Standard 12 Month OPT
WHAT IS IT?
- 12 month work authorization period
- A student is required to engage in employment that is directly related to the course of study listed on the Form I20.
- F-1 visa holders only
- Enrolled for a minimum of 9 academic months (2 semesters)
TYPES OF OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING
- POST-COMPLETION OPT: A student who has completed his/her course of study (graduated) may apply for permission to pursue post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT authorizes the student to work full-time. Most students pursue this option.
- Candidates for a graduate degree who have successfully completed all course requirements but who are still working on a dissertation are eligible to submit an application for and receive a period of Post-completion OPT prior to conferment of the degree.
- PRE-COMPLETION OPT: A student enrolled for at least 9 academic months is eligible to pursue pre-completion OPT. Students using pre-completion OPT may only work 20 hours/week while classes are in session, and up to 40 hours/week over the breaks. Please note, undergraduate students are not eligible to use pre-completion OPT until a major has been declared.
FAQ's About Standard OPT
WHEN IS OPT AVAILABLE?
An F-1 student is eligible to receive a total period of 12 months of OPT for each successive degree level that is completed.
- Bobby receives a Bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution. He is eligible for 12 months of OPT for his Bachelor’s degree.
- Bobby does not use the OPT period, and enrolls in a Master’s program. He receives his Master’s degree. Bobby will have only 12 months of OPT available as a result of his Master’s degree.
- Frequently Asked Question: Why does Bobby only have 12 months of OPT after his Master’s if he never used the OPT period from his Bachelor’s degree?
- Answer: OPT must be used AT THE TIME of the degree. To maximize his work authorization in the U.S., Bobby should have used his period of OPT after his Bachelors, and then completed his Master’s degree and used the additional 12 month OPT period gained. In choosing to enroll directly in a Master’s program after completing his Bachelor’s, Bobby forfeited his 12 month OPT period for his Bachelor’s degree.
- Bobby receives a Master’s degree from a U.S. institution.
- Bobby uses the 12 month OPT period following his Master’s degree.
- Bobby then decides to go back to school and pursue another Master’s degree.
- Bobby does NOT have another period of OPT available to him after his second Master’s degree.
- Frequently Asked Question: Why does Bobby not have another period of OPT available after his second Master’s degree?
- Answer: OPT is allowed once per degree level. If Bobby chose to pursue a Ph.D., he would again be eligible for another period of OPT.
WHO IS THE APPLICATION FOR OPT ADJUDICATED BY?
Permission to participate in a Standard OPT program is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The International Student Advisor/Designated School Official in the Center for Global Programs and Studies MUST submit the OPT request in the SEVIS system BEFORE the application can be submitted to the USCIS.
IS A JOB OFFER REQUIRED PRIOR TO APPLYING FOR OPT?
Although having a job is not a prerequisite for OPT eligibility, USCIS requires all students in a period of OPT to be employed. A student who is actively pursuing employment during the approved OPT period is considered to be in legal, F-1 status. Students are given a 90 day (3 month) unemployment period during the 12 months of approved OPT.
CAN I WORK FOR MULTIPLE EMPLOYERS?
Students may work for as many different employers as they choose during the approved OPT period.
WHEN TO APPLY
USCIS has stated that a student may submit a Post-completion OPT application no more than 90 days prior to the program end date listed on Form 1-20. An OPT application can also be submitted during the 60-day grace period that follows the program end date listed on Form 1-20.
- Gather Items from OPT Checklist (see right)
- Download Form I-765 (click “Form I-765” to the right)
- Download Form G-1145 for Electronic Notice
- Fill out the Form G-1145 and fill out blank Form I-765. Use the the “Completed Sample I-765 (Standard OPT)” located to the right as a guide to filling out your I-765 with your information. Address: The address that you list on Form I-765 determines which USCIS Service Center will process your application. USCIS will mail your Receipt Notice and EAD to the address provided on the I765. By regulation, USCIS can take up to 90 days to adjudicate an OPT application. If you will not be at your present place of residence in 2-3 months time or you would like for your card to be sent to Wake Forest University, you should plan to use a trusted friend or family member’s address in the U.S.
- Schedule a meeting with a Designated School Official (DSO) based on campus.
Beth Whitsett (Health Sciences Campus), DSO
Carrie E. O’Brien (Reynolda Campus, Undergraduates), DSO
Vini Sharma (Reynolda Campus, Graduate & Professional Students), PDSO
Bring all documents from OPT checklist to the meeting. The DSO will input a recommendation into the SEVIS system. This is required by USCIS. Applications submitted without this recommendation will be rejected by USCIS. At the time of recommendation, you will also tell the DSO what dates you would like your OPT to begin and end. Be firm about these dates. Once the application is sent to USCIS, the dates requested cannot be changed.
Receipt Notice: Once your application has been received by the USCIS, you will receive a Receipt Notice. This is a very important document that contains your application receipt number. Should your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) not arrive in a timely manner, this is the primary proof that your application was submitted to the USCIS Service Center.
On-Line Status Check: The status of your application can be checked on-line by accessing the following website: http://www.uscis.gov/tools
Processing Delay: If USCIS requires additional evidence or your application is returned for another reason, the processing time will be increased. For this reason, it is important that you do not make any careless mistakes when completing the application.
Note: USCIS has, by regulation, the authority to take up to 90 days to make a decision on your application. This does not include time to produce the card, and mail it to you. The 90 day clock begins on the date USCIS receives the application (not on the date you send it).
