processing can take up to 3 months and costs $410*.

*Check or money order may be made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Cost is subject to change.

1

Read the OPT Tutorial

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.

If you are interested in a STEM OPT extension, read the STEM OPT Tutorial.

2

Applying for 12-Month OPT

Please follow the steps on the OPT Tutorial page so we can review your OPT paperwork and create a new I-20 with your OPT authorization.

Applying for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension

Please follow the steps on the STEM OPT Tutorial page so we can review your OPT paperwork and create a new I-20 with your STEM OPT authorization.

Job Start Date on Your OPT/STEM OPT I-20 Request Form

You will need to indicate an employment start date on your OPT application. You can choose any date within 60 days after your program end date. Once USCIS receives your application, it is difficult to make date changes.

If you do not have a job offer and need time to continue your job search, you might choose a start date toward the end of the 60-day period. However, if you are offered a position, you will not be able to start unless you have your work card in hand and the start date has arrived.

If you are an ABD graduate student who has completed all course requirements, you can choose a start date before you complete your degree.

3

Pick up and Mail Your OPT Materials

After your application has been processed, you will receive an email informing you to pick up your packet and your newly generated OPT I-20 from International Student and Scholar Services. Mail materials immediately to USCIS. The application must be submitted by mail. USCIS must receive your materials no later than 30 days after your OPT I-20 was generated for standard 12-month OPT or within 60 days for a 24-month STEM extension, or your application may be denied. We recommend you use the International Student and Scholar Services address on your application as government documents, such as your receipt notice and OPT card, will not be forwarded to a new address. They will be returned to USCIS.

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 second 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” to arrive about 2 weeks after you mail 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 completed the G-1145, you will also receive a text message or email within a week of USCIS receiving your application. If you do not receive your OPT receipt notice within 2-3 weeks of mailing 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 card (also known as an Employment Authorization Document or EAD) should arrive at WSU 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 Services 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 your student portal.

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 re-enter 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 re-entry can never be guaranteed. To apply for re-entry 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 re-entry 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 United 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.

Contact International Student and Scholar Services

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, 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. It 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 here.
  • 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 used 2 STEM extensions