Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is 12-month work authorization available to F-1 international students who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their fields of study. Post-completion OPT authorization allows F-1 students to work in a job directly related to their major after they graduate from Washington University or, in some cases, while they work on their thesis/dissertation.

OPT is a benefit of your F-1 immigration status and not a separate work visa or immigration category.
  • F-1 student immigration status continues while on OPT. You must abide by all F-1 regulations during your period of OPT.
  • WashU remains your program sponsor.
On this page

OPT eligibility

  • You must be in F-1 status at the time of OPT application.
  • You must be a full-time student at an SEVP approved school for at least one academic year (both fall and spring semesters).
  • You must be completing your academic program at WashU in the current semester or be within the 60-day grace period after program completion.
  • You must not have used more than 1 year of full-time CPT during your current degree level.
  • You must intend to work (or volunteer) in a professional development opportunity directly related to your major field of study.

Note: OPT is available once per academic level. If you applied for OPT at the same academic level previously, but did not use your full 12 months of OPT, please contact your OISS adviser to discuss options.

Employment criteria

To be considered employed while on OPT, F-1 students must work at least 20 hours per week. You may work for multiple employers at the same time. If you are taking advantage of multiple opportunities, the combined number of hours that you are working per week must be 20 hours or more. OISS recommends that you work each job for at least 20 hours per week while on OPT. This is because each job is reported in SEVIS and a “part-time” job in SEVIS could be problematic to the government.

You do not need to have a job offer to apply for OPT. However, keep in mind that not all jobs or practical training opportunities may constitute OPT employment. Regardless of the type of work, all employment under OPT must be directly related to your program of study.

Types of activities that constitute employment while on Post-Completion OPT:

Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student’s program of study. You may work for multiple employers, as long as all employment is directly related to your program of study.
Payment by multiple short-term employers: Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may participate in multiple short term employment opportunities (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, their dates and duration.
Work for hire: This is 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, you 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: You may start a business and be self-employed. You should be able to prove that you have proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
Employment through an agency: You must be able to provide evidence showing you worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Volunteers or unpaid interns: You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week. You should be able to provide evidence, acquired from your employer, to verify that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Immigration status while OPT is pending and after approval

  • While the OPT application is pending and after OPT is approved by USCIS, you remain in F-1 immigration status under the I-20 sponsorship of WashU.
  • If your OPT application is still pending at the end of your 60-day grace period, you continue to remain in legal F-1 status until a decision is made by USCIS.
  • Continue to use your WashU OPT I-20 if you travel internationally and re-enter the U.S.
  • Contact your OISS adviser before traveling internationally before applying for OPT or while your application is pending.
  • While on OPT, you need an updated travel signature from OISS every 6 months.
  • OISS remains responsible for reporting changes about your immigration status to SEVIS and helping you maintain your F-1 status while you are on OPT.

Apply for OPT (3 steps)

Step 1: Take the OPT workshop course

  • Alternatively, you can log in with your WUSTL key to Learn@Work
  • In the “Learning Catalog” search box at the top right, type OISS OPT Workshop”
  • Click on “Not registered” button under the OISS OPT Workshop course in the list
  • Click “Launch” to start the course
  • You can download a transcript of the OPT Workshop and the FAQs handout from “Class Attachments”
Download the Certificate of Course Completion

After completing this required course, download the certificate needed to complete your OPT Recommendation request in MyOISS.

  • Go to your Learn@Work ME page
  • Select “Completed Learning” from the menu on the left
  • Select “Print Certificate” next to OISS OPT Workshop

Step 2: Complete the OPT Recommendation request in MyOISS

All OPT applicants must obtain an OPT recommendation on a new I-20 (the OPT I-20). The OPT Recommendation request in MyOISS includes a series of questions and will require you to include or upload the following:

  • Certificate of Completion of the OISS OPT Workshop
  • OPT Administrative Fee receipt: pay the $150 OPT administrative fee online
  • Name and email address of your academic adviser to confirm you are graduating (academic adviser is the adviser or faculty member who assists with your class registration). MyOISS will send the listed adviser an electronic form to complete verifying your eligibility for Post-Completion OPT.
  • Your OPT requested start date. You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after the program end date listed on your I-20.
Special case: ABD OPT I-20 Recommendation request

Graduate students that have completed all coursework other than thesis/dissertation can work on OPT while they continue to work on their thesis/dissertation as long as they plan to finish within the next 12 months.

We recommend that you meet with your OISS adviser and academic adviser to discuss your plan for completing your thesis/dissertation while working on OPT.

OPT I-20 processing time

Processing time for the OPT Recommendation request is 7 business days. Your OPT Recommendation request is considered complete and we will begin processing UPON receipt of your academic adviser approver form.

You will receive an email notifying you when your I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready. You will be able to access and download your OPT I-20 from the “Requests and Documents” section of your MyOISS profile.

