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F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment benefit for international F-1 visa students to work in the U.S in a job related to the student’s field of study. It is intended to enhance and supplement the formal, classroom education after a student's coursework is completed. The United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) adjudicates and authorizes OPT. 

An updated I-20 and recommendation in SEVIS to apply to USCIS for OPT can only be requested from ISSS for post-completion OPT. You must be within the 90 days prior to and 60 days after your program completion date and have completed/will be completing your coursework to request OPT from ISSS and apply to USCIS.

Program completion date guidelines:

  • For students who are registered full or part time, and/or students who have Graduate Assistantship positions, the program completion date will typically be the last day of finals in the semester of OPT application and this date should be used when you or the approver (academic department advisor) provide ISSS with program completion date with your OPT request.
  • Important Note For Graduate Students:

    Graduate students who have completed all degree required coursework except their thesis/dissertation may apply for post-completion OPT. These students may choose to apply for post-completion OPT based on the date coursework is finished for their degree (usually the last day of finals for a semester) and use the period of post-completion OPT application/approval to complete only thesis/dissertation work. Student must be finished with coursework to use this option.

    Alternatively, students who are finished with required degree coursework may choose to continue to be enrolled in credits deemed full-time per their academic department to finish their thesis/dissertation and then elect to apply for post-completion OPT based on the use of their published defense date as the program end date. Please note that this may also require an extension of your I-20 with compelling academic reason from your academic department if your program end date on your I-20 will expire and more time is needed for research or work with your thesis/dissertation.

  • The recommended employment start date must be after the student's program completion date and no later than the end of his/her 60 day grace period. 

Disclaimer: ISSS is able to provide you with general guidance. However, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on our website or informational packets, do not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, the USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. This office will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.

OPT Workshops  

Be sure to first attend one of our workshops to get all your questions answered!

April 6, 2023 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
April 10, 2023 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
May 9, 2023 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
May 22, 2023 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
June 6, 2023
*Online Meeting
June 19, 2023
*Online Meeting

*Note, meetings will be arranged via zoom. If you are interested in joining the meeting, please email us prior at by 12pm on the day of the event and send us your full name and student ID number with a note stating which workshop date you would like to attend. We will then provide the zoom meeting info in a follow up e-mail.

PART 1: Review Employment Notes for OPT and Types of Employment You May Engage In -

  • Students must work full-time (20 or more hours) when on post-completion OPT. More information will follow in the sections below about hours of employment.
  • You cannot be approved for OPT and also engage in a full-time degree seeking program while on OPT. You may only take courses to finish your research/thesis/dissertation or non-degree coursework that is "incident to status".
  • A job is not required to apply for OPT, but you must not be unemployed for more than 90 days from the start date of your issued EAD card or 90 days total while on OPT.  If you exceed the unemployment limit or fail to report employment in a timely manner, SEVP may auto-complete your SEVIS record negating your OPT approval.
  • Once you find employment, you are required to update our office with your employment by submitting an OPT Employment Update through the student request portal. More information to follow in the sections below about OPT Employment Updates.
  • When seeking employment, please remember that your employment must relate to your degree and you must explain the nexus between your job duties/work being performed and the degree required for the position when submitting your OPT Employment Updates.

Types of Employment on OPT:

  • Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers ("gigs"). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
  • Work for hire: This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program. A student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”) may be paid or unpaid.
  • Employment through an agency: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws such as volunteering for an otherwise paid position. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. 

PART 2: Apply for an I-20 with Recommendation for OPT by ISSS (Required)

