Office of International Services

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Optional Practical Training

 

ELIGIBILITY

Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?

No.

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.

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).

If I am planning to complete two Masters 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 MS degree. In this first application, you will indicate how many months of OPT you would like to use. Once you finish your second MS degree, you would apply for the remainder of OPT. (Please note that you cannot be enrolled in a degree program and do OPT at the same time).

 

OPT APPLICATION PROCESS

When should I apply for OPT?

Pre-completion OPT: up to 120 days prior to the planned start date of employment.
Post-completion OPT: up to 90 days prior to your program completion date and within 60 days after your program completion date. The earlier you apply for OPT, the better.

How should I apply for OPT?

Please complete the online OPT session or attend one of the in-person OPT sessions (schedule) 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.

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.

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

USCIS can take up to 90 days to process your OPT application. We cannot predict how long it will take for your case to be processed exactly. 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.

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.

 

TIME LIMITS & DATES

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).

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.

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.

Can I begin working before I complete or graduate my degree program?

Non-thesis/undergraduate students who apply for post-completion OPT may NOT begin working until after their program end date.  Thesis/PhD students who apply for post-completion OPT may NOT work until they have completed all course requirements .

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.

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

Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days.

 

OPT PROCESSING & 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 “SRC” for applications filed with the Texas Service Center) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of the application on this site the USCIS website. (https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/caseStatusSearchDisplay.do )

What should I do when I receive my EAD card?

Review your EAD card to makes 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.

What should I do if the 90 day processing window has passed and I still have not received my EAD card?

Please contact an OIS advisor. We will help you inquire after the status of your case. (Make sure to bring your receipt notice to the advisor as this is needed to submit an inquiry to the service center).

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 more than 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 to OIS any changes of address within 10 days of occurrence and changes in visa status.

How do I report to OIS while I am on OPT?

The address and employment changes you need to report to OIS, you can report by using the OPT Validation Form. You can access the form here: http://www.ncsu.edu/ois/forms/validate.php

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 types of employment am I allowed to do on 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.

Can I be employed in multiple part time positions?

Yes, as long as they are all related to your field of study and degree level and your hours total more than 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 would like to start another degree program, your OPT would be canceled and you would receive a new F-1 student record).

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.

 

TRAVEL

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, visa, passport, I-94 card, EAD card and proof of employment.

Can I travel while I am on OPT?

Yes. Please remember that your OPT unemployment clock continue even if you are outside of the U.S. (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 (recently signed by OIS)
  • EAD card
  • Proof of employment

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.