OPT Frequently Asked Questions

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is meant to give F-1 students practical experience in their major field of study. Students can apply for it either during their program of study or after graduation. The purpose of this page is to provide answers to frequently asked questions. Please see the ISSS Optional Practical Training webpage for more information on workshops, eligibility, the application process, reporting requirements, and extensions. 

General OPT

  1. What is OPT?
    OPT stands for Optional Practical Training. OPT gives F-1 students practical experience in their major field of study. Students can apply for OPT either during their program of study (pre-completion OPT) or after graduation (post-completion OPT and STEM extension).

  2. What is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
    The EAD is the document issued by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after approving an OPT application. The EAD looks like a driver's license, and is the document an F-1 student would present to their employer as proof of employment authorization.

    EAD example
  3. What is my visa status while on OPT?
    OPT is a benefit of F-1 status. Student are still in F-1 status during the OPT period.  OPT is not a separate immigration status.

  4. How much OPT am I eligible for?
    Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT per higher degree level. For example, an F-1 student will be eligible for 12 months of OPT with the completion of a bachelor's degree. After completing a master's degree, an F-1 student will be eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT. However, if a student uses 12 months of OPT after completion of a master's degree, the student will not be eligible for an additional period of OPT after completion of a second master's degree. The student would need to complete a PhD degree to be eligible for another 12 months of OPT.

  5. How much does it cost to apply for OPT?
    The current fee is listed on the USCIS website under “Filing Fee.” NOTE: Biometrics fee is not required.

OPT Request and Application

  1. How do I apply for OPT?
    Visit the "How to apply" section of the ISSS OPT website.

  2. Do I need a job offer letter to apply for OPT?
    No, a job offer is not required to apply, but students in a period of post-completion OPT cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment once the OPT begins. 

  3. How early can I submit my OPT application to USCIS?
    Pre-completion OPT: Up to 90 days before an F-1 student finishes one full academic year OR up to 90 days before the proposed OPT start date, if the student has already completed one full academic year.

    Post-completion OPT: No earlier than 90 days prior to the program completion date. The program completion date is typically the same as the graduation date. PhD students interested in starting work earlier may have the option to apply for OPT once all coursework is completed. PhD students interested in this option should speak with their ISSS advisor.

    STEM Extension: No earlier than 90 days prior to the post-completion OPT end date.

  4. What is the I-765?
    To apply for OPT, an F-1 visa holder needs to complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The form and additional information can be found on the USCIS website.

  5. How do I complete the I-765?
    Follow the ISSS step-by-step instructions.

  6. What should I pick as my OPT start and end date?
    Once you submit your application to USCIS, these dates cannot change, so if you are still not sure what dates to use, please contact your ISSS advisor.

    Pre-completion OPT: For pre-completion OPT, the start date should be the expected position start date, and the end date should be the expected position end date. Students who do not have a position yet or who have a position, but the dates have not been determined, should estimate an expected start and end date.

    *Note: If applying for full-time pre-completion OPT, the requested dates cannot overlap with a fall or spring semester. Review Emory's academic calendar for semester start and end dates (referred to as End of Term/Graduation date).

    Post-completion OPT: For post-completion OPT, the start date can be any day between the day after the program completion date and 60 days after the program completion date. For example, if a student’s program end date is 5/13/2019, the start date can be any day between 5/14/2019-7/12/2019. Review Emory's academic calendar for your program completion date (referred to as End of Term/Graduation date).

    Unless a student has been approved for pre-completion OPT at the current degree level, the end date should be one year from the OPT start date. For example, if the start date is 7/13/2019, the end date would be 7/12/2020.

    F-1 students can be authorized for up to one year unless previously approved for pre-completion OPT. Part-time, pre-completion OPT is deducted from post-completion OPT at a half-time rate (i.e. four months of part-time, pre-completion OPT deducts two months from the 12 months of post-completion OPT).

    Still not sure? Students who are actively seeking employment may want to consider picking an earlier start date within the 60 day window with the assumption that they will have a position shortly after graduation.

    Students cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment while in a period of post-completion OPT. Therefore, students who are waiting until after graduation to begin their job search may want to select a later start date as it takes time to apply, interview, and receive a job offer.

    Students who are still not sure may want to consider selecting a middle start date, sometime around 30 days after the program completion date. Selecting a middle date gives the student some flexibility without accruing too many days of unemployment.