  • Please note:  ISSS does not guarantee turnaround times; however, we strive to complete each request in the order that it is received and within 15 business days or within government deadlines.  You should plan to allow for and expect at least 15 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed. You will be notified by email when your I-20 is ready for pick up.  We cannot expedite requests.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: ISSS requires a draft of the I-765 to be submitted while requesting OPT, but do not file the Form I-765 online or through mail with USCIS until you have received your updated Form I-20 recommending OPT from the WVU ISSS office. Doing so will prove problematic and may lead to rejection or denial of your OPT.
  • If you are choosing to file online with USCIS, you should proceed with the online application process very carefully. The system allows you to submit your application online without all required evidence, which can lead to requests for evidence and additional difficulties. This means you must be very careful to ensure that everything is included before submitting the online application. Failing to submit all required documents or submitting your application to USCIS without the proper I-20 with recommendation from ISSS will lead to USCIS denying your application or a possible request for evidence. 
  • The general guidance that follows for a request for the I-20 and application to USCIS is not intended to be legal advice. It is simply general suggestions and directions for how you might proceed when completing the online or paper form I-765 application and is also intended to explain how to request an updated I-20 for application to USCIS from our office.
Steps To Request the Updated I-20

  • To request an updated I-20 with OPT recommendation from ISSS, please follow the steps below and start by collecting the documents listed in each step that need to be submitted to ISSS by following the link to log into your request portal below. 
  • Please be advised: You may begin the OPT process 90 days prior to your program completion date and no later than 60 days following the program completion date. We cannot process after the 60 days from the program end date and please be mindful of processing times.

    Warning: We cannot guarantee completion of requests placed for the OPT recommendation and updated I-20 with fewer than 15 days remaining until your 60 day grace period expires. You must ensure you place a timely request and allow at least 15 business days for processing.  Please e-mail if you have placed a request with fewer than 15 days remaining in your grace period to ask about the likelihood that your request can be processed based on work volume and others in queue to be processed. We will do our best to accommodate and process if possible. 
  • USCIS must also receive your application within 30 days of the recommendation placed in SEVIS or if the 60 day grace period expiration date falls within that 30 days, it must be received by the 60 day grace period expiration date. Typical processing times with USCIS can range from 2-3 months.  Please plan accordingly with any anticipated employment knowing ISSS and USCIS timelines for processing.
  • We cannot expedite requests, but do monitor for deadlines and attempt to process as quickly as possible.
  • Once an advisor is able to review your documents, they will reach out via email with any questions, concerns, or to let you know the status of the request. 
  • Please note: you will later mail or file online your complete application to USCIS after the new I-20 is issued from ISSS for OPT.

To make a request for an updated I-20 and recommendation in SEVIS for OPT in order to file with USCIS, please click on the following link to be directed to the student request portal login page > Apply for 12-month Post Completion OPT.

Once you are logged in, please go to "Requests and Documents" and select the "OPT Application" icon to begin. Please fill out all required info and answer all of the questionnaires. You will then need to provide to us via uploaded documents:

  1. completed draft of the I-765 for a courtesy review (this is a fillable PDF document; it is best if you fill it in and then print for legibility).  Be sure to use the form located on the USCIS website for the most current/appropriate version. If the wrong version is used, USCIS will deny the application, possibly resulting in a loss of F-1 status. 

    *Our review is to help with determining eligibility and we will let you know if we see any mistakes or items that need your attention before you are ready to submit the final version of the I-765 to USCIS. It is not an exhaustive review, only a courtesy, and you are responsible at the time of your application to USCIS to ensure that the I-765 is filled out correctly using the directions found on the USCIS site.
  2. Copies of any previous I-20 with an OPT recommendation and any previous CPT I-20s that have ever been issued to you. Please only submit copies of I-20s that include recommendations for the previous work authorizations above.
  3. Copies (in color) of your passport bio data page*, visa page**, and most recent admission stamp (see notes * & ** below).

    *A note about photocopies of biographical page(s) of the passport (with expiration date): If your passport will expire within 6 months from the time of filing your STEM OPT application with USCIS, you should renew it at an embassy or consulate of your country before you submit your STEM OPT application. If you have filed and waiting for passport renewal, please submit proof of renewal to ISSS so we can work on your request, but please note that approval of a fully submitted application to USCIS without a valid passport is up to the discretion of USCIS and we strongly recommend having a renewed passport prior to application.

    **A note about the photocopy of the most recent visa page: the visa can be expired and/or of a different visa category other than F.