Print and sign your OPT I-20

You will need to print and sign your OPT I-20 in ink in the student attestation section. USCIS does not allow students to digitally sign or insert electronic signatures. You will need to include a scanned copy of the OPT I-20 as part of your I-765 application to USCIS.

Example of OPT I-20
Example of OPT I-20

Your OPT I-20 will list “POST-COMPLETION OPT” under “type” in the Employment Authorizations section on page 2. “Status” will show as “REQUESTED” and the start and end dates will be those indicated in your OPT Recommendation request.

Step 3: Submit your I-765 application to USCIS

You must submit the Form I-765 application to USCIS to officially request OPT authorization and the EAD card. This application includes a copy of your new I-20 with OPT recommendation that was issued and signed within the last 30 days. If you submit your application after the 30-day timeline, it will be denied.

Remember that you cannot submit your OPT application to USCIS more than 90 days before the end date on your I-20 and you must submit your OPT application before your 60-day grace period ends.

Gather digital copies of required documents
  1. Your I-20 with OPT recommendation from your OISS adviser
  2. Any I-20s with previous CPT or OPT authorizations, if applicable
  3. Passport identification page showing your photo and expiration date (submit as government issued ID)
  4. Any previously issued Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), if applicable
  5. Form I-94 arrival record (retrieve your most recent I-94 record and save as a .pdf)
Prepare your digital photo

You must prepare a digital passport-style 2-inch-by-2-inch photo taken within the last 30 days. The photo must follow the U.S. Department of State Photo Composition Template.

We strongly recommend that you use a professional visa/passport photo service (such as the photo department at Walgreens or CVS) to ensure the photo meets all requirements for the OPT application. We are aware of numerous circumstances in which students initially received approval utilizing the online photo tool, and later had their OPT application rejected due to issues with the photo. The acceptance of your digital image or photo is at the discretion of USCIS. Please also check specifics on the U.S. Department of State Photo Requirements page.

Check your photo file for an acceptable name that follows USCIS file name formatting outlined in the instructions and that it is saved as either a .jpeg, .jpg or .png file type. The online OPT application also has a photo tool you can use to check your photo.

Create your MyUSCIS account
  1. Go to MyUSCIS and click “Create an account”.
  2. Enter your email address. You can use your WUSTL email or your personal email. The email address you enter is used to log in to your USCIS account. USCIS will send all email communications to the email you provide at this step.
  3. USCIS will send an account confirmation email. Look for the email and follow the instructions to confirm your USCIS account request.
  4. Proceed with setting up your account.
  5. You will need to list your cell phone number to receive SMS text codes for the two-factor authentication process.
  6. Click: MyUSCIS to log in.
  7. Account Type: Select “I am an applicant, petitioner, or requestor”.
  8. Click: File a Form Online.
  9. Select: Application for Employment Authorization (I-765).
  10. Click: Start Form.
  11. Read the disclosures and notices.
Complete the online I-765

OISS has prepared to a Guide to Completing the Online I-765 to assist you as you complete your OPT application.

Monitor your USCIS account for status updates

Monitor your USCIS account

After submitting your OPT application, you are responsible for monitoring your USCIS account for messages and updates. Through your USCIS account, you should be able to:

  • print an electronic receipt (a paper receipt will also be mailed to you) from under the “Documents’ section
  • view status updates under “Case History” such as date USCIS sent you receipt notice, date EAD card is produced, etc.
  • send additional information, in case you receive a request for additional evidence (RFE) from USCIS
  • communicate with USCIS about your case
  • print a PDF version of your application for your records
If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE)

Students with a pending OPT application may receive a document from USCIS titled “Request for Evidence” (RFE) in the mail. If you receive an RFE, don’t panic! This document asks for additional information that the USCIS adjudicator needs to make a decision about your pending case.

RFEs are sent to the mailing address that you input in your I-765. The RFE will tell you exactly what documents or evidence are required.


  1. Read the entire RFE document carefully.
  2. Contact OISS. We can guide you through the process and determine whether you may want seek help from an immigration attorney.
  3. Collect all the documents and evidence requested in the RFE. Ensure that your documents are accurate and complete.
  4. Make clear scans of all required documents.
  5. Upload the documents to your MyUSCIS account in the designated upload link. Alternatively, you can mail your documents to the address indicated on the RFE. If you choose this option, follow the mailing instructions in the RFE.

USCIS will contact you directly when a decision is made on your case.

If your I-765 is pending beyond normal processing timeline

OPT processing times vary greatly. If your application is pending past normal processing time, you can submit an e-request and a USCIS official will check on the request for you. You will only be allowed to submit an e-request if your I-765 application is actually outside of normal processing time.

