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Optional Practical Training

If you are an F-1 student, Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows you 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 one 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 one full academic year prior to training.

Graduate students whose program requires immediate participation in training are exempt from the one-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.
  • CPT must be an integral part of your program of study.

OPT

  • Graduate students who have completed all required courses are eligible to start OPT.
  • Does not require a job offer.
  • Your work authorization is not employer-specific.
  • Maximum of 12 months of full-time work.
  • You must apply before completing your academic program.

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):

  • Enrollment 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 1.5 times the full-time rate)
  • Enrollment is not required for immigration purposes

Post-completion OPT

  • Full-time employment only
  • Enrollment is not required
  • If enrolled in courses, enrollment should be limited to part-time

Applications

CPT

Apply for CPT through the WSU Office of International Programs. Processing time is about one 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
  • if a program does not have a required internship, determine on a case-by-case basis whether CPT is appropriate
  • authorize CPT in SEVIS

OPT

Apply for OPT through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Processing may take up to three months. There is a $380 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 student pre-completion OPT)
  • verify your expected program completion date (for post-completion OPT)

WSU Office of International Programs will:

  • verify your eligibility
  • recommend OPT in SEVIS

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 one 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 Three 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 75-90 days to receive approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

You must apply for OPT within 60 days after 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 reenter 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 only needs to be valid 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 & Immigration Services (USCIS). Application processing can take up to three months and costs $410*.

*Check or money order may be made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Cost 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 Global Services if you have questions regarding OPT.

2

Prepare Your OPT Packet as Directed in the Tutorial

When your packet is complete, submit the online OPT request form. Global Services requires five business days to process completed materials.

Standard 12-Month OPT Packet Contents
(Applications Materials Must be in the Student Portal)

  • E-form submission requesting OPT (your academic advisor will be required to verify program information)
  • Original application Form I-765 I(pdf)
  • Two color passport-style photos taken within the past 30 days
  • Check or money order for $410* made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Copy of valid passport biographical page (and extension if necessary)
  • Copy of visa (can be expired)
  • Copy of electronic I-94 or front and back of I-94 card
  • Copy of I-20 (you will receive this when you pick up your OPT materials from Global Services)
  • SEVIS printout of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) employment (you will receive this when you pick up your OPT materials from Global Services)
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Doc (EAD), if applicable
  • Copy of your previous I-20 (only if CPT was not authorized by Global Services)
  • Job offer letter (only if expediting)

*Payment subject to change. 

24-Month STEM OPT Packet Contents
(Applications Materials Must be in the Student Portal)

  • Completed I-983* (must be signed by employer)
  • Completed Form I-765
  • Two color passport-style photos taken within the past 30 days
  • Check or money order for $410** made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Copy of valid passport biographical page (and extension if necessary)
  • Copy of visa (can be expired)
  • Copy of electronic I-94 or front and back of I-94 card
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Doc (EAD)
  • Copy of transcript showing degree completion
  • Form G-1145
  • If applying using a previously obtained STEM degree include: transcript and letter on letterhead from PDSO at previous school indicating CIP Code of degree obtained, date degree was obtained, school accreditation organization, and SEVIS school code

*Do not submit I-983 to USCIS.
**Payment subject to change. 

Job Start Date on Your 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 the Global Services deparment. 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 Global 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 the USCIS.

We recommend that you use the Global Services address on Form I-765 (pdf) and mail your application to the USCIS Arizona address.

Regular mail
USCIS P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
Express/overnight delivery
USCIS Attn: AOS1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

You may choose to use a home address instead of the Global Services address. If your home address is in another state, you must mail the application to the USCIS Center for that state. To determine where you must mail your application to when not using the Global Services address, please see page 10 of the I-765 instructions (pdf).

Expediting your OPT Application

If you have a job offer, Global Services can request to expedite your OPT application. We cannot request an expedite for a STEM extension, which is why you should apply early. Contact a Global Services advisor and provide a copy of your offer of employment with your OPT application materials.

Although you are requesting that your OPT application be expedited, it is still important to apply early. There is no guarantee that USCIS will be able to expedite your OPT application, even upon request.

