12 Months of OPT: Application Procedures

When to Apply

Apply early! Do not wait for a job offer. You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT. Allow three months for processing by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), plus additional time for obtaining your academic adviser's signature on the OPT Request Form, ISS processing (one week), and mailing to USCIS. You cannot work until you receive OPT approval.

You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. (Your program end date is the last day of your final quarter, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar.) Please note that your OPT application must arrive at the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date, or the request will be denied.

ISS strongly encourages you to apply for OPT three months prior to your program end date. Though USCIS will accept your application up to 60 days after your program end date, you cannot begin work until the application is approved. A delayed application may result in delayed work authorization and/or loss of full OPT eligibility (12 months) due to the three-month processing time by USCIS. Here is a visual timeline to help illustrate the process.

How to Apply

Please read the following instructions carefully. Although we in ISS provide information, the OPT application is your appication. We do not approve the application or have the authority to influence the process. If there is a request for information or to correct a problem, we will notify you of the request but it is your responsibility to respond. Please note that if you choose to travel, it could be difficult to respond to requests from USCIS about your application.

  1. Complete your OPT application. (See below for details.)
  2. Submit OPT application to the ISS front desk. (See below for details.)
  3. Pick up OPT application from ISS and mail to USCIS. (See below for details.)

Step 1: Complete Your OPT Application

Gather the Following Documents

  • Completed Optional Practical Training Request Form (see Tips for Completing Your OPT Request Form below)
  • Completed I-765 Form
  • Photocopy of all previously issued I-20s (pages 1 and 3)
  • Photocopy of passport identification page
  • Photocopy of F-1 visa page
  • Two passport-style photos (see Photo Specifications below)
  • Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card--or, if you do not have an I-94 card, a copy of your F-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at CBP.gov/I94
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)
  • $380 check or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (Do not postdate your check. The date format for your check should be as follows: month/day/year)
  • Completed G-1145 Form (optional; it signs you up for email/text message notification of your application's arrival at USCIS)

Step 2: Submit Your Completed OPT Application to ISS

Submit your completed OPT application (except the check) to the ISS front desk. Your application will be routed directly to your primary ISS adviser, who will review your application, will note any items missing or needing to be changed, and will issue a new, updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation printed on the back page. Allow one week for processing.

You will receive an email from either your ISS adviser or the ISS office (uwiss@uw.edu) to pick up the application materials and new I-20. You will receive a pink checklist indicating the final application materials that must be mailed to USCIS.

Step 3: Mail Your Application to USCIS

  1. Review the pink checklist and your application to make sure it is complete.
  2. Sign your OPT-endorsed I-20 at the bottom of page 1 before photocopying it and mailing it to USCIS.
  3. Mail your application within 30 days of the new OPT-endorsed I-20 being issued. Late applications will be denied by USCIS.
  • Do not mail your original passport, I-94, or I-20.
  • It is recommended you send your application by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • If your I-765 mailing address is in Washington state (including UW ISS) mail the entire application to:
    • For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries

      USCIS
      PO Box 21281
      Phoenix, AZ 85036

    • For Express Mail and Courier Service Deliveries

      USCIS
      Attn: AOS
      1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S.
      Suite 100
      Phoenix, AZ 85034

    • If your I-765 mailing address is outside Washington state, review the USCIS mailing instructions to find the correct Lockbox location.

After You Mail Your OPT Application to USCIS

USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a "receipt date," and assigning a case number. Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it is not, contact your ISS adviser immediately.

You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. It is normal for your case status to say "initial review" for most of the 2-3 month processing period.

You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD. Be sure to review the reporting and employment requirements you must follow after OPT approval.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application?

The U.S. Postal Service will not foward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. Consider using the ISS address on the I-765 application. We will send you an email when the card arrives.

How long does it take to get approved for OPT?

Approximately three months from the date USCIS receives your application, though it can be faster depending on the time of year.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?

