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 immigration 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, the 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 first.

    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 student 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 or refer to the USCIS website.

  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 that 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 (including Canada or Mexico) 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. Please note that 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.  

 

OPT Reporting Requirements

  1. How do I report my employer information?

    You should report your employer information within 10 days by logging into ISSS Link and completing the “Add or Change OPT Employer” or “Update Current OPT Employer” e-form or by logging into the SEVP Portal and submitting your information directly to SEVP (see question 3).

    If you choose to report your information through ISSS Link, these e-forms can be found by clicking on the OPT Employer Information link under the F-1 Practical Training tab. ISSS will review the information you submitted in ISSS Link and update your SEVIS record accordingly.

  2. How do I report a change of address, email address, or phone number?

    You should report a change of address or contact information within 10 days of the change by logging in to ISSS Link and filling out the “Update Current OPT Employer or US Residential Address” e-form or by logging into the SEVP Portal and submitting your information directly to SEVP (see question 3). If you choose to report your information through ISSS Link, this e-form can be found by clicking on the OPT Employer Information link under the F-1 Practical Training tab. ISSS will review the information you submitted in ISSS Link and update your SEVIS record accordingly.

  3. Can I report my employment information through the SEVP Portal?

    The US government hosts an online portal for students on post-completion and STEM OPT to submit updates directly to them. You may choose to use this portal to report your employment information. If you experience issues with the SEVP Portal, visit their help page.

    We still encourage you to submit employment, address, and contact information updates using the OPT Employer Information e-forms in.

  4. What employment information do I have to report?

    You are required to report the following: employer name, start date of employment, employer address, if the employment is full-time (20 hours per week or more) or part-time (less than 20 hours per week), and how the employment is related to your course work.

    You may also provide your job title, employer EIN, supervisor name and contact information (telephone number and email), and current employment end date (if applicable).

  5. How do I explain the direct relationship between my employment and my major area of study?

    - Bachelor's degree in Business Administration: I work full time as a business analyst at a bank where I help guide businesses in improving processes, products, services and software through data analysis. I use the knowledge I gained in my classes that I took as part of my major program of study.

    - Master's degree in Music: I teach music at a local high school. On average, I work at the hospital 35 hours a week. My duties directly utilize the skills and knowledge I acquired from my coursework and degree in music therapy.

    -
     PhD in Computer Science: I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute. I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning, which I studied as part of my dissertation.

  6. How many days of unemployment am I allowed?

    You are allowed no more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment time while on post-completion OPT.

  7. What types of employment are allowed while on the standard post-completion OPT?

    You may work in more than one position at a time as long as each employment is directly related to your program of study and cumulatively add up to at least 20 hours per week. The following activities constitute employment:

    - Regular paid employment
    - Payment by short-term multiple employers: students such as musicians and performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs).
    - Work for hire: commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship.
    - Self-employed business owner: you may start a business and be self-employed. You should be able to prove that you have a proper business license(s).
    - Employment through an agency
    Volunteers or unpaid interns: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern so long as it does not violate any labor laws. The US Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division determines labor laws.

  8. What documents should I have to prove that I am or have been employed?

    - Copies of job offer letters and agreements/contracts with all OPT employers including start and end dates, if applicable.
    - Copies of job descriptions including job title, duties, location, pay rate, and proposed number of hours to be worked per week.
    - If working for an agency or consulting firm, evidence of the projects you worked on.
    - List of all gigs, including dates and duration.
    - Pay vouchers or pay stubs for all periods of employment
    - Copies of W-2 tax forms
    - If working in an unpaid position, copies of company time and attendance records that document your daily tasks. Additional suggested documentation include:

    - Written verification that your position does not violate any local, state, or federal labor laws from an HR representative at your organization.
    - A letter detailing the terms of the position such as: your name, name and address of hiring organization, position title, number of hours per week, start and end date, supervisor name and contact information, and number of hours worked per week.
    - Note: This letter does not need to be submitted to ISSS but should be kept for your records.
  9. My Emory NetID is inactive. How can I access ISSS Link?

    You can access ISSS Link using Limited Services. For detailed instructions on how to obtain Limited Services Access, click here.