F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) After Your Degree Program
What is OPT?
OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit of and extension of F-1 student status that permits you to remain in the U.S. after you complete your academic program with permission to work in your field of study.
Post-completion OPT extends your F-1 status even though you are no longer an enrolled student, and also extends the F-2 status of any dependents who are with you.
- You must be in F-1 status and in the U.S. at the time of application.
- You are enrolled in a degree or qualifying certificate program for at least one academic year (two consecutive semesters) in a valid, lawful status
- You have not used all 12 months of OPT at the same degree level.
Before You Apply
You do not need a job offer to apply but you are limited to a total of 90 days without employment during your post-completion OPT period.
The count begins on the start date of OPT on your EAD card.
- USCIS keeps track of your unemployment days, based on the information you submit in your OPT Reporting.
- Beware! If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, or if you forget to report and update your practical training to ISSO, your F-1 SEVIS record will automatically terminate. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.
Employment on Post-completion OPT is paid or unpaid work in your field of study for at least 20 hours per week.
Learn about types of employment allowed:
- Paid Employment
- Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
- Multiple employers
- All employment must be related to your degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers
- (“gigs” for performing artists). Musicians and other performing artists should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm
- Self-employed business owner
- You must be able to prove that you have the proper business license and that the business is related to your degree program. You may need to consult an attorney
- Independent contractor/ free-lance
- If requested by DHS, be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Unpaid employment
- Unpaid work must be at least 20 hours per week and the work cannot violate any labor laws. Be prepared to provide evidence from the employer that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. NB: STEM OPT extension requires paid employment.
You get 12 months of OPT for each higher degree level you complete (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD Degree).
Any OPT that was used during your program (Pre-Completion OPT) is deducted from the 12 months you are allowed after you graduate. If you used OPT during your program, use a time and date calculator to count the remainder of the OPT time you may have (see 'How to calculate your remaining OPT time..." below).
If you’re a student in certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), you may be eligible for an extension of OPT for an additional 24 months.
If you used OPT during your program, use a time and date calculator to count the remainder of the OPT time you may have.
Don’t worry, whatever dates you submit, an ISSO advisor will review and confirm the remaining OPT time.
Step 1. Calculate the Number of OPT Days You’ve Used
A. Visit Calculate Duration Between Two Dates.
B. Find your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Locate the “valid from” and “card expires” dates.
Have you done OPT more than once before at the same degree level? You will need all of your EADs available. We will explain how to calculate multiple EADs in Step 2.
C. Enter the “valid from” date as the “Start Date” and enter the “card expires” date as the “end date.”
D. Below the dates, check "Include end date in calculation."
E. Hit “Calculate Duration.”
F. This is the number of OPT days used.
Step 2. Have you done OPT more than once before at the same degree level?
G. Complete Step 1 above again for each EAD your received.
H. Add up all the dates.
I. This is the number of OPT days used.
Step 3. Determine the Number of OPT Days Remaining
J. Subtract the total number of days used (Item F or I above) from 365.
Have you used part time pre-completion OPT in the past? Take this answer and divide by 2.
K. This is your number of OPT days remaining.
Step 4. Determine Your OPT End Date
L. Visit Add to or Subtract From a Date.
M. Enter your requested OPT start date.
N . Insert your number of OPT days remaining under "Days" (Item K above).
O. Hit “Calculate New Date.”
P. Take the answer and subtract one day.
Q. This number is your OPT End Date.
Your OPT approval may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed by USCIS, so you need to plan ahead.
Your OPT application has 2 steps (all included in the "How to Apply" section below).
1) You need to apply to us for a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation and
2) you will send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services).
You may apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your program end date. We encourage you apply as early as possible. Spring graduates can apply starting February 16th. We recommend you apply by April 7th to avoid potential problems.
You get to choose the start date you want, in the 60-day period following your completion date. It is not an easy decision if you don’t have a job offer at the time of application.
You may want to delay the start date to the 60th day after your program ends to maximize the time you spend in for job-hunting, but you would not be able to start work until the approval date. Once you choose dates and submit your application to us for your OPT I-20, you cannot change them.
How to Apply
Obtaining OPT employment authorization is a two-part application:
Part 1. Submit an online application to the ISSO to obtain a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on it.
Part 2. Send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services).
It may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed, so you need to plan ahead.
Pay the OPT Administration Fee
Pay the $140 Administration Fee. You remain in F-1 status under Columbia’s sponsorship with an active SEVIS record during your authorized period of up to 12 months of Post-Completion OPT.
Gather your documents and information
You will need these available to submit your application, first to the ISSO for the OPT I-20, and then to USCIS for the EAD card.