The answer depends on your situation. If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must notify your ISS adviser of your change in plans. ISS can cancel the OPT recommendation.

If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact your ISS adviser for assistance. If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel authorization, contact your ISS adviser. Cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT application are not meant to be cancelled.

I didn't submit my OPT application early enough, and I realize I might not get the OPT start date I requested. How do I know what date USCIS will authorize?

Unfortunately it is difficult to estimate. The authorization depends on when the application arrives and the workload at USCIS. If they process your application after your requested start date, they might defer the start date to their day of processing, up to 60 days after your program end date. However, there is no way to predict which date it will be.

How long does it take to get the Receipt Notice/Notice of Action (NOA)?

Approximately two-to-three weeks after USCIS receives your application. You might verify with your bank whether yourcheck has been cashed. If so, the NOA is likely on the way.

When I receive my EAD card, should I give a copy to ISS?

Yes, if you requested your EAD be mailed to you directly, submit a photocopy to ISS. If your EAD is mailed to ISS first, we will make a photocopy before you pick up the EAD.

I have heard that I can apply for a "temporary" EAD card. Is this true?

In the past, students were able to apply for a temporary EAD card if their application was pending for more than 90 days. Processes have changed, and temporary EADs are no longer issued. If your application is pending for more than 90 days, contact your ISS adviser.

What happens if my EAD card never arrives or has incorrect information on it?

Contact your primary ISS adviser.

What if I lose my EAD card?

If you lose your card, you must apply and pay for a replacement. Complete a new I-765 Form and resubmit it to USCIS with all supporting documents, including the fee. Contact your ISS adviser for an updated I-20. We recommend you keep your EAD at home (not in your wallet) because of the expense and time in applying for a replacement.

How can I get my EAD card if it is mailed to the ISS office and I move away from the Seattle area?

If you move from the Seattle area before your EAD arrives, you must arrange for the EAD to be mailed from ISS to your new address. We recommend choosing a mailing option that can be tracked. Standard First-Class mail through the U.S. Postal Service cannot be tracked, and if the EAD is lost, you must submit a new fee and application to USCIS for a replacement.

I am a graduate student and I’ve completed all required coursework. I only have thesis or dissertation remaining. Can I apply for OPT authorization to begin before I graduate?

You can apply for either pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding which option works best for you. Here is an overview. We recommend you schedule an appointment with your ISS adviser to further discuss your options.

Pre-completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT is only valid while you are a student finishing your thesis or dissertation. The OPT start and end date must fall before your I-20 expires and before you graduate.

Pros
  • You are not subject to the 90-day unemployment limit.
  • Your I-20 can be extended if you need more time to complete your thesis/dissertation.
Cons
  • If you graduate, you must submit a separate post-completion OPT application and another application fee.
  • There is the risk of a gap in employment authorization if you must submit a second OPT application and the timing is not perfect.
  • It is challenging to take advantage of the full 12 months of OPT allotted to you because of the dual applications.
  • You must continue to register full-time (which may or may not be a requirement from your department depending on your funding and/or defense quarter.)

Post-completion OPT

Post-completion OPT can begin either while you complete your thesis/dissertation or after you graduate. Procedurally, however, the OPT start date can only fall after the I-20 end date, so your I-20 will be shortened to the end of the quarter in which you submit the OPT application.

Pros
  • You will only submit one application and fee.
  • You are not required to register for the purpose of maintaining F1 status (though you must consult your department about Graduate School registration requirements depending on your funding, defense quarter, and ability to apply for on-leave status).
Cons
  • You are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, an added pressure if you still need to focus on your thesis/dissertation.
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. If you do not complete your thesis/dissertation within the year, your F-1 status ends when the OPT expires, and you must travel and reenter with a new I-20 to continue your studies.
  • If you do not complete your thesis/dissertation within the OPT year, you are not eligible for the 17-month STEM extension, even if you otherwise would have been eligible.