Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Guide

 

Optional practical training (OPT) is defined as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study," and has a duration of up to 12 Months per each degree level (Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral).

A student can choose between two types of OPT: Pre-Completion OPT or Post-Completion OPT. GWU ISO recommends using Post-completion OPT, which begins after completion of your degree program. Pre-completion OPT on the other-hand, can be used while school is in session and may not exceed 20 hours/week. 

The ISO recommends students for OPT, and the U.S. Government approves OPT applications. A recommendation from the ISO does not guarantee USCIS approval.

 

OPT Eligibility Requirements

F-1 international students are eligible to apply for OPT if they:

  • Have active F-1 status
  • Have been maintaining their F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters
  • Have not used more than 12 months of Full Time CPT
  • Are physically present in the US at the time of application
  • Apply within the permissible period

 

Applying for Post-Completion OPT 

When to apply:

  • You can apply as early as 90 days prior to your expected program completion (check your I-20 to confirm your actual program end date).
  • USCIS must receive your full and complete OPT application no more than 60 days after your program end date.
  • USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of when the ISO recommends your I-20 for OPT.
  • If you fail to submit your application within 30 days after the day your OPT was recommended, but you are still within the 60-day grace period, please contact the ISO to renew your OPT recommendation and get an updated I-20. 
  • Important: USCIS will deny OPT applications received after the 30-day deadline, and after the 60-day grace period.

Choose your OPT start date:

  • You can request that your OPT start as early as the first day after your program end date, or you can choose any date within the 60 days following your program end date. 

Note: Depending on when you submit your OPT application to USCIS, and the processing time (usually 3 to 5 months - please check USCIS for processing timelines) it is not guaranteed that you will be approved for the start date you have requested. You are not allowed to start work until you receive your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) and until the start date on the card has arrived.  

  • Unemployment days will start being counted from the day of approval in your EAD.  
  • While on OPT, F-1 students are allowed 90 days of unemployment starting from the approval date. Failing to secure employment within a cumulative 90 days will constitute a violation of your F-1 status, and you should plan to depart the US before the 90th day arrives. 
  • If you are on an H-1B cap-gap extension of your OPT, the total of allowed unemployed days is still 90 days. This means when you add together the time you were unemployed during your initial 12 months and the time you were unemployed during your H-1B cap-gap extension, they cannot total more than 90 days.

OPT Timeline

OPT

 

How to Apply:

The application process for OPT is a six-step process that involves you, your academic department, the ISO and USCIS. 

Step 1: Request OPT recommendation from the ISO, and receive an updated I-20 reflecting the OPT recommended start date. Please see the How to Request an OPT Recommendation from the ISO section below for more information.

Step 2: Prepare your OPT application materials. A list of these materials can be found below under “How to Request an OPT Recommendation from the ISO.”

Step 3: File an OPT application with USCIS within 30 days of the ISO’s recommendation. Students usually receive a receipt from USCIS within two-three weeks. You can use your receipt number to check the status of your case at the USCIS Case Status page.

Step 4: USCIS will adjudicate the OPT application.

Step 5: If approved, you will receive an approval notice, and then an EAD work authorization card.

Step 6: Begin employment and report to the ISO. 
 

OPT Application Process

OPT

 

How to Request an OPT Recommendation from the ISO

Once you are eligible for OPT, you will need to prepare the documents required to get your OPT recommendation from the ISO. 

Please submit your application to the ISO and allow up to 10 business days for processing. 

Document Checklist

Your request to ISO must include the following documents:

  • A completed I-765 (Download from USCIS)
  • Copies of all previous issued I-20s from GW and any U.S schools you have attended
  • A readable printout of your most recent I-94 (Download from DHS)
  • Copy of the biographic page of your unexpired passport (Valid for at least 6 months from the date USCIS receives the application)
  • Copy of your F-1 visa
  • Copy of any previously issued Employment Authorization Documents (if applicable)

To request a Post-Completion OPT Recommendation on ISOGateway, you can fill out a STEM OPT Request in ISOGateway. Please allow a minimum of 10 business dat for processing. 

Apply on ISOGateway

The ISO will review your documents, but you as the student have the responsibility to review your entire submission for anything that may lead to a denial and ask the ISO if you have any questions. 

 

Prepare Post-Completion OPT Application Materials for USCIS 

Once you have received your new Form I-20 with an OPT recommendation on Page 2 from the ISO, please review the following information: 

Note the OPT recommendation dates on Page 2 of your I-20. These dates may differ from those that you requested. 

