Post-Completion OPT

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Post-completion OPT is the most common type of OPT; it is used after your I-20 and degree are finished.

If you are approved for this type of authorization, you must abide by the following guidelines:

  • OPT is granted for full-time employment regardless of part- or full-time employment.
  • You may apply for one 12-month period of OPT at the completion of each academic level obtained (e.g. 12-months of OPT at the undergraduate level, masters, and PhD). Any student who applied and was approved for OPT at one academic level may not apply for a second period of OPT at the same level; you also cannot cancel your application. Any pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12-months of post-completion OPT.
  • Once you send your OPT application materials to USCIS, you cannot change the requested dates. While on OPT, you may not pursue a new course of study, unless you are a PhD student and are in the 'all but dissertation' stage (see below for details). If you transfer to another university, your OPT work authorization will end on the day your SEVIS record is transferred.
  • You will have a 60-day grace period from the date your OPT expires to leave the U.S., apply for a change of status, or transfer your I-20 to another school.

Once USCIS has approved your OPT, you will receive a EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card that lists the dates of the OPT period and shows your picture.

Please note that the Post-Completion OPT carries additional visa restriction and reporting requirements. Review these restrictions and requirements.

Are you eligible?

Before proceeding with the OPT application process, please ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria listed below:

  • Be in lawful full-time F-1 status for full academic year
  • Be in good academic standing with the university
  • Have a valid passport
  • Have not had more than 12-months of full-time CPT
  • Have not previously had 12 months of post-completion OPT for the same level of degree.
  • Must be physically present in the U.S., in F-1 status, to apply to USCIS

How to apply

1. Attend an OPT workshop.

While not required, this is strongly recommended. Future dates and times are listed on our Events Calendar.

2. Determine when you will need to submit the application to IO and USCIS.

Refer to the OPT timeline information, below, for guidance.

3. Complete Section I of the OPT Academic Advisor Form.

After completing Section I, print the form (available online) and submit it to your Academic Advisor or Dean for approval.

4. Gather your OPT application materials.

Refer to the Application Materials Checklist below (or download the OPT Instructions & Checklist to see a complete list of application materials).


  • See the USCIS website for the most up-to-date version of Form I-765. A sample I-765 is also available for reference.
  • We strongly recommend that you use the International Office address if you will be traveling, moving, or living at a non-IL address at the time of your application or while your OPT application is pending.

5. Submit your complete application to the IO.

Visit the IO during walk-in hours to submit your complete OPT application for review. After reviewing the application, your advisor will return the OPT application materials, and keep only the OPT Academic Advisor Form.

6. Pick up your materials from IO and prepare your application for USCIS.

  • Pick up your new I-20 with the OPT recommendation from the IO. You will receive a packet containing two I-20’s, one to keep and one to send to USCIS with your OPT application.
  • Sign page 1 of each I-20. Keep one I-20 and add the other I-20 to your OPT application materials.
  • Organize your application this way:
    • check/money order, I-765, passport copy, visa stamp copy, I-94, previous EAD (if applicable), I-20s, CPT printout
    • do not include any extra/unecessary documents
    • do not staple or paperclip your application, or use any extra folders or binders
  • Make a photocopy of your ENTIRE OPT application.

7. Mail your application to USCIS.

You must mail the OPT application within 30 days of when the International Student Advisor initiated your request for OPT in SEVIS.

You will receive a receipt notice in the mail (at the address listed on the I-765 form) 2-4 weeks after filing the application. If you used the IO address, you will receive an email from the IO front desk.  

Tip: We recommended that you sign-up for case updates from USCIS. This can be done via USCIS My Case Status.

8. Wait to receive EAD card in the mail.

You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.

Application materials checklist

The following items need to be reviewed by the IO. Items marked with an asterisk also need to be submitted to USCIS:

  1. Completed form I-765 (view a sample)*
  2. Photocopy of your first I-20 issued by NU. If you can't locate your I-20, please turn in an I-20 that was stamped at the port of entry more than one year ago.*

  3. Photocopies of all I-20s issued for previously approved periods of full or part-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).*

  4. Copy of I-94 Record*
  5. Copy of Passport Bio Page*
  6. Copy of F-1 visa stamp*
  7. Check or Money Order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the amount listed for I-765 processing.*  Sample check
  8. Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days*
  9. If applicable, photocopy (front and back) of previously issued Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards) or other USCIS approved employment authorization(s).*
  10. OPT Academic Advisor Form
  11. From the IO, following its review of the application materials: I-20 reflecting OPT recommendation on page 3.
  12. Tips: Two copies are received; 1 is kept by the student, the other is sent to USCIS. Remember to sign both I-20's before submitting application.

Application timeline

OPT Timeline

You can apply for post-completion OPT no more than 90 days before the end date on your I-20, or as late as 60 days after the end date (so long as you do not leave the U.S. during these 60-days, and are in F-1 status, in the U.S. at the time of application).

  • The end date is determined by the final quarter that you will be enrolled at Northwestern.
  • The end date is the last official day of the quarter, not the last day of classes or the date of a graduation ceremony.
  • If your I-20 will end after your final quarter of enrollment, we will automatically shorten the end date to reflect that change.

You must send your OPT application to USCIS within 30 days from the date that your IO advisor signed the front page of the I-20.

  • Completed applications may take 3-5 business days to process at the IO.

USCIS must receive your OPT application by the 60th day  after the end of the I-20.

USCIS may take up to 3-4 months to process your OPT application. If you apply late, you may not receive the full 12 months of OPT, and your ability to begin working will be delayed.

Choosing your OPT start and end dates:

If your final quarter of registration is... And your I-20 currently expires on, or will expire on... You can choose an OPT start date as early as... Or you can choose an OPT start date as late as...
Fall 2016 12/10/16 12/11/16 2/8/17
Winter 2017 3/18/17 3/19/17 5/17/17
Spring 2017 6/10/17 6/11/17 8/9/17
Summer 2017 8/26/17 8/27/17 10/25/17
Law Spring 2017 5/4/17 5/5/17 7/3/17
Feinberg 2017 5/19/17 5/20/17 7/18/17
Fall 2017 12/9/17 12/10/17 2/7/18

Other timing considerations

For PhD students writing theses

Graduate students who have only thesis and no regular classes remaining may apply for OPT before finishing their thesis. However, you should plan to complete and defend your thesis within the 12 months of OPT. If this is the case, you should ensure that your employer knows that you are still working towards finishing your thesis, and might need to travel back to campus.

Cap Gap extension for future H-1B employees

"Cap-Gap" refers to the period of time between the official end-date listed on the EAD card and the official start date of an H-1B.

The most common situation occurs when your OPT ends in the spring or early summer, and your F-1 status expires 60-days after that, leaving a gap of several months before your H-1B status begins on October 1.

The cap gap extension is the period in which an eligible F-1 student's status is automatically extended to bridge the gap in employment between the end of F-1 status (OPT end-date) and start of H-1B status. The student must not have violated the terms or conditions of his or her F-1 status.

To qualify for the "H-1B cap-gap extension" you must be in valid F-1 status, and you must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that meets all of the following:

  • Has been timely filed.
  • Requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year
  • Requests a change of status

Cap-Gap extension cannot be used if you will be in H-1B status in a non-profit or research educational institution.

Travel while on the Cap-Gap

  • As long as your H-1B petition was filed before your OPT expired, you can remain in the United States and work during the cap gap period between the end of OPT and October 1.
  • However, an F-1 student who has completed studies and OPT and who travels abroad during the cap gap cannot be readmitted to the United States in F-1 status.

For more information, please contact your International Student Advisor.