Shipping the OPT Application to USCIS

  1. What do I send with my OPT application once I have the I-20 containing the OPT recommendation?
    For a list of required OPT application materials, please review the OPT application checklist.
  2. Do I need to include all I-20s I have been issued or just the ones from Emory or the ones associated with my current SEVIS record?
    Include any I-20 you have ever been issued including I-20s from other institutions, not just Emory (including English language schools and high schools). If you no longer have copies of one or more Emory issued I-20, please contact your ISSS advisor and request copies to be re-printed with your OPT I-20. If you no longer have copies of one or more non-Emory issued I-20, please follow the instructions provided in the OPT Application Document Checklist.
  3. Where do I send my OPT application?
    All OPT applications are mailed to either the USCIS Dallas or Phoenix Lockbox which are then routed to the appropriate USCIS service center. Determining which lockbox address to use will depend on the mailing address provided on the I-765 and the shipping method (USPS versus express courier such as FedEx, UPS, or DHL). Students who used the ISSS address or another Georgia address as their mailing address (line 5.e. in part 2, page #2 on I-765), should send their OPT application to the Dallas Lockbox. 

    USCIS Dallas Lockbox
    For US Postal Service (USPS):
    USCIS
    P.O. Box 660867
    Dallas, TX 75266

    For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
    USCIS
    Attn: NFB AOS
    2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
    Suite 400
    Lewisville, TX 75067

  4. Where do I send my application if I used a non-Georgia address as my mailing address on my I-765?
    Depending on the mailing address state, students should send their application to the Dallas Lockbox or the Phoenix Lockbox. Refer to USCIS website for further instructions.

  5. How long will it take for my OPT Request to be approved by ISSS?
    Students requesting post-completion OPT: When completing the OPT Request e-form, students will be asked to provide the name and email of their academic advisor or dean who will receive an automatic email directing them to ISSS Link to complete part two of the OPT request. Once the student and academic advisor portions of the e-form are submitted, the OPT request is considered complete.

    Pre-completion OPT requests are considered complete once the student portion of the e-form is submitted. Students will receive an email within five business days of ISSS receiving a complete request. The email will include instructions on picking up the OPT I-20 and shipping the OPT application to USCIS.

  6. How long will it take for my OPT application to be approved by USCIS?
    Once mailed to USCIS, the processing time can vary. On average, it can take 90-100 days, plus time for mailing the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). 

    To view current USCIS processing times, visit the USCIS website. Please note that USCIS provides estimates on processing times which are subject to sudden changes.

Travel and OPT

  1. Can I travel abroad when my OPT application is pending with USCIS?
    ISSS does not recommend traveling abroad while the application is pending with USCIS. Although the regulations do not prohibit travel during this time, there are risks involved. Students who choose to leave the US while the OPT application is pending and plan to reenter the US after their I-20 program end date will need the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to return to the US. For students who use the ISSS address as their mailing address, ISSS may be able to express mail the EAD at the student’s expense; however, students who plan to return before the EAD is approved may not be admitted into the US as admission is at the discretion of Customs and Border Protection.

    For more information, visit the ICE travel website which cautions students about traveling while the OPT application is pending.

    NOTE: You must be physically present in the US at the time USCIS receives your OPT application. If you must travel abroad after USCIS receives the application and accept the risks, ISSS recommends that you wait until you have received the receipt notice from USCIS. The receipt notice will arrive in the mail within a few weeks of USCIS receiving your application. 
  2. Can I travel abroad while on OPT?
    The regulations allow students to travel while in a period of OPT. However, additional documents are required for students participating in post-completion OPT. The requirements for students in a period of pre-completion OPT are the same as an enrolled student.

    Visit the ISSS International Travel Checklist for more information on travel for students participating in OPT.

While on OPT and Beyond

  1. Can I "volunteer" for my company while I wait for my Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
    Students cannot work unpaid as a “volunteer” while they wait for their EAD and/or wait for their OPT start date. They must have the EAD in hand before beginning any work, paid or unpaid. Students can begin working on or after the OPT start date printed on the EAD.  Remember, F-1 students are only permitted to seek employment that is directly related to their field of study.

  2. What is the SEVP Portal?
    The SEVP Portal is a tool that allows F-1 students on post-completion OPT to meet their legal reporting requirements. F-1 students participating in post-completion OPT may use the SEVP Portal to update SEVIS with their address, telephone number, and employer information. Once the OPT is approved, the student will receive an email from the portal with instructions on setting up a portal account. For more information on the SEVP Portal visit the Study in the States SEVP Portal website.

