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We encourage students to watch the OPT video series to learn more about the benefit of their F-1 visa.
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.
- Graduate students can apply for post-completion OPT with thesis/dissertation remaining
- It takes UW ISS about 3 weeks to process OPT I-20 requests.
- It takes USCIS 90 – 150 days to process your OPT application
- Students should refer to the academic calendar when applying for OPT.
Determine application and other useful dates using the OPT Calculator.
OPT End Dates
OPT ends exactly 364 days, just before the 1-year date, after OPT begins. For example:
|Chosen OPT Start Date||OPT End Date|
|September 1, 2022||August 31, 2023|
|March 15, 2023||March 14, 2024|
|July 25, 2024||July 24, 2025|
OPT Application Deadline to USCIS
USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the Date Issued on the OPT I-20. The Date Issued is located on the first page of the school attestation section next to the DSO’s signature.
Steps to Apply
You cannot apply for OPT with USCIS without asking UW ISS for an OPT I-20.
Step 1. Request an OPT I-20
Submit your OPT I-20 request via the MyISSS.
- Refer to the final year checklist page to determine if you need to also submit a final quarter reduced course load.
- Pay the required ISS $85 Post-Completion Training fee and save a copy of the receipt/payment confirmation.
- 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.
Request OPT I-20 through MyISSS.
Step 2. Receive your OPT I-20 Recommendation
You MUST receive approval and a signed OPT I-20 showing the OPT recommendation from your DSO BEFORE submitting your online OPT application.
NOTE: ISS 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.
Step 3. Submit your I-765 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.”
ISS no longer reviews I-765s for students, but we do have guides for students to use when applying with USCIS.
- Guide to starting the paper I-765 for Post-Completion OPT (pdf)
- Guide to starting online I-765 (pdf)
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.
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.
Congratulations! Your Post-Completion OPT is approved. Now what?
- Set up your SEVP portal, you will get an invitation via email on your OPT start date. If you don’t receive an invitation please submit a SEVP Portal Help request via your MyISSS portal
- If it has been more than 10 days since you began employment, please submit a Report New Employment request.
- Learn the Post-completion OPT reporting requirements outlined in the following FAQs.
- Keep your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card in a safe place. We recommend that you do not keep this in your wallet. ISS does not need a copy of your EAD Card.
- Read all the information on this page about the 12-month OPT period.
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.
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, 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, but 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.
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 Card
Keep your EAD Card in a safe place. We recommend that you do not keep this in your wallet.
EAD Card Errors
What happens if your EAD Card has incorrect information on it?
- Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD Card to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD Card to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
- To correct the EAD Card, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.
Lost EAD Card
Your EAD Card 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, stolen, or destroyed. Students should file a new I-765 with USCIS, with a new filing fee, for a replacement card.
For EADs Cards lost in the mail:
- Submit a report to USPS about your lost document.
- Open an inquiry with USCIS.
- File a new I-765 with a new filing fee for a replacement card.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you must be in the US in order to be able to apply for OPT.
No, please do not submit two OPT applications, this could result in a denial of your application.
No, please choose carefully. Once you have sent your OPT application to USCIS there is no changing of OPT start dates.
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.
Your 90 days of unemployment begin counting on the approved OPT start date.
- The program end date marks the end of study and the transition to the OPT phase of F-1 status.
- You must stop working after the I-20 program end date if you are employed on-campus.
- You can ignore these dates.
- If you have been issued an OPT-endorsed I-20, you are in good standing and ready to apply for the benefit from USCIS.
Yes, The travel signature is valid for six months (not one year) during OPT.
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.
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.
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.
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 Card 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 Card, 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.