Post-Completion OPT: How To Apply

When to Apply

Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after they complete their programs. As there are many delays in USCIS processing, students are encouraged to apply as early as possible.

Please see the chart below to better understand when to apply.

Final Quarter Enrolled at UW Application Window for Submitting OPT Request to ISS Last Day to Submit Application to USCIS
Autumn 2020

Quarter Ends on 12/18/2020

September 4, 2020 through February 1, 2021

Applications submitted later than February 1, 2021 may be rejected due to processing constraints.

Deliver your completed application to USCIS by February 16, 2021 (+60 days from 12/18/2020, the end of autumn quarter)

IMPORTANT: You must submit the OPT application to USCIS within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date. 

Winter 2021

Quarter Ends on 03/19/2021

December 4, 2020 through May 3, 2021

Applications submitted later than May 3, 2021 may be rejected due to processing constraints.

Deliver your completed application to USCIS by May 18, 2021 (+60 days from 03/19/2021, the end of winter quarter)

IMPORTANT: You must submit the OPT application to USCIS within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date.

Spring 2021 

Quarter Ends on 06/11/2021

February 15, 2021 through July 20, 2021

Applications submitted later than July 20, 2021 may be rejected due to processing constraints.

Deliver your completed application to USCIS by August 10, 2021 (+60 days from 06/11/2021, the end of spring quarter)

IMPORTANT: You must submit the OPT application to USCIS within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date.

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. Please note that if you choose to travel, it could be difficult to respond to requests from USCIS about your application.

This page describes the application process – for information about reporting requirements or other topics after OPT approval, please review our page here.

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 full-time for immigration purposes.

Full Time for Undergraduate Students: 12 credits

Full Time for Graduate/Doctoral Students: 10 credits

>= 1 cr 700 Thesis or 800 Dissertation

2 cr ENGR 601 (*CPT credit cannot be your only credit in your final quarter)

Step 2: Request the OPT Endorsed I-20

Please prepare the following documents before completing the request for the OPT I-20 :

  • Pay the ISS $85 Post-Completion Training fee and save a copy of the receipt/payment confirmation. ISS will not accept OPT application materials without the receipt for the ISS Post-Completion Training fee.
  • Completed I-765 Form
    • For help completing the I-765, please see the I-765 Completion Guide
    • You can type or hand write your I-765, but please save an electronic version of your completed form so that you can upload it to the I-20 request form.
  • Save a copy of your Degree Audit Report or MyPlan Audit showing that you are on track to graduate in the current quarter. If your program is not listed in the Degree Audit Report System (DARS): please request a letter from your academic adviser guaranteeing that you are on track to graduate in the quarter in which you are applying. You can upload this letter in the ISS OPT I-20 request form.

You will need to determine your requested OPT start date. Consider the following:

  • 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 if your final enrolled quarter ends on June 12, your start date can be no later than August 11.
  • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
  • Your approved start date is likely to be different from your requested start date, based on USCIS processing times.
  • Your 90 days of unemployment begin counting on the approved OPT start date.
  • Students graduating winter quarter are encouraged to select a start date AFTER April 1 of their graduation year to allow for future H1-B opportunities.

Once you have prepared these documents and determined your start date, complete the Post-Completion OPT I-20 Request Form

Request Post-Completion OPT I-20

An ISS adviser will review your request, note any items missing or needing to be changed on the Form I-765, and will issue a new, updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation printed on page 2. No appointment is necessary – allow 15 business days for ISS I-20 processing.

You will receive an email from your ISS adviser or the ISS office (uwiss@uw.edu) when your request has been processed. You will receive a checklist indicating the final application materials that must be mailed to USCIS.

Step 3: Prepare Supplemental Documents

In addition to the OPT I-20 and the completed I-765, you will need to gather supplemental documents. ISS does not need to review these documents, but you may attend a Drop-In Session (see Step 4) if you have specific questions about the following documents:

  • USCIS Form I-765 filing fee (extra $85 biometric services fee is not required for OPT applications) paid by money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
    • Do not send more than one method of payment
    • If you pay by check, you must make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
    • Use extra caution when sending the G-1450 – ISS has seen a number of complications related to the credit card payment process and recommends sending a money order, personal, or cashier’s check instead of the G-1450.
    • If you must pay by credit card, double check all information on Form G-1450, including credit card numbers and address associated with your card.
    • If you pay by credit card, you must sign Form G-1450. There is a line on the form that says “credit card holder’s signature” – please sign your name in the space provided.
  • Completed Form G-1145 (optional; it signs you up for email/text message notification of your application’s arrival at USCIS)
  • Photocopies of:
    • Your valid passport identification page
      • If your passport is under renewal, annotate page 7 of the I-765 to include the date you requested the renewal. Use part 2, page 3, item 21b as the citation for this annotation.
    • Your most recent F-1 visa (An expired F-1 visa is okay as long as you are in the U.S. and maintaining F-1 status).
    • Optional: previously issued I-20s – we recommend that you include copies of I-20s showing CPT authorizations and OPT authorizations, though this is not a hard requirement. If you have never been authorized for CPT or OPT previously, copies of past I-20s are not required.
  • Two passport-style photos
    • Lightly print your name and your I-94 number in pencil or felt pen on the back of each photo.
    • See the USCIS photo instructions  in 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.
  • Printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
    • With few exceptions, your I-94 should list your ‘class of admission’ as F-1 and your ‘admit until date’ as D/S.
    • Land border crossings are not always documented in the same way that entries via air are. ISS recommends using your most recent date of entrance into the US.
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)

Step 4: Receive your endorsed I-20 From ISS; Mail to USCIS

  1. Review the checklist, your new OPT I-20, and any notes on the Form I-765 to make sure it is complete.
  2. Sign your OPT-endorsed I-20 at the bottom of page 1 before photocopying it and adding it to your OPT application materials.
  3. Mail your entire application within 30 days of the new OPT-endorsed I-20 being issued. The application must also be received no later than 60 days after your I-20 end date. Late applications will be denied by USCIS. 
  • Do not mail your original passport, I-94, or I-20.
  • Make copies of everything that you send – including the I-765.
  • It is recommended you send your application by certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Review the USCIS mailing instructions to find the correct filing 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 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 ‘case received’ for most of the 3-5 month processing period.

If you receive an RFE, returned application, or denied application, notify ISS immediately. Complete the “Have a Question” form. It may be necessary for ISS to provide a new I-20 before you can respond to the USCIS inquiry or resubmit your OPT application.

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.

WARNING
You must report your practical training/employment using the SEVP Portal. If you do not report your practical training/employment, 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 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.

Can I apply for CPT and OPT at the same time?

Yes, this is common. One application does not affect the adjudication of the other application.

If you get a CPT I-20 from ISS after you mail your OPT application to USCIS, ISS can email a copy of your CPT I-20 to the government processing center, at your request.  Instructions for this process are provided with each CPT I-20 confirmation email.

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.

You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. You will need to choose 1) I-765 as the application type and 2) Potomac Service Center (all OPT applications go there). Then look at the chart line that says “qualified F-1 academic student”.

I have heard there is a 60-day grace period after I graduate to depart the US. 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 US and wait until it is processed.

What is my immigration status while my OPT is pending?

You are still an F-1 Student while your OPT application is pending. OPT is a benefit of F-1 status, it is not a new visa type or status.

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, fill out the ‘Have a Question?’ form on our website in order to notify us 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. Submit the ‘Have a Question?’ form in order to get help from an ISS adviser.

If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel the authorization, fill out the ‘Have a Question?’ form on our website in order to notify us of your change in plans. 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. Be sure to make both digital and paper photocopies of your EAD for your own records.

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.

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 5 months, submit the ‘Have a Question?’ form in order to get help from an 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 Form I-765 and resubmit it to USCIS with all supporting documents, including the fee. Submit the ‘Have a Question?’ form and request 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 your final quarter of enrollment.

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
  • 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.)
  • 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.

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 with 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 OPT period, your F-1 status ends when the OPT expires, and you must travel and reenter with a new I-20 to continue your studies.

I understand that USCIS updated the mailing address for OPT applications. If I mailed my application to the Phoenix Lockbox, what do I need to do?

NAFSA Association for International Educators confirmed on January 13 that USCIS will transfer Form I-765s filed at the Phoenix Lockbox. While they anticipate a delay from four to six weeks for processing, the delays will not affect the receipt date. ISS encourages students who submitted their applications to the Phoenix Lockbox to keep written notes regarding when they submitted their application as they wait for their applications to be receipted and processed.

There is no need to re-file an OPT application or take any other additional steps.