    Students may use the SEVP Portal to meet their reporting requirements or utilize the OPT Reporting e-forms in ISSS Link. Information provided through ISSS Link is entered into SEVIS by ISSS.

  3. What should I do once I have my Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
    Students should login to ISSS Link and update their address and employer information. Even if they have not begun working, they should report their information. More details can be found on the OPT website under Reporting Requirements.

  4. What do I do if I do not find a job?
    Students cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during their period of post-completion OPT. Students nearing the 90-day limit may want to consider requesting a transfer of their SEVIS record to another academic program or applying for a change of status. Students who are not interested or not able to change status or start another academic program should consider departing the US. Students who choose to depart the US should notify their ISSS advisor of their plans to depart. ISSS will then complete their SEVIS record, preventing further accrual of unemployment. 

    During the 12 months of post-completion OPT, students may work unpaid or as a volunteer to prevent the accrual of unemployment days. However, the training experience(s) need to total at least 20 hours per week and be directly related to the student’s major field of study.

  5. My driver’s license will expire when I graduate. How do I renew it?
    Students who have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before their current Georgia driver’s license expires are able to request a renewal using the EAD. Students whose OPT is pending at the time that their Georgia license expires may be able to request a 120-day extension of their Georgia driver's license. To be eligible, students must apply for the renewal within 30 days of their license expiration date. Scroll down to the bottom of the Georgia DDS website.

  6. May I get an extension of my OPT?
    OPT can be extended if:

    1) The student is eligible for the STEM extension and has filed a timely application.
    2)The student is eligible for the cap-gap extension.

  7. What are my options after my OPT ends? 
    Upon completion of OPT, students have a 60-day grace period to do one of the following:

    1) Apply for a change of visa status.

    2) Start a new program of study, either at Emory or another institution. Students will need a new I-20 showing their new program start date before the end of the 60-day grace period. Students starting a program at another institution might be able to transfer their SEVIS record. Transferring from Emory >>

    3) Depart the US.

OPT for Thesis/Dissertation Students

  1. As a thesis/dissertation student, can I use post-completion OPT before I graduate? 

Yes, thesis/dissertation students can apply for post-completion OPT once they have completed all course requirements for their degree except for a thesis or dissertation. However, prior to applying for post-completion OPT, students should consider the pros and cons to participating in OPT before degree completion.

  1. What are the pros and cons to applying for post-completion OPT after completion of all coursework but prior to graduation? 
  •  Pros:
    •  Students can begin working in their field of study full-time anywhere in the US.
    •  Students are not required to maintain full-time enrollment.
  •  Cons:  
    •  An F-1 student’s on-campus work benefit ends as of their I-20 program end date as listed on page 1 of I-20. Students who apply for post-completion OPT will have their I-20s shortened to their new program completion date. As of this date, F-1 students are no longer permitted to work on-campus (including graduate research and teaching assistantships) until they have presented a valid EAD. Note: Students who work as graduate assistants in exchange for tuition and stipends may no longer receive these benefits once their on-campus work permission ends, and thus, should consider their options carefully.
    •  I-20s cannot be extended if students do not complete their degree within the one year of OPT. In order to complete the degree, students must travel and reenter with a new I-20. Note: If a student is otherwise eligible for the STEM OPT extension, they can apply for the extension even if they did not graduate within the one year of post-completion OPT.
    •  Students are subject to the 90-day unemployment rule. Students who accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during their one year of OPT are not considered to be maintaining status.
  1. What is considered my program completion date/ I-20 end date?
Thesis/dissertation students have to make their program completion date/I-20 end date one of the following dates:
  •  The End of Term/Graduation Date for the semester for which the degree will be granted as listed on the Office of the University Registrar's website.
  •  The student's defense date as provided by the student's advisor in the OPT Request e-form.
  •  The last day of full-time enrollment.  Students who choose to apply for post-completion OPT based on completion of all course requirements except for thesis/dissertation will have their I-20s shortened to the last day they were full-time enrolled. ISSS will use the End of Term/Graduation Date as listed on the Office of the University Registrar's website as the new I-20 end date. 

I-20 will be shortened to this new program completion date, and the student may request an OPT start date within 60 days of this new I-20 end date.

  1. What are my other options for working off-campus if I decide to not apply for post-completion OPT until I graduate?

If eligible, students may apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Students who are not eligible for CPT may want to consider applying for pre-completion OPT. However, students should be aware that pre-completion OPT requires a separate application to USCIS and any approved period of pre-completion OPT is deducted from the twelve months of post-completion OPT.

If you have any additional questions, please contact your ISSS advisor.