Note that processing times listed in your MyUSCIS account may differ from the public processing times for the I-765. You should defer to the USCIS website for normal processing times. To check these, visit Check Case Processing Times. Fill in the fields on the form as indicated below:

To request an update on your case that is past the normal processing time, fill out the Outside Normal Processing Time form. You will need the receipt number from your pending I-765 application. You can view your receipt number in your MyUSCIS account.

Most common USCIS Denial Reasons when applying for Post-Completion OPT

  1. Online filing without Post-Completion OPT I-20
    Be sure to include the Post-Completion OPT I-20 before submitting your online application.
  2. Applied for the wrong I-765 category
    You are applying for category (c)(3)(B) Post-Completion OPT – Watch out for drop-down menu errors!
  3. Copy of Post-Completion OPT I-20 is TOO OLD
    USCIS must receive your complete Post-Completion OPT application within 30 days of the date the Post-Completion OPT I-20 was issued and signed by your OISS adviser.


How do I choose my OPT start date?

As part of the OPT I-20 request process, you must request an OPT start date. This is the day on which you would like to start working while on OPT. This date will also appear on your OPT I-20.

Consider the following when choosing your OPT start date:

  • The requested start date must be within 60 days of the program end date on your I-20. It can be as early as the day after your program end date and up to 60 days after.
  • It cannot be guaranteed that you will be approved for the start date on your request. Your approved start date will appear on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and may be later than your requested start date. Please note, you cannot begin working until the start date listed on your EAD, regardless of the requested start date on your I-20.
  • If you plan to travel internationally, we recommend you do not select a start date during your planned travel time.
  • If you have a job offer, discuss with your employer an appropriate start date based on when you have applied for OPT (consider the USCIS processing time of 3 – 5 months and US Postal Service delivery times of 1-2 weeks), and whether you paid for premium processing to expedite the review (consider USCIS processing times are 30 business days, and US Postal Service delivery times of 1-2 weeks).
  • If you don’t have a job offer, you should consider where you are in your job search. For example, did you just start applying or do you already have multiple interviews scheduled? Make your best estimate of when you will have a job offer and would like to begin working.
  • Days of unemployment begin after the approved start date listed on your EAD (if you are not working). You are only allowed up to 90 days of unemployment (including weekends) during your post-completion OPT period.
  • Consider the pros and cons of an early vs. late start date. If you choose an earlier start date, you may be able to begin your employment earlier, BUT if you don’t find a job, you will begin accruing unemployment days sooner. If you choose a later start date, your unemployment days will begin accruing later, BUT you will have to wait longer to begin employment (if you have a job offer).
What is the OPT filing fee?

The online OPT filing fee as of April 1, 2024 is $470. Please check USCIS Filing Fees to verify the correct fee amount at the time of filing.

Once you are ready to submit your Form I-765 online, the system will automatically direct you to the secure Department of Treasury site,, to pay your fees online. USCIS only uses to process fees. Always check the website address before you pay. Beware of scam websites and scammers who may pretend to be a USCIS or other government website.

What is the usual OPT (I-765) processing time?

The average USCIS processing time to issue the OPT EAD is 3 to 5 months.

USCIS also now offers premium processing for OPT and STEM OPT applications. The timeline for a response using premium processing is 30 business days and requires you to file Form I-907 in addition to the I-765. There is a fee of $1,685 for premium processing, which is in addition to the I-765 application fee.

What should I do if I did not submit my I-765 application to USCIS within 30 days of the date of my OPT Recommendation on my I-20?

If OISS recommended you for OPT more than 30 days ago and you have not yet submitted your application to USCIS, you’ll need a new OPT I-20 from OISS. Check the date on page 1 of your I-20 to see the date your adviser recommended you for OPT. Do not send in an application if more than 30 days have passed. USCIS will reject your application.

I graduated and left the U.S. Am I still eligible to apply for post-completion OPT?

If you depart the U.S. upon graduation without applying for OPT, you lose your OPT eligibility, and cannot enter the U.S. in F-1 status or request a SEVIS Transfer to another university.

Waiting for your EAD card to arrive

To check the average OPT processing time:

  1. Visit the USCIS website
  2. Select “I-765” form
  3. Select category “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student”
  4. Select service center “Potomac Service Center”
Timeline after submitting your OPT application to USCIS

Upon submission of your I-765 application: You will receive a confirmation that your I-765 was successfully submitted. Following the completion of your online filing, you will be able to review your I-765 receipt notice in your online USCIS account and track the status of your application.

Within 4 – 6 weeks: You will receive an I-797c Receipt Notice at your mailing address confirming the date of receipt and your receipt number. Keep this notice safe as it is your official proof that your OPT application was submitted and received. If there are errors on the receipt notice in your name, address, or application type, contact your OISS adviser right away.

Within approximately 3 – 5 months: You should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter and EAD card at your mailing address. These items may arrive separately or at the same time. Check your EAD to make sure all information is correct. You can start working on the date listed in the “valid from” section of your EAD. If there are any errors on the EAD, contact your OISS adviser right away.

