Office of International Services

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of employment authorization for students in F-1 status who wish to engage in off-campus employment in their field of study during and/or after their course of study. No job offer is necessary to apply, but students must meet the eligibility requirements and obtain a new Form I-20 from OIS with an OPT recommendation before able to apply. Students submit their applications to the USCIS and USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the student. This EAD authorizes the student to engage in temporary employment in their major field of study for up to 12 months anywhere in the US. Most F-1 students at NC State University wish to take advantage of this benefit and will apply for their EAD 2 to 3 months before they graduate.

OPT Eligibility requirements include:

  • Students must have been enrolled full-time for at least nine months (two consecutive semesters) and be in F-1 status
  • Students must have completed at least one semester at NC State
  • Students must be maintaining lawful F-1 status
  • Students must be in good academic standing
  • Students must be making normal progress toward their degree (or have completed it)
  • Students must obtain the recommendation of their DGP (coordinator of advising)
  • Students must not have already engaged in full-time OPT for that particular level of study

OPT Application Process:

    OIS provides you with an online OPT session which you may take at your convenience to familiarize yourself with the OPT application process and what it means to be in F-1 OPT status. At the end of this session, you are asked to take a short quiz (in Moodle). You'll need to pass the quiz and print the results page. This results page is part of your OPT application paperwork.

    Once you have completed the online OPT session,please take the following steps:

    1. Complete the Advisor's Recommendation Form.
    2. Submit OPT materials to OIS during a drop off session on Mondays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. During the drop of session an OIS advisor will go over the OPT application materials with you in person, students may bring the entire OPT application for review during this time or just the required materials listed below. Students who have a question about the OPT application materials may come to OIS to meet with an advisor during the walk-in hour from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. In order for OIS to issue the OPT I-20, you must submit the items listed below, during the drop off session:
    3. Students will receive an e-mail from OIS within 5 business days once the new I-20 has been processed. Collect and sign the new I-20 from OIS when complete. If you would like an OIS advisor to review your application materials before you mail them, you should plan to pick up your I-20 during the walk-in hour from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and at this time you may meet with an OIS advisor to go over your entire OPT application.
    4. Express mail the completed application to USCIS. USCIS requires that the OPT application include:
      • Check or money order for $380.00 payable to "US Department of Homeland Security"
      • Two passport style photographs (please write your name on the back of your photographs)
      • Original I-765 (Sample of a completed form I-765) Do not submit the I-765 electronically, print and mail all application materials to USCIS.
      • Form G-1145 (optional for students who wish to receive electronic notification that their application has been accepted.)
      • Copy of the OPT I-20 (signed by OIS within 30 days)
      • Copies of all previous I-20s
      • Photocopies of the I-94 (front and back), visa stamp and passport.
    5. Interview with companies while waiting (a job offer is not required to apply and does not expedite an approval.Processing by USCIS can take 2-3 months)
    6. Submit a scanned copy of the EAD to OIS
    7. Submit online OPT Validation Form every 6 months or when you have a change in employment situation, address or name.
    8. Submit online update to OIS when OPT is completed, you leave the US, wish to transfer, or you change your visa status.

     

    Note: If you have additional questions regarding OPT, please take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.


    Pre-Completion OPT

    Most students choose to save their 12 month period of OPT until after they graduate, but on occasion some student 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). 

    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).  

    Program End Date

    Students may request OIS to recommend a "Begin Date" of the OPT to coincide with their program completion date or 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 schools 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.

    Timing Issues

    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.

    OPT Extensions (STEM)

    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.


    Travel

    Students may travel or temporarily depart from the US while on OPT and then return to resume their OPT employment. Students are cautioned to not travel abroad after 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.

    Documentation to keep during 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.

    Types of employment that are allowed for regular pre- and post-completion OPT

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

    • Paid employment. Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
    • 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 student 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 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 an average 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.

     

    Additional Information

    Students are eligible for one 12 month period of OPT for each successively 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 on the OPT forms 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.

    Additional information regarding the transition from F-1 OPT to H-1B is available at F-1 OPT and H-1B.

     

    Return to the top of this page