Also note the program end date in Item 5 on Page 1 of your I-20. Your program end date might have been shortened to reflect the actual date when you will complete (or completed) all program requirements. 

Important: You must cease all on-campus and/or off-campus employment the day after you complete all of your program requirements.

Document Checklist 

Your application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must include the following documents:

  • Personal check or money order for $410. The check should be made out to “U.S Department of Homeland Security”. On Sept. 29, 2020, a federal district court preliminarily prohibited DHS from implementing or enforcing any part of the previously announced "USCIS Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements" rule. While the rule is preliminarily prohibited, USCIS will continue to accept the current I-765 form edition and fee ($410). Please visit the USCIS website for more information.
  • Two passport style photos, no more than six months old (Photo Guidelines)
  • Original, completed & signed I-765 form  
  • Copy of your new I-20 with OPT recommendation (Do not send the original)
  • Copies of all previous issued I-20s from GW and any U.S schools you have attended
  • A readable printout of your most recent I-94 (Download from DHS)
  • Copy of your passport identification/signature page and the page showing your passport expiration date (Must be valid for at least 6 months from the date USCIS receives the application)
  • Copy of your F-1 visa
  • Optional Form G-1145 (if you would like to receive electronic notifications regarding your case)

Mail the OPT application to USCIS within 30 days

Before mailing your application to USCIS:

  • Review that your application is complete
  • Make sure both I-20 and I-765 have your signature in blue ink
  • Check you used a valid address (at least for the next 4 to 6 months) to receive your EAD card and any other correspondence from USCIS
  • Verify the correct amount of $410 in your check or money order. On Sept. 29, 2020, a federal district court preliminarily prohibited DHS from implementing or enforcing any part of the previously announced "USCIS Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements" rule. While the rule is preliminarily prohibited, USCIS will continue to accept the current I-765 form edition and fee ($410). Please visit the USCIS website for more information.
  • Verify that the I-20 OPT recommendation has been done within 30 days 
  • We recommend that you make copies of your entire application for your personal record before you submit it to USCIS

To make the mailing process of your application to USCIS simple and efficient we recommend using the steps in the table below to create a shipping label through eShipGlobal. By using eShipGlobal, students can choose their carrier (UPS, Fedex, or USPS), type of delivery (next day, 2-day, etc.) and ship at a discounted rate. 

1- Register for an account with UEMS at https://study.eshipglobal.com/register/ if you do not already have an account.

3- Fill out the form. Find your address already filled in the “Senders Address”. Then select the proper USCIS location.

2- Click on the “OPT Application” image or the “Send Documents To USCIS” button. 

4- Select the carrier you want to use, pay for the shipment, and print the label. Then drop it off at the nearest carrier location.

OPT applications must be sent to the USCIS Service Center Lockbox facility. If you reside in the DMV area, please send your application to the address below. If you reside in other states than these three, then please visit the USCIS website to confirm where to mail your application.

USCIS Dallas Lockbox 

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries: 

USCIS

PO Box 660867 

Dallas, TX 75266 

For Express mail and courier deliveries: 

USCIS Attn: AOS

2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business 

Suite 400 

Lewisville, TX 75067

 

Checking the Progress of Your OPT Application

Due to the high volume of OPT applications, USCIS’ processing time can exceed 90 days. We advise students to carefully plan when they send their application, but as a general rule we recommend that students apply for OPT as early as possible. 

Notice of Action or Receipt Notice I-797

  • Within 2-3 weeks of your submission, USCIS will send you a receipt notice (Form I-797). This is proof that USCIS has received your application. The receipt will have your name and your case number. You can use the case number to track the progress of your application on the USCIS Website. We also recommend that you sign up for an account with uscis.gov to track your application.  

Request for Evidence (RFE)

  • USCIS may in certain occasions send a Request for Evidence (RFE) to the student. The request is usually sent when USCIS has further questions and/or the application is missing something. If you receive an RFE, please contact the ISO as soon as possible so we can advise you on how to respond to it.

Notice of Approval I-797 and EAD

  • Once your OPT is processed and approved by USCIS, you should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter. Your Employment Authorization Documents should be received about 2 weeks from receiving the Approval Notice. If you have requested a Social Security Card, you should expect receiving it as well. 

 

Post-Completion OPT Rules and Reporting Guidelines

Even after F-1 students begin OPT, the ISO will still monitor students’ SEVIS status, and students must still work with the ISO to maintain their F-1 visa status. It is the student’s responsibility to report information related to their post-completion employment. The ISO will continue to support and maintain the students’ record during this period. 