  4. copy of your electronic I-94 (or front and back of old paper version). To obtain an electronic copy, please visit: and click on "Get most recent I-94" in the navigation bar at the top of the page.
  5. Additionally, an OPT electronic recommendation from your Academic Adviser or Department Chair would be needed.  To submit an electronic recommendation request, scroll down in your application to “Approver" section.  You may then add your academic advisor's name and e-mail and submit the recommendation to them when completing your request.  You will need to provide the correct advisor's name and email *(See below if you are a Statler or Chamber's College student)*.

    If the e-mail is incorrect, the request will not go through. We will not be able to receive or review of your OPT request until the recommendation is returned as it won't enter our queue and we will be unaware of the task. Please follow up with your advisor that you have listed to ensure completion. Once complete, the advisor will then send the electronic recommendation back to us for review and we can begin working on your OPT request.
*Statler College students only: For the Statler College of Engineering, you must submit this electronic recommendation  to Sarah Lowery – Program Coordinator,

*Chamber's College students Only: For the John Chambers College of Business & Economics, you must submit this electronic recommendation to Ryan Noon,

  6. Once you are finished, please be sure to click "Submit".

  • Our OPT Specialist/DSO will then review your request and documents within 15 business days and will contact you via mix e-mail once the request is complete with further information about accessing and printing your updated I-20 with the recommendation recorded on page 2 and with further directions for application to USCIS.
  • VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: You may not work on campus once you have completed your degree requirements (even if your I-20 has an estimated program end date in the future). The new program end date agreed upon with the approver (academic advisor) in your request and/or on your newly updated form I-20 with OPT recommendation is considered the definitive end date of your program and it is the last day you may work on campus. You will need to be fully aware of the date reported while ISSS works on your request. You will be taken off WVU payroll on this date. 

    You may not resume and work until you receive your EAD card from USCIS and not before the start date on the EAD card. Please remember, you must stop working by the end date on your newly updated OPT I-20 or on the course completion date provided by the approver.
  • Due to recent US Department of Homeland Security guidance, we cannot send or give I-20s to extended family members, friends, or third parties. They must sent or given directly to the primary beneficiary (F-1) or dependent (F-2) and will be sent electronically. 
  • Electronic I-20 issuance is now standard: Your updated I-20 that you will need to make application to USCIS can be accessed electronically and DHS has confirmed that an electronically signed and issued I-20 from a DSO is acceptable for application for the STEM Extension as long as the applicant has printed and signed/dated the updated I-20 in ink before sending it with the rest of their application.
Pick up, Domestic Mail, and Express Mail is Optional:

Electronic Delivery (Standard) - Issuance of the I-20 via electronic means for use in application to USCIS is now standard practice and is accepted by federal government agencies.  You will be notified via your MIX email about how to access, print, and sign your I-20 once your request is complete.  You still must print and sign your form I-20 once received electronically.

Print Copy (Optional)  -  If you need an original copy, please e-mail and provide your student ID and reason for the need for a paper copy. With electronic issuance of the I-20 now standard, other government agencies or entities should know to accept the electronically issued copy. Employers should accept it as well, but we do acknowledge that some employers' policies may require an ink signed copy.  Please provide evidence of this request from an employer with your e-mail. Otherwise, you will be directed to use your electronic copy.

Print Copy Domestic Mail (Optional) - If you wish to have the I-20 sent to you via domestic mail (no expense to you), please send us an email requesting this option to after you receive indication that your electronic I-20 is ready to access. Please be sure your mailing address is current by using a Contact Information Update Request and provide your student ID, and you must also provide a reason and evidence why you require a print copy when electronic copies are now standard (see above).  Otherwise, you will be directed to use your electronic copy. 

Please allow additional business days for processing and delivery by standard USPS first class mail.  

Express Mail (Optional) - For express mail (student pays expense), please follow the directions below. Please note: Do not go to the DHL or FedEx sites directly. Please be advised of the above and electronic copies are now standard and accepted by all government agencies.

  1. Log into your student request portal to check the status of your OPT application. Once the status shows, "Completed" you can request express mail. Do not pay for shipping before your status shows the request as "Completed."
  2. Go to and click on "Student Sign up" to create an account. When you are logged in, click on "Receive documents from university." Search for West Virginia University (or click on the state). Choose "International Students & Scholars Services (ISSS)." Fill out the required information, choose shipping preferences, and submit payment. 
  3. Once you have completed step 2, please be sure to email our office at to let us know that you have chosen express mail and we can then download the shipping information.

