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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is the opportunity for F-1 visa holders to engage in employment directly related to their academic degree field. The application for OPT is a two-fold process and begins with authorization by the Whitworth Office of International Education and then is formally adjudicated by the U.S. government agency USCIS.

Eligibility

You must meet the following requirements before applying for OPT:

  • You are currently in valid F-1 status
  • You have not been authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • You do not need a job offer before applying. You can apply for OPT authorization while you are still searching for a job.
  • You are in the final semester of your degree program.

OPT Hours

OPT authorization is for 12 full months. You are allowed to engage in employment for any of the following:

  • Part-time (20 hours per week or less)
  • Full-time (more than 20 hours per week)
  • Combination of part-time and full-time

OPT Start Date

You will need to determine what start date you would like for your OPT. Consider the following:

  • The "start date" is not necessarily the date when you begin working at your job. The start date is the date when your 12 months of OPT authorization begins. Think of it like a 12-month countdown; the "start date" is when the clock starts ticking down.
  • You cannot begin work earlier than the chosen start date, but you can start work on or after the start date.
  • Your requested start date must be within 60 days after the "Program End Date" listed on your I-20. For example, if your I-20 Program End Date is May 15, your start date can be no later than July 15.
  • It is not likely that you will be able to change your requested OPT start date after you have mailed your application to the U.S. government (USCIS).

How to Apply

Step 1: Meet with an International Student Advisor 

It is important that you understand the process and requirements of OPT before beginning. Email iss@whitworth.edu to request an OPT advising session with an international student advisor to begin.

Step 2: Request an OPT I-20

When you are ready to officially begin your OPT application, contact us (iss@whitworth.edu) to request your OPT I-20. An international student advisor will review your eligibility and produce your new I-20 document which endorses your eligibility for OPT.

  • Once your OPT I-20 is issued, you must apply for OPT (submit your online application) within 30 days.

Step 3: Create an Online Account with USCIS

Before applying for OPT, you must create an online account with USCIS.

Step 4: Complete Online OPT Application

USCIS has implemented an online application process.

  1. Once you have created your online USCIS account, go to your account homepage and click on "File a Form Online."
  2. The OPT application form is Form I-765.
  3. USCIS has provided general tips for filing online here: https://www.uscis.gov/file-online/tips-for-filing-forms-online.
  4. Complete all sections of Form I-765 (use this Sample Form I-765 as a guide).
  5. Upload all required evidence/supporting documents. The online system may request the following documents:
    1. Completed Form I-765
    2. Photocopy of OPT I-20 (make sure you have signed it)
    3. Photocopy of passport
    4. Photocopy of F-1 visa
    5. Printout of your I-94 record
    6. Two passport-size photos (2-by-2-inch photos; available at Walgreens)

Step 5: Submit Application and Pay Fee

  • Once you have completed the online I-765 form and uploaded all required documents, sign and submit the application.
  • Pay the online OPT filing fee. You will be directed to pay the fee automatically and can pay by credit card, debit card or bank account. The current fee amount is $410 (subject to change).

Important Notes

  • Check your email regularly, as USCIS may contact you to request additional information. They should also send you an email confirming receipt of your application.
  • You can check the status of your application by going to your USCIS account.

After Your Application is Approved

USCIS will email you once your application processing is complete and approved. USCIS will then mail you your EAD card (employment authorization document).
You may NOT begin work until you receive your EAD card.

Reporting Requirement: Your OPT Employer

You are required to notify the international education office (iss@whitworth.edu) once you receive a job offer for OPT and begin work. Our office must update the U.S. government system with your OPT employer information.

  • If you do not report your OPT employer information, the U.S. government will terminate your immigration record 90 days after your OPT start date.

Travel & OPT

For travel during your final semester after you have applied for OPT:

  • You may travel just like normal during this period. You will use your "OPT I-20" and ensure that you have a valid travel signature on page 2 of the I-20. It does not matter if your OPT status is pending or approved, as long as your travel occurs prior to the "Program End Date" listed on your I-20.

