F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) After Your Degree Program

Many students decide to remain in the U.S. after graduation to apply their skills and knowledge and gain practical experience and training. OPT (Optional Practical Training) is commonly used by students in F-1 status to achieve this objective.

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OPT Video Playlist

This playlist has it all -- from how to apply to after you receive the EAD Card. Watch it now!

ISSO F-1 Post-Completion OPT Playlist
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What is OPT?

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit 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.

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Learn more! Watch our short video, "What is OPT?."

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Learn more! Watch our short video on OPT Eligibility.

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Employment Under OPT

A job offer is not required in advance of submitting an application which allows you time to job hunt. However, you need to begin appropriate employment within 90 days.

The "clock" counting days begins on the start date of OPT on your EAD card.

Be careful! If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, or if you forget to report and update your OPT to the ISSO, your F-1 SEVIS record will automatically terminate. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the United States.

Your maximum amount of Post-Completion OPT is 12 months. If you had OPT previously authorized at the same degree level it will be deducted from the 12 month total. This includes:

Use your previously-issued EAD cards to calculate the number of days to be deducted.

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:

We  recommend that you maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, a description of the work, and proof of the duration.

If possible, obtain a signed letter from your hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how your degree is related to the work performed.

These records and letters are not part of your applications. It is useful to have them available in your personal files in case questions ever arise during OPT or in a future employment-based application.

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Learn more! Watch our short video on 5 Fun Facts about OPT.

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How to Apply

Your OPT approval may take 90 - 120 days to be processed by USCIS, so you need to plan ahead. Hopefully, you receive an approval within this timeframe; however, it could take longer.

The earliest you can apply is 90 days before your program end date on your I-20. We encourage you apply as early as possible. 

OPT Timeline

As a doctoral student, you have some flexibility in determining your program end date for OPT purposes. You may use the defense date or the end of the term in which you complete requirements.

Note that after your program end date, you are no longer eligible to engage in on-campus employment as a student or receive funding from your department.  OPT employment can begin only after you have received your EAD card, and are within the dates printed on your EAD card.

Consult with your academic adviser or an ISSO adviser before finalizing your "custom end date" in the OPT Calculator" below.

Step1. Use our interactive OPT Calculator to determine:

  • When to apply
  • How much OPT time you have left if you have used OPT at this educational level.
    • You will need to have your EAD Card(s) available to add together all the days to be deducted from the 365-day total.
  • OPT start and end dates

Start here!

Step 2. Choose Your OPT Start Date

You get to choose the date you would like OPT authorization to begin, within the 60-day period following your program end date. This is not an easy decision if you don’t have a job offer at the time of application.

You may want to maximize the time you'll have for job-hunting by choosing the latest possible date. The downside, however, is that you cannot begin employment until the start date on your EAD.

Once you choose your OPT start date and submit your application to us, you cannot change it.

Step 3. Begin the application process

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Application Process Overview

Post-OPT Application Steps

Obtaining OPT employment authorization is a three-part application. It may take three months (or maybe more) to be processed, so you need to plan ahead.

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Part 1. Submit an online application to the ISSO to obtain a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on it. Here's a short video.

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Part 2. Pick up your OPT I-20. It is an essential piece of your application to USCIS. 

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Part 3. Send your complete OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services).

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Learn more! Watch our short video OPT Application Overview

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Application Process

Step 1.

Pay the OPT Administration Fee

Pay the $200 Administration Fee. You remain in F-1 status under Columbia’s sponsorship with an active SEVIS record during your authorized period of Post-Completion OPT.

Step 2

Gather your documents and information

These are the documents you will upload when you login to Compass to submit your application for the Post-Completion OPT I-20.

Step 3.

Log in to Compass to submit your application

Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

Step 4.

We will email 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.

Step 5.

Pick up your OPT I-20

Review page 2 to verify your requested OPT dates, then sign and date page 1. Always use your most recent I-20 when you travel.The travel signature on page 2 is valid for six months (not 12) when you’re on OPT. Keep all previously issued I-20s--you may need them for future applications.

Step 6.

Mail your complete OPT application with fee to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

** Be very careful that your application is complete before you mail it! USCIS can deny your application if it's missing any required documentation without sending you an RFE (Request for Evidence) Read more.