PART 3: Apply for OPT Work Authorization Card (EAD) with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Please note: Although our office works diligently to avoid errors, it is ultimately your responsibility to check your I-20 with OPT recommendation for errors before sending it to USCIS and ensure it is delivered in a timely manner.

You will need assemble an application packet to send to USCIS to get final approval for work authorization once ISSS is finished updating your I-20 and placing the recommendation in SEVIS through Part 2 above.  Please allow at least 2-3 months for USCIS to process the request (click here to check current USCIS processing times) and for the EAD card to be mailed back to you before you can begin working. Please see for the most current form I-765 and instructions.  

USCIS Premium Processing for the form I-765: USCIS offers premium processing for F-1 students with the form I-765. ISSS cannot advise if premium processing is right for you. Students applying are responsible for making this decision and it does come with an additional fee to USCIS. For information regarding the process, please visit USCIS news release page or the USCIS page specifically for directions for requesting premium processing: USCIS Premium Processing.

Filing the I-765 with USCIS is your responsibility and ISSS cannot help you file the form or send your application packet for you to USCIS. Though we are happy to assist with general questions, our guidance does not constitute legal advice for the OPT immigration benefit and is based on best practice and the information we have available. Our advice should be seen as general guidance only and you will be responsible for filing the application appropriately and following USCIS directions.

If needing further and complete advice for filing the I-765 and application packet with USCIS, please consult an immigration attorney, however, students typically choose to file on their own and reach out to for general guidance and with questions.

Along with most of the documents listed above for your application for an I-20 with recommendation for OPT, you will also need to prepare the following to send to USCIS while we are reviewing your application for your OPT I-20 as it will save you time once the I-20 is ready to be accessed. This guidance is for those mailing their application to USCIS, but please see the note below about online filing.  ISSS will also provide further information about mailing your application to USCIS in the e-mail indicating your request from Part 2 above has been finished. Please monitor your e-mail for updates to your OPT application request from ISSS and the deadline dates mentioned in the e-mail.
What you can prepare:
  • You must obtain two (2) identical color passport photos of yourself taken within 30 days of the filing of the OPT application to USCIS. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched. Please print your name on the back of the photos in pencil.
  • Secure of save the funds needed for the I-765 filing fee.
    • You may use check or money order for the correct amount, made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” OR  complete the form G-1450 to use a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Make sure the card has enough money to cover the fee. USCIS will reject your OPT application if the card is declined and  will not attempt to process your credit card payment a second time. 
    • Payment is to be made at the time of application to USCIS, not before. Please wait until your I-20 is ready and you have assembled your application materials to send to USCIS before reviewing payment options to send with your application.
  • Since ISSS does not have access to create an account to file online through USCIS, we cannot advise on online filing and the format, but many student choose this option and indicate that to us it is a simplified process.  It also allows for instant access to the filing receipt notice.  You will need to utilize the information and directions provided by USCIS for online filing to set up an account and you can find the link here:

Important Points to Remember During the USCIS Application Process:
  • Students may apply for Post Completion OPT between 90 days prior to his or her program end date and 60 days after (during the grace period) his or her program end date. All initial OPT applications must be accepted by USCIS no later than 60 days after the student’s program end date (before the grace period ends). Any applications that reach USCIS after the 60th day will not be accepted. More information about where to send your application once the I-20 is updated will follow in an e-mail from ISSS when Part 2 above is complete along with important deadline information and dates.
  • The student must complete all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent). Continued enrollment to complete dissertation/thesis work after all requirements for the degree have been met does not exclude eligibility for optional practical training.
  • Passport must be valid for at least six (6) months beyond requested OPT start date.
  • The OPT application package must reach the responsible USCIS office within 30 days after the DSO enters the recommendation into SEVIS. If not filing online, we also suggest that you forward your OPT application to USCIS via or with a service that provides guaranteed delivery by the date needed and/or tracking. 
  • Since ISSS does not have access to create an account to file online through USCIS, we cannot advise on online filing and the format.  You will need to utilize the information and directions provided by USCIS for online filing and you can find the link here:
  • If you have made a mistake on the USCIS application (I-765) resulting in an error on your EAD, you will need to reapply with USCIS. Depending on when you filed for OPT, this may result in your inability to receive OPT benefits - you may be denied and have to depart the US. Please fill out your application carefully and with attention to detail.  If you do need general guidance, you may e-mail, but please do so in a timely manner to ensure we can answer your questions prior to any deadlines.
  • If you must move before you receive your card in the mail, you must immediately :
    • Contact the USCIS office where you filed your application, using the customer service telephone number or directions to contact USCIS you will find on your receipt, and provide them with your new address AND  
      • update your address with ISSS here - Change of Address . 
      • Please note: The U.S. Postal Service will not forward your EAD card to your new address.
    • Typically, the student should contact USCIS about errors, concerns, or address updates. USCIS will not talk to a P/DSO about a student case.
    •  USCIS Contact Center:

Please see the "OPT Request Complete" e-mail sent to your WVU mix account from ISSS that will follow the completion of your OPT Application request for complete information about filing with USCIS and deadline dates.

PART 4: After you have been granted OPT by USCIS - Important Regulatory Requirements for Updates and Points to Remember

IMPORTANT: Please remember that your obligation to strictly comply with U.S. regulations and SEVP rules for your SEVIS record does not stop with the issuance of the OPT EAD card. In order for your SEVIS record to be kept up-to-date and your visa status valid throughout the OPT period, you MUST pay special attention to the following requirements:

  1. Unemployment - F-1 students on OPT may not remain unemployed for more than a total of 90 days out of a 12 month OPT period (or a combined total of 150 days out of a 36 month OPT period with STEM extension). The days of unemployment will start on the start date of your OPT card, or the day the OPT is approved (whichever is later) if you are not employed. All OPT employment must be in a job that is related to the student’s degree program. Failure to secure employment related to your major and/or to report initial OPT employment to ISSS within 90 days (for post-completion OPT) after the start date on your EAD card may result in auto-termination of your SEVIS record by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, aggregate days of unemployment that exceed 90 days for post-completion OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT, may also result in auto-termination of your SEVIS record.
  2. EAD Card - Provide a scanned copy of your EAD card (front and back) by submitting an OPT Employment Update. You may submit this during a standard update to report employment or submit a new OPT Employment Update with the card as soon as you have it. You must notify ISSS of any change in your employment contact information throughout your 12 month OPT by using an OPT Employment Update request each time there are changes to your employment. Changes to your employment should be reported by regulation within 10 days of the change.
  3. OPT Employment Updates - To avoid exceeding your unemployment days and/or to meet regulatory requirements for keeping your SEVIS record up to date, you must report employment to the ISSS office.  You will receive an email from the SEVP Portal, however, we strongly discourage the use of the portal as the sole means of updating your employment and information in SEVIS. Even if you have access to and update your information yourself in the SEVP portal, U.S. regulations still require that you must update your employment with the ISSS office to ensure it is entered correctly in SEVIS as we are required to assist in maintaining your record.

    Once you begin working, you must submit all employment updates through an OPT Employment Update request within the first 10 days.  You can do so by using the OPT Employment Update request after logging in to the student request portal and going to "Requests and Documents". There you will see an icon for the OPT Employment Update and by clicking on it, you may begin providing the information needed. Please remember to click "Submit" when finished. You must provide the following as we cannot update your SEVIS record and you will be out of compliance if the following are not provided:
    • A brief, but thorough, description of your job duties and how theses job duties relate to the degree required.  Simply saying that you have a degree in "X" and the job or research requires this degree is not enough.  You also must explain further any research being done and how it relates to your degree if applicable for that type of position
    • Employer Name - This is not your supervisor name or researcher name who you work with, but the actual employer/company name.
    • Job Title - Your title or role with the employer/company
    • Start date of employment. Please also include the end date of employment if known. Please remember that you cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment from the start date of your EAD card and 90 days aggregate unemployment while on OPT.
    • Employer Identification Number (EIN) - Highly Recommend in SEVIS. This is also known as the employer/company federal tax identification number and is used to identify a business entity for tax purposes.  Please ask your employer to provide this number to you for SEVIS reporting purposes to the U.S. government.
    • Indicate your hours as full-time (20 or more hours) or part-time (fewer than 20 hours). To count as valid OPT employment, you must cumulatively have 20 or more hours of employment.