- I-765 Application for Employment Authorization
- OPT Request/Academic Adviser Form
- Must be completed by you and your Department
- Most recent I-94 arrival record
- This must show your most recent arrival in F-1 status admitted until "D/S"
- Copies of any previous EAD cards
- Only if you applied for OPT before
- Your requested OPT start and end dates
- Once submitted, these dates cannot be changed.
- Your Employer's Information
- Only if you have an offer of employment at the time of application. This includes employer’s name and full address.
- Form G-1145
- Put this form on the top of your application. This allows USCIS to notify you (via email or text) when they accept your application.
- Completed Form I-765
- Completed form I-765 signed in blue ink. Send the original, not a photocopy.
- Required $410 fee
- This must be made payable to the Department of Homeland Security by:
- Personal check (write "USCIS I-765" in the memo line). Learn how to write a check.
- A bank check
- Money order (this is more difficult to track than a check)
- Photocopies of all pages of all I-20s
- A signed and dated copy of your OPT I-20 and all your other I-20s starting from the one marked "initial attendance".
- Do not send originals of any I-20.
- If you do not have all your I-20s and are unable to obtain copies from the appropriate school, you should attach a brief explanation of your F-1 status history.
- Photocopy of your unexpired passport ID page
- Your passport must be valid 6 months into the future.
- Photocopy of your most recent F-1 entry visa
- Canadians are exempt.
- If you changed your status to F-1 in the U.S. and you don't have a visa, include your change of status approval notice.
- Most recent I-94 arrival record
- Access and print your I-94 arrival record in F-1 status here
- Photocopy of both sides of any previously issued EAD cards
- Two U.S. passport style photos
- For photo standards, visit the Department of State website. Other tips:
- Photos should not be more than 30 days old when the application is filed. Do not use a copy of a photograph you used for your passport or visa.
- We recommend that you write your name on the back of each picture in pencil.
- Passport photos can be taken at The UPS Store, 603 West 115th Street.
Login to Compass with your UNI and password to submit your application
Please click the appropriate link below:
We will contact you
Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. We will notify you by email when your new I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready to be picked up or shipped.
Review, sign and date your OPT I-20
Use it when you travel. The travel signature on page 2 is valid for six months when you’re on OPT. This is a change from the 12-month validity of the signature for enrolled students. Keep all previously issued I-20s. You may need them in the future.
Mail your OPT application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS
Send the correct documents
Send the documents (the USCIS Document Checklist) as listed in Step 2 above.
Send it on time
USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the date that the OPT I-20 is issued. If not, your application will be denied and your $410 fee will not be refunded.
Be sure your address on the I-765 will be valid for four months after mailing.
Government mail is not forwarded to another address. If you change your address during the processing time, there is a way to update USCIS online using the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.
Sign all forms with blue ink
Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, check, or I-765 form.
Make a copy of your entire application for your records
To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facilities.
Most Common Address
If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, send your application to the Dallas lockbox:
USCIS, Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
Less Common Address
If you live in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, send your application to the Phoenix lockbox:
USCIS, Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card
You can start working once you have your EAD card in hand and the start date has arrived. Review the card for accuracy.
The OPT start date on your EAD card will be the date you requested or the date the EAD is processed, whichever is later.
You will normally receive up to three documents from USCIS:
- Receipt notice
- Approval notice
- EAD Card
Request for Evidence (RFE)
Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.
Review the timeline below for more detail:
After You Receive the EAD Card
Once you are on OPT, report employment and any other changes within 10 days. Visit our Reporting Requirements page to learn more.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
This reminds you that the EAD card by itself is not sufficient for reentry. Always include it with your other travel documents (as listed in the charts above).
Re-entering the U.S. in a status other than F-1 (such as a tourist) will invalidate F-1 status and OPT authorization.
Government guidance recommends that you maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, and a description of the work.
It is best to obtain a signed letter from your hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how your degree is related to the work performed.
Review the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website for guidance on this policy.
While on OPT you may not take classes toward a degree.
If you decide to begin a new full-time program, you will need to transfer your SEVIS record and obtain an I-20 for the degree program. As soon as you transfer to the new program the rest of your OPT is forfeited and you must stop working.
Yes, under two circumstances:
- Pending or approved H-1B petition. If your employer files a change of status H-1B petition while you are on authorized OPT and it is chosen for processing, your OPT may be automatically extended for “Cap Gap”.
- STEM OPT extension for students who graduated from a degree program in a government-designated STEM field may be eligible for an extension for an additional 24 months of OPT.
You have a 60 day grace period to prepare for departure, transfer to another school or change your visa status. You cannot work during the grace period.