Post-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT is the most common type of OPT application. It is used after the completion of your degree and I-20. Any pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12-months of post-completion OPT. 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.

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

Eligibility
Process
Application Timeline
Maintaining Status & OPT Reporting Requirements
Employment Requirements
Travel
PhD Students – Special Issues
Cap-Gap for H-1B
F-2 Dependents
Useful Links & Forms
Pointers

Eligibility

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

Process

  1. We strongly recommend that you attend an OPT workshop - see our website for the schedule.
  2. Refer to the OPT Timeline section below to determine when you should plan to submit your application to the IO, and then to USCIS.
  3. Complete the top section of the OPT Academic Advisor Form, print it, and bring it to your meeting with your Academic Advisor or Dean for approval. NOTE: Post-completion OPT is given for one full year (for example 06/09/2012 through 06/08/2013)
  4. Gather your OPT application materials. Refer to 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. See HERE for a sample I-765.  We strongly recommend that you use the International Office address if you will be traveling, moving or live at a non-IL address at the time of your application or while your OPT application is pending.
  5. 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 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.
  7. Sign page 1 of each I-20. Keep one I-20 and add the other I-20 to your OPT application materials.
  8. Make a photocopy of your ENTIRE OPT application.
  9. 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. 
  10. 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.  NOTE: It is recommended that you sign-up for case updates from USCIS.  This can be done via USCIS My Case Status.
  11. 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 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.

OPTTimeline

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...
Winter 2014 03/21/2014 03/22/2014 05/20/2014
Spring 2014 6/13/2014 06/14/2014 08/12/2014
Law (LLM/JD) Spring 2014 5/09/2014 5/10/2014 7/8/2014
Feinberg 2014 05/22/2014 05/23/2014 07/22/2014
Summer 2014 8/29/14 8/30/14 10/28/14
Fall 2013 12/13/13 12/14/13 2/11/14

Maintaining Status & OPT Reporting Requirements

While you are on post-completion OPT, your status is still F-1, and it is still your responsibility to maintain that status. This involves the following:

  • You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.
  • You may not work beyond the end date on your EAD card.
  • You must work in a job that meets the job requirements listed in the section below.
  • You cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment
    • The 90 days begins with the start date on the EAD card
    • If you reach 90 days, you are expected to leave the U.S. immediately, and report that via the survey.
  • Ensure that you have the documents you need to travel – see below for details
  • Complete the reporting requirements as explained below

Reporting Requirements

You must fulfill OPT reporting requirements using the Post-Completion OPT Reporting Survey on the first day of your OPT and within 10 days of any of the following changes:

  • Employment and unemployment (starting a new job, stopping a job, etc)
  • Residential address,
  • Name,
  • Immigration Status,
  • or if you leave the U.S. permanently
     

Employment Requirements

  • Directly related to the field of study listed on the I-20
  • Must be at least 20 hours per week
  • May be paid or unpaid. If you will not be paid, we recommend that you obtain a letter detailing your work and dates of volunteering for proof of having maintained F-1 status.
  • May be for multiple employers (all employment must be related to your degree)
  • May be short-term multiple employers (primarily for performing artists having “gigs”
  • May be work-for-hire (contract work where you are performing a service which may not constitute formal career employment)
  • May be self-employed business owner
  • May be through an agency
  • Note: In all cases, you must be able to provide some form of proof of your employment including dates, duration, names of employer/contract, companies/agencies that can verify the job you did. If you are self-employed, you must be able to show proof of proper business licenses (if necessary) and active engagement.

Travel

  • Remember that your status is still F-1
  • In order to re-enter the U.S. you must have:
    • Valid EAD card. Note: all EAD cards say 'not valid for reentry to the US.' This means that the card alone does not guarantee your reentry but rather you must have (I20, passport and visa stamp - see below)
    • I-20 showing OPT with travel signature no more than 6 months old
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp, unless you will be able to use Automatic Visa Revalidation
    • Current passport, valid at least six-months after the date of last entry
  • If you are, or will be employed, we recommend that you carry your offer letter. 

Travel between graduation and OPT approval:

Many students wish to travel home after you have graduated by before your OPT has been approved by USCIS. If this is your plan, keep in mind that you cannot re-enter the U.S. until you have the OPT EAD card in your hand. If you will leave the U.S. while your OPT is pending, please remember that the OPT approval from USCIS can take 3-4 months, so plan your travel arrangements and job search accordingly.

NOTE: If you do not apply for OPT, but travel outside of the U.S. after the end-date listed on your OPT (during the 60-day grace-period), you will have negated your eligibility to apply. OPT regulations require that you be physically in the U.S. and in F-1 status at the time of application. 

PhD Students – Special Issues

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 for H-1B

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

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

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. But 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.

F-2 Dependents

Dependents of F-1 students in F-2 status will continue to be in F-2 status while you are using OPT. As long as you maintain your F-1 status, your F-2 dependent will continue to be in status. After you apply to the IO for OPT, you will receive a new I-20 for your dependent(s) verifying that you will be on OPT.

Useful Links and Forms

OPT Academic Advisor Form
USCIS
Sample I-765
Post-Completion OPT Reporting Survey
General Travel Information
Tracking your OPT application while it is pending at USCIS

FAQ's and Pointers about Post-Completion OPT

  • You may not pursue a new "course of study" while on OPT
  • Once you send your OPT application materials to USCIS, you cannot change the requested dates.
  • If you transfer to another university, your OPT work authorization will end on the day your SEVIS record is transferred.
  • Post-completion OPT is awarded on a full-time basis only
  • 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.
  • When getting the required pictures for the USCIS application, pictures must be 2-inch squares with a white background, and taken no more than 6 months ago. This picture will be printed on your EAD card.
  • Once your OPT has been approved, you cannot cancel your application and you will not be eligible to apply for OPT for the same educational level in the future.