International Student Services

Post-Completion OPT

When To Apply | Steps To Apply | Submit a Draft I-765 for Review | After Submitting Application to USCIS | After Approval |Frequently Asked Questions

When to Apply

You can request your I-20 from ISS as early as 90 days before program completion and as late as 40 days after you’ve completed your program. The sooner you apply, the more flexibility you have with a start date that best fits your case.

OPT application timeline depicting 90 days between earliest date to apply and program completion date. The latest date to apply is 60 days after program completion date.

OPT Application Timeline

  • Graduate students can apply for post completion OPT with thesis/dissertation remaining
  • It takes UW ISS about 10 business days to process your OPT I20 request most of the academic year. In Spring the processing time is 2 – 3 weeks.
  • It takes USCIS 90 – 150 days to process your OPT application
  • Students should refer to the academic calendar when applying for OPT.

Steps to Apply

You cannot apply for OPT with USCIS without asking UW ISS for an OPT I20.

Step 1. Submit your OPT I-20 request via your MyISSS portal

  1. Refer to the final year checklist page to determine if you need to also submit a final quarter reduced course load.
  2. Pay the required ISS $85 Post-Completion Training fee and save a copy of the receipt/payment confirmation.
  3. Determine your planned OPT start date. You cannot change the start date once you submit the application – choose wisely! It can be as early as the day after program completion and as late as 60 days after program completion.
  4. Optional: Submit a draft version of your online or paper I765 for an advisor to review. Instructions below. DO NOT submit your I-765 application to USCIS before receiving an OPT I20 from UW ISS

Step 2. Receive your OPT I-20 with OPT recommendation

You MUST receive approval and a signed OPT I-20 showing the OPT recommendation from your DSO BEFORE submitting your online OPT application.

Step 3. Submit your I765 application to USCIS

Check general processing times (not case-specific) at USCIS’ website. Select “Form I-765” and “Based on a Request by an F-1 Student”

We will dismiss OPT I-20 requests that are submitted more than 100 days before graduation dates since they will be denied by USCIS for being submitted so early.

Login to MyISSS to Request Post-Completion OPT I-20

Submit a Draft I-765 for review

While this step is optional in requesting your OPT I20, we recommend it if you’d like feedback on completing the I-765

After Submitting Application to USCIS

RFEs, Returned, or Denied Applications

If you receive a “Request for Evidence” (RFE), returned application, or denied application, contact ISS immediately. 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.

Expedited Processing Not Likely

USCIS rarely expedites OPT applications. ISS cannot contact USCIS on your behalf to request expedited processing; OPT applications are between you, the applicant, and USCIS. Here is more information about the USCIS expedite criteria.

Address Changes

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. ISS will NOT allow students to use our office as a mailing address for OPT requests.

After Approval

Types of Employment Allowed on Post-Completion OPT

All employment must be directly related to your program of study. You can work part-time, for at least 20 hours per week. There is no defined maximum of hours you may work while on Post-Completion OPT.

Multiple employers
You may work for more than one employer, all jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more.

Short-term multiple employers (performing artists)
You may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.

Work for hire
Sometimes called “1099 employment”, work for hire means that an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. Keep documentation showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

Self-employed business owner
You may start a business and be self-employed, you must be able to prove you have the proper business licenses.

Employment through an agency
You may use an agency or staffing company to find employment. You must be able to provide evidence showing that you worked at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

Unpaid employment
You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this does not violate any labor laws. You must be able to provide evidence from the employer that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Protect your EAD

Keep your EAD in a safe place. We recommend that you do not keep this in your wallet.

EAD Errors

What happens if your 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.

Lost EAD Card

Sometimes students lose their EAD cards either in the process of receiving it or later on. Your EAD is the official document that allows you to work on OPT or STEM OPT so you should take action to get a replacement if it is lost.
If your EAD is lost in the mail:

If you lose your EAD card:

  • File a new I-765 with new fee for a replacement card.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Apply for Post – Completion OPT while outside the US?

No, you must be in the US in order to be able to apply for OPT.

Can I submit my OPT application by mail and through the USCIS Online tool?

No, please do not submit two OPT applications, this could result in a denial of your application.

Can I change the requested OPT dates after the application has been sent to USCIS?

No, please choose carefully. Once you have sent your OPT application to USCIS there is no changing of OPT start dates.

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.

When do my 90 days of unemployment begin?

Your 90 days of unemployment begin counting on the approved OPT start date.

What does the program end date on my I-20 mean?

  1. The program end date marks the end of study and the transition to the OPT phase of F-1 status.
  2. You must stop working after the I-20 program end date if you are employed on-campus.

What are current session start and end dates?

  1. You can ignore these dates.
  2. If you have been issued an OPT-endorsed I-20, you are in good standing and ready to apply for the benefit from USCIS.

Will I need a travel signature even while on OPT?

Yes, The travel signature is valid for six months (not one year) during OPT.

Do I need to worry about USCIS processing my OPT application within the 60-day grace period?

You may legally stay in the U.S. as long as your OPT application is pending with USCIS.
The 60-day departure deadline/grace period after graduation is not applicable to students with pending OPT applications with USCIS. (The 60-day grace period moves to the end of the OPT year as long as you do not exceed the allowed unemployment days). However, your application for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS by the end of the grace period – be sure to apply early so that you have plenty of time to resolve potential errors.

Can I apply for jobs before I have OPT approval?

You can apply for jobs and accept job offers, but you cannot begin the actual OPT activity until you have your OPT approval/EAD card.

What do I do once I have a job?

You must report your OPT employment within 10 days via the SEVP portal  During your post-completion OPT period you must also report the following:

  • Changes to your name, residence, or mailing address
  • Any employment changes (ending a job, changing jobs)
  • Names and addresses of all OPT employers
  • Start and end dates of all OPT employment
  • New immigration status (change to H-1B, for example)
  • You decide to leave the United States, so you will not start or continue OPT
  • If you don’t have access to your SEVP portal please submit a SEVP portal help request via your MyISSS portal. And if it’s been more than 10 days since you began employment please submit a Report New Employment request.

    Can I travel outside of the US while my OPT application is being processed by USCIS?

    After your final quarter ends, you are technically allowed to travel and reenter the U.S. while your post-completion OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer.
    ISS does not recommend travel after graduation with a pending OPT application because of these risks:

    • USCIS sometimes returns, denies, or sends a request for more information regarding OPT applications. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S. It is your application, so ISS does not have the authority to respond for you.
    • After your OPT application is approved, you must also have proof of employment and your EAD in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT application is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.

    If you are unable to change or cancel your travel plans, carry the following documents with you:

    • Your OPT receipt notice from USCIS
    • Your OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature from ISS (travel signature is valid for only 6 months during OPT)
    • Valid Passport
    • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless you are Canadian or are returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, with some exceptions). It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.