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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Upcoming OPT In-Person Workshops

An ISSO advisor will discuss eligibility requirements and application procedures for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment authorization after your graduation.

See a full listing of workshops on our events page.

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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 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.

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Eligibility

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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:

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.

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.

Post-Completion OPT Application Timeline
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How to Apply

Overview

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.

Process

Post-Completion OPT Steps
Step 1.

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.

Step 2.

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.

This is what is you will submit to us to apply for the OPT I-20 (as instructed in Step 3):

After you receive the OPT I-20 from us (Step 5), compile these documents to send to USCIS (Step 6).

Step 3.

Login to Compass with your UNI and password 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 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.

Step 5.

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.

Step 6.

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

Step 7

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.

Documents

You will normally receive up to three documents from USCIS:

  1. Receipt notice
  2. Approval notice
  3. EAD Card

Request for Evidence (RFE)

Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.

Timeline

Review the timeline below for more detail:

OPT Timeline
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After You Receive the EAD Card

If you do not already have an SSN, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.

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OPT Reporting

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

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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.

Once you have your EAD card in hand and the start date has arrived. Apply for a Social Security Number if you do not have one already, on or after the start date on the EAD.

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:

  1. 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”.
     
  2. 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.

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Traveling on OPT

Traveling on OPT? Visit our Travel page for more information.