Beginning & End Dates
EMPLOYMENT START DATE
When you apply for OPT, you are allowed to choose the beginning date for your period of employment authorization.
Post Completion OPT: The earliest date to request is the day after program end date on the I-20 form. Exception: graduate students working on dissertations only can choose to begin OPT as soon as all course-work for the degree has been completed. The latest that you are allowed to begin a period of OPT is 60 days after the program end date listed on the Form 1-20.
You are not allowed to begin employment until:
- You have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with you
- The start date listed on the EAD is current.
Please keep this in mind when talking with prospective employers. There are no exceptions to above.
All employment must cease on the end date listed on the EAD. The nonimmigrant may remain in the U.S. for a period of 60 days following the end date of the OPT, but no employment may be performed during this 60-day grace period, except in certain circumstances (please see the information related to “cap gap” employment).
If you have the intention of remaining in the United States after you have completed your 12 month OPT authorization and do not want to interrupt your employment eligibility, you will need to file for a change of status prior to the end date of your OPT. For many nonimmigrants, this step involves applying for and obtaining an H-1B visa for a specialty occupation. If you plan on taking this course of action, you will need to find an employer who is willing to sponsor you.
If you apply for OPT and then decide to cancel your application, you will need to have the Center for Global Programs and Studies inform the USCIS Service Center before the application is approved. Once your application is approved and production of your EAD has been ordered, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cancel the period of OPT for which you have been approved.
Mistakes on the EAD Card
In the past, the USCIS has made mistakes in the spelling of names, birth dates, gender, etc. If you find one of these so-called “trivial” mistakes on your card, you have the option of returning the card to the USCIS and hoping that the mistake is corrected and the card is returned in a timely manner. In most instances, however, you would probably be better served to simply ignore the mistake. If it is a misprint of larger proportions, such as a mistake in the start or end dates, etc., you will need to contact the Center for Global Programs and Studies so that an inquiry can be made on your behalf.
Lost EAD Card
If you lose your EAD card, you will need to re-apply for the card with USCIS by submitting the Form I-765. You will be obligated to pay the I-765 filing fee again as well.
When you receive your card from the USCIS, make sure that you retain a copy for your records.
International Travel & Re-Entry While on OPT
IMPORTANT: While on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status. Therefore, if you reenter the U.S. after a temporary absence, you will always need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport. The EAD does not take the place of the F-l visa stamp.
Exiting and reentering the U.S. prior to the end date listed on Form 1-20 while you have an application for OPT pending with the USCIS should not pose a risk. When reentering, however, you are advised to have a copy of the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you.
Once you complete your program of study, it is advised that you do not leave the country until you have the EAD in hand. If an emergency or other situation dictates that you make a departure prior to receiving your card, please consult with the Center for Global Programs and Studies prior to leaving. If you make a departure without your card and you do not have the card in hand when you attempt to reenter the U.S., the Immigration Officer at the border may question your eligibility to reenter in F-1 student status since you have already completed your course of study and have no proof that you have been approved to engage in OPT.
When you take possession of your EAD, you may make a reentry to the U.S. after a temporary absence of less than five months as long as you have a valid visa stamp and an 1-20 that has been validated for travel by the International Student Advisor/Designated School Official. If you need a validating signature while on OPT, you may mail the 1-20 to the Center for Global Programs and Studies. A revalidation of your F-1 visa stamp can only be done at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside of the U.S.
If you remain outside of the U.S. for a period of time that exceeds five months, you will lose your current F -1 status along with any period of OPT that was approved prior to your departure. Please be aware of the fact that an Immigration Officer is probably going to be suspicious of a student applying for reentry who is not employed and has spent an extended period of time outside of the U.S. When making a reentry to the U.S., it is strongly advised that you have a letter from your current employer that explains the details of your employment situation. If you are not employed when you make the reentry, you will need to convince the Immigration Officer that you are actively seeking employment (i.e. proof of pending job interviews, etc.).
The USCIS has stated that being employed while on OPT is a requirement for reentry. At present, however, the Center for Global Programs and Studies has not heard of any students being denied entry due to the fact that they were unemployed at the time. This unwritten practice is, of course, always subject to change.
If you exit and then reenter the U.S. in another nonimmigrant visa category, your remaining period of OPT will be cancelled immediately upon receipt of the new visa classification. For example: An F-l student on OPT forgets to obtain a revalidation of his/her F-1 visa stamp while abroad. They enter the U.S. in B-2 Visitor visa status using the visa waiver program. This change in status to a B-2 Visitors visa effectively cancels the employment authorization.
Documents you will need to present when making a reentry to the U.S. while on OPT:
1. Valid passport: it is strongly recommended that the passport be valid for at least six months into the future at the time of reentry
2. Valid F-l visa stamp
3. Form 1-20 that has been authorized for travel on page three by the International Student Advisor/Designated School Official
4. Valid EAD
5. Letter from employer that verifies current employment status. In the absence of such a letter, you may be required to prove that you are actively seeking employment in the U.S. (i.e. invitation for interview, etc.)
Note: It is advised that you refrain from traveling if the end date on your Form 1-20 has passed and you are waiting to receive your EAD from the USCIS. Anytime you travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, you should have the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you when you apply for reentry.
For students whose primary degrees were in an approved STEM field, you may be eligible for an extension of the standard OPT.
More information on the STEM extension can be found by visiting: http://global.wfu.edu/iss/employment/opt/stem/