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?
OPT: Most often after completion of a degree program or graduate course work, but may be during a program as well
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.
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After you receive OPT authorization, be sure to fulfill these requirements.
While you are on OPT, you are required to report the following information to the U.S. government. Currently this reporting is done by International Student and Scholar Services on your behalf, which requires you to report the information directly to us. F-1 students on standard 12-month OPT are also able to update their information directly with the U.S. government through the SEVP Portal. Students on STEM extension will need to continue to report employment changes directly to International Student and Scholar Services, due to I-983 update requirements:
- Changes in address (Update within 10 days)
- Changes in legal name
- Changes in employer name and address
- When your employment ends
If you are on STEM extension, you must check in with International Student and Scholar Services every 6 months, even if no changes in employment or address have occurred. This check in can be completed using the “OPT Employment Update Form” in myPassport
New Email Address?
When to Start Work
Initial 12 Months of OPT
You may start work when:
- You receive the OPT card (Employment Authorization Document or EAD), AND
- The start date has arrived
If your EAD arrives later than the date your employer wishes you to begin working, you may not start work early.
Students in certain majors (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) may be eligible for an extension to their current OPT. To determine eligibility and requirements view the required STEM OPT tutorial
Students who timely file (meaning USCIS receives your application within the 90 days prior to your current OPT expiring) a 24-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS, or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The receipt notice from USCIS will serve as work authorization until the new work authorization card is approved (if the current student card expires while the student is waiting for the new card).
What to Do when You begin Your OPT Job
Provide your employer with copies of your immigration documents: valid passport, OPT card, OPT I-20, etc. Your employer will need these documents to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9). If your employer has little experience in hiring international students, USCIS online resources can be helpful.
Hours of Work
You are expected to work full time — more than 20 hours per week — while you are on OPT. You can work more than 40 hours per week if necessary. Immigration regulations do not cap the maximum number of hours you can work.
Job training is considered part of the job and is usually paid. You will need to have a valid OPT card before you begin training.
Your OPT authorization is not specific to 1 employer. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any employer — even a temporary agency or job placement firm (if on standard 12-month OPT).
Working for more than 1 employer at the same time is allowed.
Remember to report any changes in your employment to International Student and Scholar Services or SEVP.
Federal regulations allow you to volunteer while on standard 12-month OPT. To comply with Department of Labor laws, you cannot volunteer in a position that is normally paid. It is also unlawful to volunteer for an employer prior to starting a paying job.
Volunteer work should be more than 20 hours per week and in your field of study.
Enrolling in Courses
If you have graduated and have OPT, regulations allow you to take courses for personal enrichment as long as you maintain your OPT employment. Remember, the main purpose of your time on OPT needs to be practical training and not pursuit of an additional degree or certificate.
Transferring to another institution or changing levels to a new program of study will end your OPT.
Periods of Unemployment
To maintain your F-1 status, you must keep periods of unemployment within designated limits. If you are not employed, you may stay in the United States only for a designated number of days after the start of your OPT.
- Standard 12-month OPT: 90 days
- 24-month OPT extension: 150 days. This includes any days of unemployment accrued during standard OPT
Record and Report Your Dates of Employment
You are responsible for keeping record of your dates of employment and reporting the information in your SEVP portal or to International Student and Scholar Services. This will update your immigration record to reflect employment so that unemployment stops accruing. Failure to report OPT employment may result in the termination of your SEVIS record. Dates of unemployment may affect your status or future benefits in the United States.
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 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
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
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.
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