Post-Completion OPT


Am I eligible?

You must:

  • 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 

When should I apply for OPT?

Application timeline

OPT Timeline

  • The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your I-20 end date
  • The latest you can apply for OPT is 60 days after your I-20 end date (only if you have not left the U.S.)
  • 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
  • We recommend you apply as early as possible! USCIS takes approximately 4 months to approve OPT. 

Choosing your OPT start and end dates:

Potential Start Dates for Post-Completion OPT
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...
Summer 2019 8/31/19 9/1/19 10/30/19
Fall 2019 12/14/19 12/15/19 2/12/20
Winter 2020 3/21/20 3/22/20 5/20/20
Law Spring 2020 5/7/20 5/8/20 7/6/20
Feinberg 2020 5/15/20 5/16/20 7/14/20
Spring 2020 6/13/20 6/14/20 8/12/20
Summer 2020 8/29/20 8/30/20 10/28/20
  • Do you already have a job offer?  Where are you in the job search process?
  • Still job searching?  Choose a later start date
  • Traveling? Consider your travel plans
  • Applying late? Choose a later start date
  • Not sure?  Contact your IO advisor or come in during walk-in hours!

Application Process

How do I apply?


1. Submit your OPT Request form in the OISS Portal.
  • You will request your start and end dates and request an electronic recommendation from your academic advisor/program director/PI through the portal.
    • Please note that you should discuss this request with your advisor before completing the request in the portal. We will not process your request until the electronic recommendation has been approved.
  • If you have questions, please sign in for walk-in hours and meet with an IO advisor.
2.  OPT Authorization Processed
  • Your IO advisor will process your OPT authorization
  • This means we will create a new I-20 for you to use with your OPT application.  
  • During this time, please assemble all of your OPT materials.  See the OPT Application materials checklist below
  • OPT processing time: 5 business days (1 week)
3. Pick up your new I-20s + meet with an IO advisor
  • Bring all of your OPT documents to the IO
  • Pick up your new OPT recommendation I-20s 
  • Review your entire OPT application with an IO advisor 
4. Mail your application to USCIS
  • Sign page 1 of both of your new I-20s
  • Copy/take a picture of both pages of your I-765
  • Mail your application to USCIS within 15 days (or else it will be rejected!)
  • The instructions page (included with your new I-20s) lists the correct mailing address
5. Wait...
  • After 2-3 weeks, you will receive a receipt notice in the mail and via email based on the information you entered on the G-1145 form.
  • Track your application here.  Please note that USCIS does not regularly update the steps and most students see their status as 'initial review' until it jumps to 'card production. Please keep in mind that this website has average processing times for USCIS forms. Choose I-765 as the form and Potomac Service Center to get the correct processing times.
  • Once approved, you will receive an email from SEVP to create an Portal Account. This is typically the first "approval notification" you will receive.
  • Your card should arrive at the address you requested around two weeks after the SEVP email.
  • You will receive your OPT EAD card.  Make a copy or take photos of both sides of your new EAD card.  Do not lose it!
  • You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.

Application materials checklist

OPT Instructions & Checklist

  • Completed form I-765 (view a sample) PLEASE NOTE: the I-765 was updated in July 2018.
    • We try to keep the most up to date information here for your guidance. As an example- the instructions (found here) note that there should not be any blanks on the form. You should type in N/A. In most browsers you cannot type N/A.  You may type or write with a black pen, or both. 
  • Copy of your first I-20 issued by NU. Lost yours? Copy an I-20 that is more than 1 year old
  • Copy of all CPT I-20s (at Northwestern and other universities)
  • I-94 record printout
  • Copy of passport biographical page
  • Copy of F-1 visa stamp
  • Complete form G-1145 (download from*
  • Payment to USCIS (currently $410, but please check to verify)
    • Payment by check, cashier's check, or money order: payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security  Sample check
  • Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days* Write your full name and your I-94 number on the back of the photos.
  • If applicable, photocopy (front and back) of previously issued Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards) or other USCIS approved employment authorization(s).
  • I-20 with OPT recommendation  (You will receive this from the IO after we process your application)
  • SEVIS CPT printout, if applicable (You may receive this from the IO after we process your application)

Maintaining Status

While you are on post-completion OPT, your status is still F-1, and it is still your responsibility to maintain that status.  Here is what you need to know to maintain your F-1 status during OPT. 

Appropriate employment

All work on OPT must be:

  • Directly related to the field of study listed on the I-20 and
  • at least 20 hours per week

OPT is also very flexible:

  • Work may be paid or unpaid
  • You may work for multiple employers (all employment must be related to your degree), including short-term multiple employers (primarily for performing artists having “gigs”).
  • You may work in contract positions or work through an employment agency
  • You may start your own business and/or work for yourself (please ensure you have the proper business license and/or paperwork)

In all cases, you cannot begin work until you receive your EAD card AND your OPT start date happens.


  • During your 12 months of OPT, you may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment
  • The 90 days begins from your OPT start date on your EAD card
  • The 90 days can give you additional flexibility (ex: use 30 days before the start of a 3-month internship, use 30 more days, then start a permanent job)
  • If you reach 90 days, you must report this via the SEVP Portal and leave the U.S. as soon as possible.  You will not have an additional grace period. 

Keep Records of Your Employment

It is your responsibility to keep records of your employment, paid or unpaid.  You may be asked about these records in the future (especially if you apply for an H-1B, green card or other US immigration status).

Examples of records to keep:

  • Offer letters/contracts
  • Payroll records
  • All job start/end dates, employer names/addresses and number of hours per week worked

Student Reporting Requirements 

  • You must report any changes (in address, employer, name or status in the US) within 10 days.  Please report this information in the SEVP Portal.  Once your OPT is approved and your start date happens, USCIS will send you login information for your SEVP Portal account.  

Traveling Overseas During OPT

Remember that your status is still F-1. In order to re-enter the U.S. you must have:

  • Valid EAD card.  This means you cannot re-enter the US until your OPT is approved and you have your physical EAD card.  Please discuss your travel plans with your IO advisor, especially if plan to travel after your graduation!
  • I-20 with travel signature (no more than 6 months old)  Need a new I-20?  Request a reprint through the OISS Portal.
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp or plans to renew yours
  • Current passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Job offer letter (highly recommended, but not required)

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. 

After OPT

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.

You may be eligible for the Cap-Gap Extension if you are changing to an H-1B visa with an October 1st start date and your OPT ends before October 1. You can request an updated I-20 through the Request Reprint function in the OISS Portal.