FAQs- Optional Practical Training

Students are eligible for one 12 month period of OPT for each successively achieved higher level of study (12 months after a bachelors, 12 months after a masters program, and 12 months after a PhD program). Students may engage in OPT only during the authorized periods as reflected on their EAD. OPT is cancelled if and when a student changes status or transfers to another school. Students may work for more than one employer or may change employers without prior approval, but must update changes in their address and their employment information with OIS. Students on OPT should not be enrolled in a full-time or degree study program and long periods of unemployment may result in termination of status.

In order to accept salary or wage payment from U.S.-based source, it is necessary to obtain a Social Security Number.

Additional information about OPT is provided on this website, as well as on a number of government websites. Students who have additional questions or circumstances that may be unusual should make an appointment to speak with an OIS advisor. Students may also contact USCIS directly to ask questions regarding pending applications.

Types of employment

Which types of employment are allowed for regular pre- and post-completion OPT?

All OPT employment is required to be in a job that is directly related to the student’s degree program. Employment under pre- or post-completion OPT may include:

  • Paid employment. When on post-completion OPT, students must work at least 20 hours per week .
  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The students should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. Students on standard OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm. Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked a total of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Can I be employed in multiple part-time positions?

Yes, as long as they are all directly related to your field of study and degree level and your hours total at least 20 hours per week.

Can I study while I am on OPT?

You may take classes as long as they are supplemental to your employment. You may not start another degree program. (If you start another degree program, your OPT will be canceled and you will receive a new F-1 student record).

Which documents should I keep regarding my OPT?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recommends that students maintain evidence (for each job) of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager and a description of the work.If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student’s degree, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the student’s supervisor or manager or the employer’s hiring official stating how the student’s degree is related to the work performed.

OPT duration, dates and work load

Can I engage in OPT before the completion of my degree?

Most students choose to save their 12-month period of OPT until after they graduate, but on occasion some students will want to use some or all of their OPT before they graduate. Students who meet the eligibility requirements can apply for OPT during their studies (part time only – see below), full time during the summer vacation, or full time if they are graduate students who have completed all course requirements and are registered for dissertation research or writing. Time spent doing pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the 12 month maximum (3 months of summer pre-completion OPT leaves 9 months for post-completion OPT).

Can I engage in part-time OPT?

Students may wish to apply for part-time OPT (less than 20 hours per week) during the course of their studies once they become eligible. Time spent doing part-time OPT is pro-rated at one half the rate in terms of the 12-month maximum (e.g., 4 months of part-time OPT results in 2 months being subtracted from the 12-month maximum for a remainder of 10 months of post-completion OPT).

How do I choose my OPT start date?

For post-completion OPT, your start date must fall within 60 days after your program completion date. The date within that window is up to you to decide.

What is my program completion date?

For undergraduate and MS non-thesis students, the program completion date is the last day of the final semester of required enrollment. For MS thesis and PhD students, the program completion date can be the last day of the final semester of required enrollment OR the defense date. (Please note that the defense date must fall within the final semester of required enrollment. If it falls in an intersession period, the program completion date will be the last day of the final semester of enrollment). MS thesis and PhD students become eligible for post-completion OPT once all the course requirements for their degree have been met.

If this is my last semester, what should the OPT start date be?

Students may request OIS to recommend a start date of the OPT to be within the 60-day grace period following the program completion date. The program completion date can be the last day of the last semester of enrollment (i.e. graduation date) or the defense date. When recommending OPT, OIS is required to shorten the program end date on the I-20 to the student’s program completion date. Graduate students should refer to the graduate school’s requirements for completion of the degree program and graduation. All student employment activities (and wages) must end by the program end date on the I-20 or on the last day of the student’s final semester of enrollment, whichever is sooner. It is the responsibility of the student, if employed on-campus, to notify the hiring unit’s Payroll Representative that their employment activities (and wages) cannot continue past the program end date on the I-20.

When can I start working on OPT?

As soon as you have the EAD card in hand AND as of the start date listed on the card.

How many times can I apply for OPT?

You are eligible to apply once per degree level, as long as you move up in level (e.g. from MS to PhD).

After my OPT ends, do I have a grace period?

Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days.

Am I eligible for a STEM extension of OPT?

While there is a 12 month maximum period of OPT per academic level available to most students in F-1 status, graduates in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields may be eligible to apply for an extension of up to 17 months beyond their first 12 month period if certain conditions are met. There is a list of STEM eligible fields at:http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm. Further instructions on STEM OPT extension procedures are available in the STEM Extension information. Interested students should contact an OIS advisor at least 4 months before the expiration of the current EAD for instructions and advice.


Does participation in CPT affect my eligibility for OPT?

It can. If you engage in more than 11 months and 29 days of full-time CPT, you become ineligible for OPT. Please note that this only applies to full time CPT, not part-time CPT.

Does participation in pre-completion OPT affect my eligibility for post-completion OPT?

Yes. Any pre-completion OPT used is deducted from your 12-month total allotment of OPT. Part-time OPT is deducted at a half time rate, so if you use 4 months of part time pre-completion OPT, you have 10 months of post-completion OPT left.

If I am planning to complete two Master degrees, could I use OPT for both degrees?

It is possible to split your OPT time between two degrees at the same level. You have to make this decision when you graduate with your first Master degree. In this first application, you will indicate how many months of OPT you would like to use. Once you finish your second Master degree, you can apply for the remainder of OPT. (Please note that you cannot be enrolled in a degree program and do OPT at the same time).

Can I be unemployed while I am on OPT?