Want a printable version? Download our USCIS Application Checklist.


Send all the required documents!

Use the checklist to make sure you send everything you need as instructed.

Send it on time

USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the date the Post-Completion OPT I-20 was issued. If USCIS receives it later than that, they will deny your OPT application, without returning or refunding your $410 fee.

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, you can use the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.

Sign all forms with dark blue or black ink

Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, credit card authorization form or check.

Make a copy of your entire application for your records

You may need a paper or scanned copy in the future.

UEMS Discount Shipping Option

UEMS (also known as eShip Global) offers discounted rates to ship your OPT application to USCIS by FedEx, UPS, or USPS. Follow eShipGlobal instructions to create your shipping label.

To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the correct 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:

2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Less Common Address

If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being 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:

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

The USCIS processing time of OPT applications can vary. According to USCIS Case Processing Times, it can take 3 - 5 months. Unfortunately, they are not required to adjudicate OPT applications within a specific timeline, nor is there a way for the ISSO to inquire about pending cases. We understand that the waiting period can be very difficult.

We recommend the following actions:

  1. Track your case status by using your receipt number on USCIS Case Status Online.

  2. Sign up for a USCIS account to receive updates and submit inquiries for  individualized responses to your case through a USCIS account.

  3. Track your EAD card delivery by signing up for a  USPS informed delivery account.

  4. Enter your information in the USCIS E-Request online "Case Outside Normal Processing Time" option, but you may receive a standard response if you are within the 5-month window.  

  5. Contact the ISSO if you receive a Request For Evidence, Denial Notice or if your OPT application has been pending for 5 months. To calculate USCIS processing time, refer to the receipted date located on the upper left corner of your I-797 receipt notice.

  6. Speak with your prospective employer early in the process to inform them of USCIS processing times or updates.  

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Learn more! Watch our video on sending your OPT application to USCIS.

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What's next? Watch our video on what to expect after sending your application.

Step 7

Contact us immediately if your application is returned to you

The ISSO will need to assist you if:

  • your application is returned to you with instructions to resubmit, or
  • you receive an RFE (Request for Further Evidence).

Normally, you will receive only three documents:

  1. Receipt notice with case number
  2. Approval notice
  3. EAD. You can begin working only when you have your EAD card.

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Learn more! Watch our video about receiving your EAD.

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After You Receive the EAD Card

If you do not already have an SSN, and didn't apply for one when you completed the I-765 OPT application, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.

Do not apply again if you have already done so.

Once you are on OPT, report employment and any other changes within 10 days. Visit our Reporting Requirements page to learn more.

In general, post-completion OPT cannot be extended, except in the following two situations:

  1. STEM OPT Extension: If you graduated from a degree program in a government-designated STEM field, you may be eligible for an extension for an additional 24 months of OPT. Read more about the STEM OPT extension.
  2. Cap-Gap Extension: If your employer files a change of status H-1B petition while you are on authorized OPT and it is selected by USCIS for processing, your OPT may be automatically extended during the period of time between the expiration of your OPT and the October 1st change of status to H-1B. Read more about the “Cap Gap” extension.

Learn more! Watch our Extending Your OPT video for more information.

While you are on OPT, you remain in F-1 status. If you have plans to travel abroad during this period, you need to know in advance what to have with you to return to the U.S. in F-1 status, so you don't jeopardize your OPT authorization.

Do not come back to the U.S. in any status other than F-1!  Visit our Travel During F-1 OPT page for complete information. Our Travel Abroad on OPT video gives a great overview.

Students are allowed to study part-time while under OPT. Full-time study is not permitted.

If you decide to begin a new full-time program at:

 As soon as you transfer to the new program, the rest of your OPT is forfeited and you must stop working.

When your EAD expires, you have a 60 day grace period in which:

You cannot work during the grace period, or leave and return to the U.S. in F-1 status. On the 61st day after the EAD expires, SEVIS automatically completes your F-1 SEVIS record.

If you decide to discontinue your OPT before the EAD expires, you do not have a grace period and must report your departure through OPT Reporting This will complete your F-1 SEVIS record.

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More questions?

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Watch our full Post-OPT video playlist!