12 Months of OPT: Application Procedures

When to Apply

Final UW Enrolled Quarter Status First Day to Submit Application Packets to ISS
Last Day to Submit Application Packets to ISS
Winter 2019

Quarter end date 03/22/2019

 December 10, 2018 May 7, 2019

ISS needs 10 working days to process packets.

Applications must be delivered to USCIS by May 21, 2019 (+60 days from 03/22/2019 end of WIN 2019 quarter)

Spring 2019

Quarter end date 06/14/2019

** Spring Graduates – see our Express Processing website for more options**  March 4, 2019 July 30, 2019

ISS needs 10 working days to process packets.

Applications must be delivered to USCIS by August 13, 2019 (+60 days from 06/14/2019 end of SPR 2019 quarter)

Summer 2019

Quarter end date 08/23/2019


May 13, 2019 October 7, 2019

ISS needs 10 working days to process packets.

Applications must be delivered to USCIS by October 22, 2019 (+60 days from 08/23/2019 end of SUM 2019 quarter)


Autumn 2019

Quarter end date 12/13/2019


September 3, 2019 January 28, 2020

ISS needs 10 working days to process packets.

Applications must be delivered to USCIS by February 11, 2020 (+60 days from 12/13/2019 end of AUT 2019 quarter)


How to Apply

Please read the following instructions carefully. Although we in ISS provide information, the OPT application is your application. 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, USCIS 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.


Step 1. Submit your Final Quarter Reduced Course Load Request (if applicable)

If you do not need to enroll full-time in your final quarter to graduate, please submit a Final Quarter Reduced Course Load Request form to ISS before submitting your OPT application.

Skip this step if your enrollment will be still be full-time for immigration purposes.

Full Time for Undergraduate Students: 12 credits

Full Time for Graduate/Professional Students: 10 credits

>= 1 cr 700 Thesis or 800 Dissertation

2 cr ENGR 601

Step 2: Complete Your OPT Application

Gather the Following Documents

Choosing an OPT Start Date
  • The “start date” is the date your work permission begins. You cannot work earlier than the start date, but you can start working later.
  • Your requested start date must be within 60 days after your program completion date. For example, if you graduate or complete your program June 8, your start date can be no later than August 7.
  • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
Photo Specifications
  • Lightly print your name and your I-94 number in pencil or felt pen on the back of each photo.
  • USCIS photo instructions (see the “Required Documentation” section on page 13)
  • The photos must have been taken within the last 30 days (do not use the same photos used for your F-1 visa application; USCIS might notice and will return the application).
  • The two photos should have a white background.
  • They should be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.
  • The photos should show a passport-style, full-face image, with both ears visible.
  • The photos should be 2 by 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 3/8 inches.

Step 3: Submit Your Completed OPT Application to ISS

Submit your completed OPT application (except the USCIS filing fee check/money order/credit card form) to the ISS front desk. An ISS adviser will review your application, note any items missing or needing to be changed, and will issue a new, updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation printed on page 2. No appointment is necessary – allow 10 business days for processing.


You will receive an email from 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 4: Pick Up Your Application From ISS; Mail  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

      PO Box 21281
      Phoenix, AZ 85036

    • For Express Mail and Courier Service Deliveries

      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 receipt 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 receipt 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 3-5 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.

REVIEW the reporting requirements, employment, and travel rules that apply to you during your OPT year.

You must report your practical training/employment to ISS. If you do not report your practical training/employment to ISS, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date printed on your EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels the OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if my EAD card has incorrect information on it?

  1. Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
  2. To correct the EAD, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.

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

Warning!  The only way to change the address USCIS uses for your OPT-related mail is to submit an official change of address to USCIS using their website tools. The U.S. Postal Service can’t forward official government mail (like OPT cards) to a new address.

How long does it take to get approved for OPT?

Between 3-5 months from the date USCIS receives your application, though it can be faster depending on the time of year.

I have heard there is a 60-day grace period after I graduate to depart the USA. Do I have to leave if the government hasn’t finished my OPT processing?

No. The 60-day grace period does not apply to students who are waiting for the government to process their OPT application. As long as your application arrived by the government’s deadlines, you can stay in the USA and wait until it is processed.

What is my immigration status while my OPT is being processed?

You are still an F-1 student while your OPT application is being processed.

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 the authorization, contact your ISS adviser. A cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT applications 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 push back the start date to their day of processing, up to 60 days after your program end date. However, there is no way to predict what 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 your check 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?

No, you do not need to provide a copy of your EAD to ISS. Also, ISS does not make copies of EADs if you use the ISS mailing address on the I-765 form. Be sure to make both digital and paper photocopies of your EAD for your own records.

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 the government no longer issues temporary EADs. If your application is pending for more than 90 days, contact your 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.


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.

  • 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.
  • When 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.

  • 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 with your department about Graduate School registration requirements depending on your funding, defense quarter, and ability to apply for on-leave status).
  • 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 OPT 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.