      OPT regulations state that: "A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week."
    • U.S. Physical Address for your employment - Please provide the proper street and number, city, state, and zip code for your place of employment where you will be physically working.  This is required by SEVP/ICE for site visits that are within their regulatory authority if needed.
    • Supervisor Contact Information - It is recommended in SEVIS to provide the full name, phone number, and e-mail address of your supervisor.  If the supervisor does not have a direct e-mail or phone number, a company phone or e-mail where they can be reached is acceptable. 
    IMPORTANT: If you start new employment, need to update us about existing employment, or end employment, you MUST notify ISSS of any change in your employment by providing the information above in separate OPT Employment Update requests. Please remember that changes to your employment should be reported by regulation within 10 days of the change.
  4. Changes to your U.S. Physical Address - If you move to a new address, it is important that you complete a new Contact Information Update request to our office by logging in to the student request portal and going to "Requests and Documents". There you will see an icon for the Contact Information Update and by clicking on it, you may begin providing the new address. Please remember to click "Submit" when finished.  This action must be taken within 10 days of moving to the new address.
  5. Travel while on OPT - If you need to travel outside of the U.S., you must be sure to obtain a travel signature from ISSS. A travel signature from our office is good for up to six months. Please contact our office at least 2 weeks in advance in case you need the signature re-validated.

    Travel Endorsements on the OPT I-20 can be issued electronically and you can request a Travel Endorsement by logging into your student request portal, going to "Requests and Documents", clicking on the Travel Endorsement icon, provide the required info and documents, and remember to click "Submit" when complete. A DSO will provide the endorsement and updated signatures and contact you via e-mail to let you know when finished and how to access, print, and sign the updated I-20 for travel. Please allow at least a week's time for processing, but ISSS strives to complete these requests as soon as possible.

    Please note that travelling while your OPT application is pending with USCIS is not recommended as you must have the EAD card in hand if approved prior to you returning to the U.S. and even if not approved yet, travel while the OPT application in pending can be problematic at the U.S. border. If you have any questions about travel while on OPT or while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, please let us know by e-mailing so we can inform you of your options and things to consider.
  6. Changing visa status while on OPT - If you change visa status (e.g. F-1 to F-2), please provide ISSS with a copy of your approval notice through an immigration status update request by logging into your student request portal, going to "Requests and Documents", clicking on the Immigration Status Update icon, provide the required info and documents, and remember to click "Submit" when complete.
  7. Completing or discontinuing your OPT - If you have completed your OPT and/or plan to return to your home country and discontinue OPT, please e-mail us at to let us know and confirm in your e-mail that you are finished with OPT or ending your OPT and returning to your home country. We will then need to work to complete your SEVIS record as required.
Disclaimer: Please understand that ISSS is able to provide you with general guidance, however, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on our website or informational packets, do not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, the USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. The ISSS office at WVU will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.

PART 5: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

A. Optional Practical Training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your program of study to work in your major field. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The authorization process can take up to 3 months. The maximum amount of time granted to work in F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level (undergraduate, masters and doctoral) with the possibility of a 24-month extension for those in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related fields who qualify.

It is highly recommended to use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during your course of study and save all 12 months for post-completion OPT. Students may apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before completion of studies and up to 60 days after the program completion date.

Students MUST file their application with USCIS  within 30 days of getting the new OPT recommendation I-20 Form from ISSS.

Q. What are the program completion date guidelines?

A. For students who are registered full or part time, and/or students who have Graduate Assistantship positions, the program completion date will typically be the last day of finals in the semester of OPT application.

