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Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information and Application

IMPORTANT UPDATE: To apply for OPT, all international students must attend either an “in-person” OPT session or complete the Online OPT Workshop.

You must complete one of the two options above to be issued an I-20 endorsed for OPT. If you chose to view the Online OPT Workshop, you must complete the questionnaire found at the end of the presentation to alert the International Center that you are prepared to apply for OPT.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is defined by Federal Regulations as employment benefit awarded to F-1 students by USCIS.  This benefit is used for extending your legal F-1 status to enable authorization of work that is directly related to your field of study.  USCIS determines eligibility for OPT and reserves the right not to award OPT if a student has violated and failed to maintain their legal status while studying in the United States.

Students are eligible for three periods of OPT.  There is a 12-month benefit allowed after receiving an undergraduate degree and another 12-month benefit allowed after receiving a graduate degree. As well, there is a 24-month STEM extension available to students who major in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math.

Types of OPT and When to Apply:

  • Pre-Completion OPT – OPT before you complete your degree.
    • Only available to students who have been in F1 status for one academic year.
    • Possible employment authorization when CPT is not an option.
    • Eligible to work full-time or part-time during an annual vacation (summer) if registered for the next term;
    • Employment while school is in session provided that the OPT does not exceed 20 hours per week;
    • You can apply at any time, however, USCIS reserves the right to take at least 90 days to process your application.

  • Post Completion OPT – OPT after you complete your degree.
    • Employment benefit only available to students who have completed an academic degree program.  
    • Available for 12 months after an undergraduate degree and another 12 months after a graduate degree. You cannot "save" the OPT from your undergraduate degree and request 24 months of OPT after your graduate degree. 
    • You can begin applying for OPT up to 90 days prior to your program end date. USCIS must receive you OPT application before 60 days after your program completion date or your application for OPT will not be accepted.

  • STEM Extension
    • Available for students who major in certain Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors. To see if your major is a STEM degree, please contact the International Center.
    • Practical work experience in the students field of study, typically after completion of a degree for a maximum of 36 months (12 months of “regular” OPT with a 24-month extension possible).
    • F-1 students must apply within 90 days prior to the ending date of current Post-Completion OPT.

Applying for OPT:

The International Center can assist you with filing your OPT application. Once you have all the items listed below, contact the International Center to make an appointment to submit your application materials.

Please note:

  • Applications for OPT cannot be accepted on a walk-in basis so please contact the International Center to schedule an appointment.
  • All application materials must be submitted at one time and not individually.
  • The International Center reserves the right to take five business days to process your OPT application and will mail your materials to USCIS via FedEx at no charge.

Application Materials:

  1. For post-completion OPT, complete this USCIS Form I-765.  For pre-completion OPT, complete this USCIS Form I-765.
    • Complete Part 2 - 1a-4c, 7a-12, and 18a-26.
    • If you need a Social Security Number, complete Part 2 13a-17b.
    • Complete Part 3 - 3-7b.
    • Do not complete Parts 4 or 5.
    • Complete Part 6 only if you need more room to answer Part 2-3.
    • Make sure to sign and date the form found in Part 3 - 7a and 7b.
  2. Submit a check for $410.00 made payable to “The Department of Homeland Security”, not DHS.  This payment can be made by personal check or money order.  USCIS does not accept cash, counter checks or credit cards. 
  3. Decide on the date that you want to begin OPT.  You can choose any date up to 60 days after your program end date as your OPT start date.  This may be the most difficult part of the application as you cannot work until your OPT start date.  Most students choose a start date 30 days from their program end date unless they already know they will have a job upon graduation.
  4. Submit a completed Verification of Program Completion form.
    • You must complete the top portion of the Verification of Program Completion form.
    • Your Academic Advisor must complete the bottom portion of the Verification of Program Completion form.
    • Make sure the advisor states the date you will complete your program of study.
    • If you are a graduate student, you must have the Graduate Studies office sign the very bottom of the Verification of Program Completion form.
    • If you are applying for OPT after you have completed your program of study, this form is not necessary.
  5. Provide two passport photos (available for a fee at CVS or Walgreens).
  6. Once you have completed steps 1-5, make an appointment to submit your application materials to the International Center Graduate Assistant (GA).
  7. Sign the updated form I-20 that is endorsed for OPT on page 2. This I-20 must be mailed in with your OPT application. You will get a copy of this I-20 for your records as well.
  8.  Make sure to bring all of the forms listed above along with the following items to your appointment with our GA –
    • Photocopy of any previously issued work authorization cards (prior OPT cards);
    •  Photocopy of photo page of current/valid passport;
    •  Photocopy of current visa;
    •  Photocopy of your automated I-94 number. If you have not traveled outside the USA since April 30, 2013 you should provide a photocopy of the front and back of your most current paper I-94 card;
    •   Photocopy of all three pages of current/valid I-20
The International Center cannot assist you in completing your application if you do not provide all of the documents requested above.