For travel after graduation while your OPT application is still pending:

  • You may travel and reenter the U.S. after graduation while your OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer. You must carry your OPT receipt notice from USCIS, your OPT I-20 and your regular travel documents (passport, visa).
  • Important: After your OPT is approved, you must have proof of employment and your EAD card in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD card, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.
  • Important: You must have a valid F-1 visa to travel outside the U.S. during the OPT year. It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.

For travel after you graduate and your OPT application is approved:

  • After your graduation, OPT has been approved and EAD card issued, you can travel and reenter the U.S. only if you have proof of employment.
  • You must carry the following documents when you travel:
    • OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature
    • Proof of employment (letter of employment, written job offer)
    • EAD card
    • Passport
    • Valid (unexpired) F-1 visa

Social Security Number (SSN)

International students employed in the U.S. must have a Social Security number in order to be paid.

How to Apply

  1. Once you are offered a job for your OPT, print your official job offer letter from your employer.
  2. Apply in person at the local Social Security Administration office.
    Address: 714 N Iron Bridge Way, Suite #100, Spokane, WA 99202
    (Contact office to verify operating hours: 800.772.1213.)
  3. Documents to bring:

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT extension allows students with science, technology, engineering or math degrees to apply to extend their OPT authorization for an additional 24 months.

Eligibility

You must meet the following requirements for STEM OPT Extension:

  • You are in valid F-1 status
  • You are currently working under approved OPT
  • You have a bachelor’s degree or higher in an eligible STEM field
  • You have a paid job offer that meets the following requirements:
    • Your job is with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program. Ask you employer if you are unsure if they are in the E-Verify program.
    • Your job is at least 20 hours a week
    • Your job relates directly to your earned degree field

When To Apply for STEM OPT Extension

USCIS must receive your online application for STEM OPT Extension before your current 12-month OPT expiration date listed on your EAD card. You may apply as early as 90 days before your current EAD card expiration date.

How To Apply For STEM OPT Extension

Step 1: Confirm your Current OPT Information

If your current OPT employment, job title, personal mailing address or phone number has changed since you began OPT, you must email iss@whitworth.edu to inform us of the changed information. If nothing has changed since you began your OPT, proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Request a STEM OPT I-20

When you are ready to begin your STEM OPT application, contact our office (iss@whitworth.edu) to request your STEM OPT I-20. Before our office can issue you this I-20, you must complete and submit to us the following document:

Step 3: Complete Online STEM OPT Application

You will use the same online application system that you used to apply for OPT. If you applied by mail for OPT and did not use the online system, please follow the instructions under "Step 3" above to create an online account with USCIS.

  1. Once you have created your online USCIS account, go to your account homepage and click on "File a Form Online."
  2. The STEM OPT application form is Form I-765.
  3. USCIS has provided general tips for filing online here: https://www.uscis.gov/file-online/tips-for-filing-forms-online
  4. Complete all sections of Form I-765 (use this Sample STEM OPT Form I-765 as a guide).
  5. Upload all required evidence/supporting documents. The online system may request the following documents:
    1. Completed Form I-765
    2. Photocopy of STEM OPT I-20 (make sure you have signed it)
    3. Photocopy of passport
    4. Photocopy of F-1 visa
    5. Printout of your I-94 record
    6. Two passport-size photos (2-by-2-inch photos; available at Walgreens)

Step 5: Submit Application & Pay Fee

  • Once you have completed the online I-765 form and uploaded all required documents, sign and submit the application.
  • Pay the online STEM OPT filing fee. You will be directed to pay the fee automatically and can pay by credit card, debit card or bank account. The current fee amount is $410 (subject to change).

Important Notes

  • Check your email regularly, as USCIS may contact you to request additional information. They should also send you an email confirming receipt of your application.
  • You can check the status of your application by going to your USCIS account.

After Your Application is Approved

USCIS will email you once your application processing is complete and approved. USCIS will then mail you your EAD card (employment authorization document).
You may NOT begin work until you receive your EAD card.

 

Frequently Asked Questions