  • Important Note For Graduate Students:

    Graduate students who have completed all degree required coursework except their thesis/dissertation may apply for post-completion OPT. These students may choose to apply for post-completion OPT based on the date coursework is finished for their degree (usually the last day of finals for a semester) and use the period of OPT application/approval to enroll and complete thesis/dissertation work only. Student MUST be finished with coursework to use this option.

    Alternatively, students who are finished with degree required coursework may choose to continue to be enrolled in credits deemed full-time per their academic department to finish their thesis/dissertation and then elect to apply for post-completion OPT based on the use of their published defense date as the program end date.

The recommended employment start date must be after the student's program completion date and no later than the end of his or her 60 day grace period.

Q. Who is eligible for OPT?

A. To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must: (1) have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, and (2) be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, (3) have not used OPT at the same degree level previously, and (4) not have engaged in more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during the current degree level.

Q. If I complete one degree program, use 12 months of practical training, and then begin a second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training?

A.Yes, but only at a higher degree level.

Q. Do I have to use the entire 12-month OPT period at once, or may I use it in increments?

After completion of studies it may only be used as a single block of time. It is highly recommended that student use the CPT option prior to program completion and save all 12 months for post-completion OPT. 

Q. May I save any of my unused post-completion OPT eligibility and use it at a later time?

A. No. Once you apply for post-completion OPT, the OPT work eligibility for that degree ends. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.

Q. What immigration status do I have during OPT?

A. A student with OPT authorization is still an F-1 student holding an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card for OPT.

Q. When can I start working under OPT?

A. Work only after you receive the OPT EAD card issued by the USCIS, and the effective start date listed on the employment document has been reached.

Q. How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?

A. Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and processing can take up to 2-3 months ( Therefore it is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working. You may apply up to 90 days before completion of studies and no later than 60 days after. You must file your application with USCIS within 30 days of receiving the new OPT Form I-20 from ISSS.

Q. Do I need to have a job or job offer to apply for OPT?

A. No.

Q. Form I-765:

  • A. Question 3: Address 
    • This is where USCIS will send correspondence and the EAD card. You should provide an address that will not be changing for at least 3-4 months. This is very important as moving or providing the wrong address can create complications and delays in your ability to begin your OPT and possibly the need to reach USCIS to indicate the change.
  • A. Question 10: 
    • Filled-in to represent your most recent I-94 number. If you do not have an I-94 card, you should be able to retrieve this number at

Q. What can I do if I’ve been waiting more than 90 days for my OPT authorization?

A. You can always check your case status online at the USCIS website  Case Status Online. OPT applications typically remain in “Initial Review Status” until approved. Applications cannot be expedited by USCIS as they do not currently have an option to request expedited review of the I-765..

Q. May I cancel my OPT application once I have applied?

A. Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn and the recommendation in SEVIS be cancelled, but only if you have recently mailed it to USCIS and it has not been approved. Contact your International Student Advisor in ISSS as soon as possible if you need to cancel the OPT application with your reason(s) for cancellation and what your next plans are which may include exiting the U.S. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be cancelled or withdrawn. Please e-mail if needed.

Q. Do I need to have a job during the Post-Completion OPT period?

A. Yes. The regulation requires students to have employment while on OPT after completion of studies. Students are only allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment in the 12 month period of OPT or 120 days total if working with the 24-month STEM extension. During the entire OPT period, students must update ISSS with employment information through an OPT Employment Update

Q. Does the job I have while on OPT have to be paid employment, or can it be unpaid?

A. For the first 12 month period of post-completion OPT, the employment does NOT have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment reporting  as long as this practice does not violate any labor laws and they work in the unpaid position for an average of at least 20 hours per week. The principal federal labor law concerned with "unpaid" positions (there are state laws too) is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which at its core requires individuals performing work to be paid for their services. Students should keep documentation for all unpaid employment positions. For the 24-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.

Q. Can I begin working before I receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

A. No! Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the United States.

Q. What happens if I receive my updated I-20 and recommendation in SEVIS from ISSS but cannot/have not applied by the 30 day deadline to file with USCIS after the recommendation is made and I am still within my 60 day grace period to file for OPT?