IMPORTANT REMINDERS –

  • OPT must be completed within 14 months of completion of your studies.
  • USCIS will award the OPT benefit and issue the OPT card on the basis of the recommendation of the International Student Advisor unless you have violated your F-1 visa status. USCIS shall notify you of the decision and, if the application is denied, of the reason for denial. There is no appeal process for the denial of OPT.
  • Remember, it can take USCIS a great deal of time to process and approve your application depending on the number of applications that they receive. Currently, it is taking over 90 days from the time USCIS receives your OPT application until you receive your OPT card. You are not allowed to begin work until your OPT application is approved and you receive your OPT card.
  • Once you mail your application for OPT there is no way to cancel the request. If you decide to return to school or delay your employment your OPT will be terminated and a refund of the $410 will not be given. Give very careful thought to OPT before applying.
  • USCIS does not forward mail. We strongly recommend that the return address on the OPT application be the address of the International Center. If the card is mailed to another address the International Center cannot be responsible for your receipt of the card.
  • Authorization to engage in OPT employment is automatically terminated when the student transfers to another school or begins to study at another educational level.
  • Traveling outside the U.S. during pending/approved OPT is a personal choice. It is recommended that prior to making travel arrangements, you strongly consider the fact that while on OPT you are not assured re-entry back into the U.S.
  •  If you do travel while your OPT is pending make sure to travel with -
    • Valid visa;
    • Valid passport;
    • I-20 endorsed for OPT and a travel signature dated within the past six months; and
    • Your OPT receipt, Notice of Action I-797C
  • If you travel while your OPT is active, make sure to travel with -
    • Valid visa;
    • Valid passport;
    • I-20 with OPT approval and job information listed on page 2 with a travel signature dated within the past six months;
    • Your OPT card and a letter from your employer stating their contact information, description of your job, salary and dates of employment and that they are expecting you to return to the US to "resume employment" with their company.
    • Please note - your OPT card is not your visa. You must have a valid F-1 visa to request entrance to the U.S. at your port-of-entry. If you travel and your F-1 has expired, you will need to apply for a new F-1 outside of the U.S.
  • The International Center is not responsible for mailing your OPT card to you.  If you plan to travel or move away from this area while you have pending/approved OPT, you will need to provide us with a self-addressed and pre-paid envelope that allows tracking of the envelope (usually UPS or FedEx).  The International Center is not responsible your OPT card after it arrives in or departs from our office. 

While authorized for OPT you must -

  • Maintain valid F-1 visa status during the entire time your OPT application is pending and approved.
  • Work only in the field of study for which you received your degree.
    • If you played a sport during your time at Winthrop, OPT cannot be used to play professionally. Playing sports professionally requires a different visa classification.
  • Notify the International Student Advisor within 10 days of establishing a new local address, even if it is temporary.
  • Notify the International Student Advisor within 10 days of establishing employment and keep your employment updated in a timely manner.
  • Only work the dates that are specified on your OPT authorization card. You cannot work before the start date or after the expiration date listed on your OPT card.

What if I cannot find a job while on OPT?

  • It is very highly recommended that you keep a record of applications submitted, job interviews, times you are unemployed and times that you are employed. If at a later date you are sponsored for an employment based visa you may be asked for this information as part of the application process.
  • If you are granted post-completion OPT, remember your F-1 status is dependent upon employment. During any initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT you may not be unemployed for a total of more than 90 days.
  • If a STEM student receives a 24-month extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 150 days, applied to the entire 36-month period on which the student is on post-completion OPT.

Can OPT be extended?

OPT cannot be extended beyond the initial 12 months’ time granted by USCIS unless -

  • As of April, 2008, if an employee is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition, there is an “cap-gap” extension that allows an employee to continue working for that employer until September 30, as October 1 is the annual start date of the H-1B visa. For example, a person’s OPT expires on May 15 but the H1B visa does not begin until October 1, this “cap-gap” extension allows for continued employment between May 15 and September 30.
  • As of April 2008, an OPT extension of 24 months beyond the typical 12 months exists for students who graduate with a STEM degree (36 months of OPT). STEM degrees are defined as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To be eligible for the extension, the student's must have a job with an employer that is registered in E-Verify. E-Verify is an Internet based system that provides an automated link to Federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility. Applications for the 24-month STEM extension must be filed before the original 12 months of OPT expires.

Options available after OPT

  • You have 60 days after your OPT expiration date to gain admission to a new academic program by securing a new I-20, change your non-immigrant status or depart the U.S.
  •  Another option is that an employer can decide to sponsor an employee for the H-1B visa. This is an employment based visa that allows you to remain in the U.S. and work for the sponsoring employer. The employer will be able to offer counsel on the H-1B visa.

If you have questions about OPT or if you plan to apply for OPT, please contact the International Center to make an appointment.


CONTACT INFORMATION
International Center
701 Oakland Avenue
218 Dinkins Hall
Rock Hill, SC 29733, USA
803/323-2133
803/323-2340 (fax)
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