Within approximately 2 weeks after receiving your EAD card: You should receive your Social Security Card (if you requested one as part of your OPT application).

Can I work on or off campus while waiting for my EAD?

While waiting for your EAD to arrive:

  • You can continue receiving WashU stipend payments or working on campus until the program end date listed on your I-20. You may also continue to work on pre-approved CPT.
  • After the program end date listed on your I-20, you cannot receive stipend payments or work anywhere until you have the physical EAD card in your possession. You may begin working on the date listed in the “valid from” section of your EAD.
Travel outside the U.S. while OPT is pending

International travel during the OPT application process is allowed, but it is NOT recommended since it poses certain risks. Consider the following:

  • You should include a different mailing address than your own with an “in care of” person designated on your I-765 if you plan to travel internationally while your OPT is pending.
  • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), you must respond by a certain deadline and from within the U.S.
  • If your OPT is denied while you’re outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter the U.S to reapply. Contact your OISS advisor immediately for further guidance.
  • If you are approved for OPT while outside the U.S., you must arrange for your EAD card to be sent to you abroad to re-enter the U.S. USCIS only sends EAD cards to U.S. addresses, and your name or your “in care of” designee’s name must be on the mailbox.
  • If your F-1 visa is expired, you must re-apply for an F-1 visa with your EAD card and I-20.
  • If you choose to travel while your application is pending, be sure that someone is monitoring your mail.
Consider signing up for USPS Informed Delivery

USPS offers “Informed Delivery” service that allows you to get daily digest emails that preview your mail and packages scheduled to arrive soon. Sign up for USPS Informed Delivery with USPS.

Problems with your OPT application

There are several types of problems that may occur during your OPT application:

  • Delayed processing
  • Not receiving your I-797c Receipt Notice
  • Request for Evidence (RFE) or Denial
  • Incorrect EAD

If there is any problem with your OPT application, contact your OISS adviser right away so we can provide guidance on your situation.

If you do not receive your EAD card because it is undeliverable or lost in the mail, refer to our Replacement EAD Card webpage.

My requested OPT start date passed but it’s still not approved- what should I do?

It is not uncommon for a requested OPT start date to pass while your OPT application is still pending. If this applies to you, please read the following facts:

  • You are allowed to remain in the U.S. legally until a decision is made on your OPT application, even if the processing time goes past the end of your grace period.
  • If your OPT application is still pending past your OPT requested start date, the adjudicator may change your OPT start date to the day that they approve your application.
  • You cannot work until you have the physical EAD card – even if your USCIS account shows your case is approved, you must wait until you physically have the EAD card to start working.
  • If you are in a hurry, you can file an I-907 Request for Premium Processing via your USCIS account. Click “File a Form Online” under the Account tab, and select Form I-907 Premium Processing. Keep in mind that Premium Processing is costly but guarantees that you will have an update on your case within 30 business days, although we usually see a decision on a case much sooner. For more information, visit How Do I Request Premium Processing?

OISS advisers do not have access to your USCIS account or your case status. Please contact USCIS directly with inquiries regarding the status of your OPT application.

When your EAD card arrives

Upon receiving your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), check the following:

  1. Verify personal information
    Check name spelling, date of birth, country of birth, and sex are all accurate.
  2. Review work authorization dates
    Check the “valid from” and “valid to” dates. These dates should always be no more than 12 months a part. If you were approved for more than 12 months, contact your OISS Adviser immediately. Remember, you cannot start working until the start date listed on your EAD.
  3. Confirm the correct category
    Post-Completion OPT category: (c)(03)(B)
    STEM OPT category: (c)(03)(C)

If your EAD contains incorrect information due to a USCIS error:

  • Return the original EAD to USCIS for correction. See Replacement EAD Card for detailed instructions.
  • If you are not sure if the error was made by USCIS or if you have questions, contact your OISS adviser.

Reporting requirements while on OPT

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students who are currently on approved OPT. As an F-1 student on OPT, you continue to be under WashU’s sponsorship. Therefore, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so you will remain in valid immigration status. It is important that you are familiar with and follow OPT reporting requirements.

The While on OPT resource contains information about:

  • Employment and unemployment
  • Rules and reporting requirements
  • Practical matters
  • OPT Extensions
  • Options after OPT ends

Disclaimer statement

The WashU Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT processes as a courtesy to WashU students and alumni. We make every attempt to ensure that we share the most current guidance and information available. However, any advice provided by our office does not constitute legal advice. Students should always independently check deadlines and OPT/STEM OPT application documents for accuracy before submitting them to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS OPT process is a personal application for which the individual applicant is responsible. The application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts in a specific case. Be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. OISS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT/STEM OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS. For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed, experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.