A. You may still be able to apply with a new recommendation and form I-20.  You should e-mail immediately to let us know of the situation, so we can look at your record, cancel the original recommendation, and assess whether you are still eligible to apply. If we can issue the updated form I-20 with recommendation in a reasonable time frame for you to still apply for OPT, we will do so as quickly as possible.

Q. What happens if I receive my updated I-20 and recommendation in SEVIS from ISSS, but never apply to USCIS and I know I am past all deadlines to apply or re-request a new recommendation?

A. You will need to e-mail to let us know, but SEVP requires that we cancel the OPT recommendation in SEVIS once this information is known.  Your SEVIS record will typically be auto-completed the following day by SEVP after we cancel the OPT recommendation in SEVIS and you will be required to depart the U.S. immediately as you will no longer have a status in the U.S.

Q. What should I do once I receive the EAD card in the mail?

A. You can now start your OPT employment on the the start date indicated on your EAD card. Keep your EAD card in a safe place and send ISSS a scanned copy of the front/back of the card through an OPT Employment Update to keep in your student file. Be sure to report your employment information to ISSS using the student request portal and selecting:  OPT Employment Update (formerly OPT Compliance Form)

Q. Do I have to do anything with ISSS during Post-Completion OPT?

A. Yes! Immigration regulations REQUIRE that while on POST-completion OPT (after graduation), you MUST report employment and address changes to ISSS. You will need to request a travel signature every six months if you plan to travel outside the United States and return in F-1 status and must report to ISSS if you choose to end your OPT period early for any reason. It is in your best interest so as to keep your SEVIS record accurate and current at all times.

Q. What if I lose my EAD?

A. If you lose your EAD, you will need to submit a new application and new fee to USCIS before changing employers during the approved OPT period. The new EAD card will also be necessary as a reentry document after any travel abroad. Please e-mail if you've lost your EAD and are in need of further help.

Q. What happens if I exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?

A. After 90 days of unemployment, an F-1 student in the post-completion period loses valid immigration status. Students are encouraged to depart the United States or change status prior to the 90 day expiry. Students who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit may be denied future immigration benefits. Your SEVIS record could also be auto-completed.

Q. May I take classes during OPT?

A. If you had intended to graduate, but have not yet completed your thesis/dissertation, you can continue to register until you finish the thesis/dissertation requirement. In this case, you would still remain subject to the 90-day unemployment rule.

Beginning a new course of study will automatically cancel your OPT authorization. Transferring to a new institution or changing your educational level will also automatically cause the cancellation of your OPT authorization. ISSS does not recommend taking a class or classes (even part-time) that may later be used to satisfy new program degree requirements.  You may only take courses that are "incident to status" meaning that they are non-degree pursuant and you remain part-time. Vocational classes may be taken during OPT.

Q. Can I change employers during OPT?

A. Yes. As long as the employment is directly related to your field of study, you can work for any and all employers you would like. You will need to update your employment via an  OPT Employment Update any time you have new employment, there are changes to existing employment, or when you end employment.  

Q. How do I renew my driver's license while on OPT?

A. You may need to wait until the start date on your EAD is current before you can renew your driver’s license. Please e-mail with questions or submit a Good Standing Letter request via the student request portal in order for us to determine eligibility and provide guidance.  Even if we can issue a Good Standing Letter stating your situation with OPT, it is ultimately up to the DMV to determine if they will issue or renew a driver's license.

Q. Can I extend my OPT after the 12 months?

A. There are two types of extensions available after completion of the initial OPT period: (1) a 24-month extension for those in certain STEM fields. A list of approved STEM programs is available at:  STEM Program List (2) An “H-1B Cap Gap Extension” which extends work authorization through to the start of your cap-subject H-1B visa. If your OPT ends after your employer has applied for an H-1B but before the H-1B starts on October 1st, a cap gap extension is possible.  Speak with an International Student Advisor for guidance at

Q. How long can I stay in the U.S. after my post-completion OPT end date?

A. There is a 60-day grace period following the end of the OPT period. The grace period is only applicable for those who have not exceeded the 90 days of unemployment during the OPT period or the 150 aggregate days (maximum of 90 for OPT + maximum of 60 during STEM) of unemployment during the STEM extension.