Yes, temporarily. You have an allotment of 90 days to be unemployed in the U.S.

The Application Process

Do I need a job offer to apply for standard OPT?


When should I apply for OPT?

Students may not apply for OPT earlier than 90 days before their program end date. USCIS must receive a completed application (including correct fee and I-20 with an OPT recommendation) no later than 60 calendar days from the students program completion date and no later than 30 days from the date the I-20 is issued by OIS. Students may be authorized for less than 12 months if an application is not approved and an EAD issued before the 14 month anniversary of the student’s program completion date. Students who experience a delay in their program completion after they have applied for post-completion OPT and obtained an EAD may use their EAD for employment, but are limited to twenty hours of employment per week until they have completed all degree requirements – the EAD time clock does not stop and unused time cannot be re-captured. An EAD application cannot be expedited and one that has been issued cannot be canceled or extended. Plan carefully.

How should I apply for OPT?

Please complete the online OPT session for all the information you need.

What is the role of OIS in the OPT application process?

OIS will issue your recommendation for OPT, which is reflected in a new Form I-20. We also offer to review your application materials to help ensure smooth processing with USCIS for you.

Can I change my start date while my OPT application is pending?

No. The start date is decided before your new I-20 is issued and can be changed up until you mail the application to USCIS.

Can I change my mailing address while my OPT application is pending?

You can, but it can (and often does) result in a delay of receipt of your EAD card. Please contact an OIS advisor to request an address change. We highly recommend to use a mailing address you know will be valid for at least 3 months on your application, so that your EAD card will be delivered on time.

OPT Processing and Approval

What happens after USCIS receives my OPT application?

USCIS will send you a confirmation of receipt if you have submitted Form G-1145 with your application. Next, you will receive a hard copy receipt notice via regular mail with your case number on it. If your case is approved, you will next receive your EAD card. The processing can take up to 90 days from the date on your receipt notice. If USCIS needs further information from you, you will receive a hard copy “request for evidence” in the mail. Please have this reviewed by an OIS advisor before sending your response.

How can I check the status of my case?

Students may use the case number (the number begins with “YSC”) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of the application on this USCIS online tool.

What should I do when I receive my EAD card?

Review your EAD card to make sure there are no errors and e-mail or drop off a copy of your EAD card to OIS. You may begin working once the start date on your EAD card has passed.

How long will it take for my EAD card to arrive?

We cannot predict how long it will take for your case to be processed exactly. USCIS usually takes about 90 days to process your OPT application. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes more than 90 days. Generally, we have experienced that the earlier in the semester you apply, the faster your application is processed due to the fact that at the end of each semester USCIS is swamped with OPT applications.

Can I pay extra to have my case be processed faster?

No. USCIS does not offer expedited processing for OPT applications.

Will my case be processed faster if I include my job offer?

No. You are welcome to include your job offer with your application, but we have not seen cases being processed faster due to an offer being included in the application.

What should I do if I receive a “request for evidence” notice from USCIS?

Please bring this notice to OIS during the walk-in hours and an advisor will review it with you and help you to prepare your response.

Maintaining status during OPT

What is my status while I am on OPT?

You are considered to be in lawful F-1 status as long as you meet the following requirements:

  • You have employment for at least 20 hours per week in your field of study and commensurate to your degree level,
  • You have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during your 12-months of OPT,
  • You report any changes in your employment situation, as well as residential address in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of occurrence. You are also required to inform OIS on any changes in your immigration status or if you change your legal name.

How do I let OIS know if I have changed my immigration status?

Please submit a copy of the approval notice of your new immigration status to OIS, so your F-1 immigration record can be closed appropriately.

What should I do if I decide to return home permanently before the end date on my EAD card?

Please submit the departure form to OIS, so that we can close out your F-1 record accordingly.


Can I travel while my OPT application is pending?

OIS does not recommend that you travel while your OPT application is pending. In order to travel after your program completion date, you will need your I-20 with OPT recommendation, valid visa, passport, I-94 card, EAD card and proof of employment.

Students are cautioned to not travel abroad after program completion but before the EAD is received or if the student has not received a job offer. Students who wish to travel between their studies and OPT commencement date should make an appointment to speak with an OIS advisor.

Can I travel while I am on OPT, but do not yet have a job?

USCIS has made the recommendation that you should have proof of employment upon re-entry to the U.S. when you’re in F-1 OPT status. OIS therefore does not recommend that you travel if you do not have employment. If you have to travel, bring evidence that you have been actively looking for a job and that you (if applicable) have interviews scheduled in the U.S. upon your return.

Can I travel during OPT?

Students may travel or temporarily depart from the US while on OPT and then return to resume their OPT employment. Student who are traveling after their OPT has been approved by USCIS must travel with the EAD card and a job offer letter. Students are cautioned to not travel abroad after program completion but before the EAD is received or if the student has not received a job offer. Students who wish to travel between their studies and OPT commencement date should make an appointment to speak with an OIS advisor.

If you depart the US during your 60-day grace period without applying for OPT, you will no longer be eligible to return to the US in F-1 status and no longer be eligible to apply for OPT. The 60-day grace period is only valid if you are planning to remain in the US.  Travel outside the US does not stop the accrual of time towards unemployment.

If you have a pending H-1B application, please check with the person who has filed your H-1B for travel eligibility.

Which documents do I need when I travel on OPT?

  • Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 (signed by OIS within 6 months*)
  • EAD card
  • Proof of employment (e.g. job offer)

* If it has been more than 6 months since your most recent I-20 has been issued, please complete the Travel Endorsement Request Form for OPT Students and send it to ois@ncsu.edu.