Withdrawing your OPT Application

If you have decided not to engage in OPT, please notify your Global 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 of acknowledgement once your OPT cancellation has been processed. USCIS will not refund your OPT application fee.

After UCSIS Receives your OPT Application

Pick up your Receipt Notice

USCIS will send a Form I-797 “Notice of Action” to arrive about two weeks after you mail your application. If you used the address for Global Services, you will receive an email from Global Services when this receipt arrives. If you completed teh 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 Global 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 within 90 days after you apply. If you used the address for Global Services, you will receive an email from Global Services when your OPT card arrives. Pick it up at the Global Services front desk in Bryan Hall 108. You are authorized to work when you have the card in hand and the effective start date on the card has arrived.

Notify Global Services When you Begin Employment.

You must report your employment as soon as you begin working. In order to maintain lawful F-1 staus, you cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days during the 12-month OPT period. You must also notify Global 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

While your OPT application is pending, you may exit the United States and reenter to resume searching for a job. To reenter the United States, you will need:

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

If You Have Graduated and Your OPT has Been Approved

You may travel outside the United States only if you have a job offer or you are returning to a job. This reentry is not guaranteed. In order to reenter the United States, you will need:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months*
  • EAD card
  • Letter from your employer stating that you need to return to the United States to resume working

* An International Student Advisor must endorse your I-20 within six months of your reentry date. To request an endorsement, bring your completed Travel Endorsement Request Form and your current, original I-20 to Global Services in Bryan Hall 108. Allow up to five 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 five months from your OPT end date.

Contact Global 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 one 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 in order 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 Global Services Department 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.If you simply want to extend your stay beyond the authorized 60-day period prior to departing the United States, you should apply for the B-2 visitor’s status by filing Form I-539 (pdf), Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Apply for 24-Month 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. This is a two-time extension. 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). The STEM OPT tutorial contains a list of qualifying fields.
  • 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 two STEM extensions.

How to Apply

You may apply for an OPT extension starting 90 days prior to the end of your current OPT. You cannot apply after the last day of your current OPT.

1

Review and submit documents in the international student portal under the OPT STEM Extension section. This is the only method Global Services will accept applications.

2

Prepare your Extension Application Materials and submit them in the international student portal.

In addition to the materials required for your initial OPT application, you must also include:

  • Employer/organization name as listed in E-Verify and the employer E-Verify company identification number (entered on the I-765 application form). Not all employers are registered in the E-Verify government system. Some may not be willing or able to register. Ask your current or potential employer about its E-Verify status.
  • A completed and signed form I-983 (you and your employer must complete/sign this information). Study in the States contains information about the form and employer responsibilities.
3

Your WSU F-1 advisor must verify your eligibility and recommend the 24-month OPT extension in SEVIS. Your employer must sign the form I-983 and agree to reporting requirements for the 24-month period. We encourage you and your employer to review Study in the States.

4

Submit your OPT extension application to USCIS.

  • You can file up to 90 days prior to your current Employment Authorization Document (EAD) end date, but no later than the current EAD expirati0on date.
  • When filing your OPT extension application, you may use either WSU’s address or your home address on Form I-765. Using WSU’s address allows Global Services to scan STEM documents to your immigration file. If you use your home address, notify USCIS if you move. Government documents, such as your receipt notice and OPT card, will not be forwarded to a new address and will be returned to USCIS.
  • If you use your home address, mail your application to the USCIS Lockbox that serves the state where you live. Find the right USCIS address.
  • USCIS will send you an OPT receipt (called a “Notice of Action”) within 2-3 weeks of mailing your application. You will receive an email from Global Services when your OPT receipt arrives. If it does not arrive within three weeks, please contact Global Services.
  • You may continue employment while your extension application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS, or for 180 days, whichever comes first. If your current work authorization card expires while you are waiting for the new one, the receipt notice from USCIS will serve as work authorization until your new card is approved. Keep this receipt in a safe place with your other immigration documents.
  • You cannot travel outside the United States while your OPT extension application is pending with USCIS.
  • Check your application status using your OPT receipt number.
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