In order to maintain their F-1 status while on OPT, all students must follow certain immigration regulations:

  • Students are only allowed to start work from the start date in their EAD card.
  • All employment opportunities should be related to the student’s field of study.  
  • Students are not allowed to remain in the U.S while on OPT if they are not employed or actively seeking employment. 
  • Students are allowed 90 days of unemployment from the start date of their OPT.
  • Students are liable on reporting all their employments, personal and employer’s address and contact information. Any changes or updates should be updated within 10 days.
  • The travel signature is only valid for 6 months.

What and how to report during OPT:

It is the students’ responsibility to report any changes or updates of the below information to the ISO within 10 days:  

- Copy of OPT EAD card once received

- Change of name

- Change of current residential address 

- Change of US telephone number and email address

- Start and end date of all employment 

- Name of the employer, contact information mailing address

- Hours of employment Part time vs Full time

- Decision to end OPT and leave the U.S.A. 

- Change of immigration status

SEVP created a Portal to be used by F-1 students who have been approved by the USCIS for post-completion OPT. 

If students are not requesting an updated I-20 from the ISO then they have to update the following employment and personal information through the SEVP portal:

  • Employment start date and end date
  • Employer name and address
  • Brief description on how employment relates to studies
  • Indicate full-time or part-time employment
  • Current physical address in the U.S.
  • Current mailing address in the U.S. (if different from physical address)
  • Current telephone number

To request a Post-Completion OPT Recommendation on ISOGateway, you can fill out a STEM OPT Request in ISOGateway. Please allow a minimum of 10 business days for processing. 

Apply on ISOGateway

 

Accessing the SEVP Portal

The SEVP portal account will only be available to students once they receive their EAD and their OPT starts.
Students should receive an email to their email address in the SEVIS record from [email protected] containing an access link to the SEVP Portal which enable them to create the portal account.  

If your OPT starts and you have not received the portal account link, please submit a scanned copy of your EAD and employment information through ISOGateway. 

If you portal account is locked, please email the ISO to reset your password.

 

Types of Employment Allowed for Post-Completion OPT

While students are on OPT, and as long as their employment is directly related to their degree program they can engage in:  

  • Paid employment, full time or no less than 20 hours per week
  • Unpaid employment as volunteers or unpaid intern
  • Multiple employers at the same time.
  • Work for hire, which is work based on a contractual relationship between the student and the employer. The employment is also referred to as 1099 employment. Students are advised to keep detailed record about their contracts and employment evidence. 
  • Self-employed by starting a business on their own. Students must make sure to apply for the proper business licenses and that the business is related to their degree program

 

Traveling Abroad During OPT

It is possible to travel outside of the US while on OPT. However, you should consider the impact your OPT application will have on the likelihood that you will be re-admitted to the US. There is always a risk when re-entering the US that you will not be permitted to enter, however on OPT these risks can be minimized if you travel with all of the recommended documentation and at certain times during the OPT application process.

The least risky time to travel is before your I-20 expires, regardless of whether you have applied for post-completion OPT or not OR after your I-20 has expired, but you have your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card and a job which you have already begun working in.

Any time in between these two milestones in the OPT application process carry with them an increased risk of being denied re-entry. You should direct these questions to an ISO advisor.

Required Documents for F-1 Students on OPT:

  • Updated I-20 with a valid travel signature. Remember while on OPT a travel signature is valid only for 6 months 
  • Passport, valid for at least 6 months
  • F-1 Visa, valid on the date of your planned re-entry 
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (“EAD card”)
  • (Recommended) I-797 Approval Notice
  • (Recommended) Evidence of employment, including job offer  
  • (Recommended) Copy of university diploma and transcript

OPT

 

Ending your post-completion OPT

The status and SEVIS record of F-1 students on OPT remain active and monitored by the ISO. It is important that you notify us of any changes to your immigration status including when:

  • You decide to end your OPT and leave the U.S. permanently before your EAD expires. 
  • You apply for change status 
  • You get approved the change status, such as H-1B, E-3 etc. or obtain Legal Permanent Resident status.

 

STEM Extension
 

Is your your current degree, or a degree that you previously received in the U.S. on the STEM Designated Degree Program List? If so, you may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM extension to follow your 12-month OPT. 

 

Please visit our STEM Extension page for more information.

 

The ISO offers several OPT workshops per year. For more information on upcoming workshops, see the our Events page or send an email to [email protected].