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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

Important: Do not start any OPT employment until you receive official authorization from USCIS and your EAD card.

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 (mail your documents to USCIS) within 30 days.

Step 3: Complete Your OPT Application

You will need the following documents to apply for OPT:

  • Form I-765 (use the following Sample Form I-765 as a guide)
  • Photocopy of OPT I-20
  • If you have done CPT, include a photocopy of the CPT I-20 you were previously issued. If you have not previously done CPT, you do not need to include copies of former I-20s.
  • Passport photocopy (color or black and white)
  • F-1 visa photocopy (color or black and white)
  • Two passport-size photos (official, 2"x2" passport photos)
  • Printout of your I-94 record
  • Pay OPT Filing Fee ($410.00)*
    • Check/Money Order: Include in your packet of materials a check or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
    • Credit Card: Use Form G-1450 to pay via credit card (include this completed form in your packet of materials)
    • Important: The filing fee is currently $410.00 but will change to $550.00 beginning Oct. 2, 2020.

Step 4: Mail in Your Application Documents

Other Important Notes

  • Once your OPT I-20 is issued, you must mail your entire application packet within 30 days
  • Your application packet must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the Program End Date listed on your I-20
  • Late applications will be denied by USCIS

We recommend shipping through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Mail your application packet with all of the required documents listed above to the following address:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

After You Mail Your OPT Application to USCIS

USCIS will send you a notice via email confirming their receipt of your OPT application and assign you a receipt date and case number. You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. It is normal for your case status to say "Case Received" for the majority of the 2-4 month processing period.

If you receive an RFE (Request for Evidence), a returned application or a denied application, notify the international education office immediately.

Once officially approved, USCIS will update your case to "Approved" and will mail you an EAD card. You may begin work once 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 (SEVIS) 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 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 Your STEM OPT Application

You will need the following documents to apply for STEM OPT:

  • Form I-765 (use the following Sample Form I-765 for STEM OPT as a guide)
  • Photocopy of STEM OPT I-20
  • Photocopy of your original OPT I-20
  • If you have done CPT, include a photocopy of the CPT I-20 you were previously issued. If you have not previously done CPT, you do not need to include copies of former I-20s.
  • Photocopy of your current EAD card (front and back)
  • Passport photocopy (color or black and white)
  • Two passport-size photos (official, 2" x 2" passport photos)
  • Printout of your I-94 record
  • Pay STEM OPT Filing Fee ($550.00)
    • Check/Money Order: Include in your packet of materials a check or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
    • Credit Card: Use Form G-1450 to pay via credit card (include this completed form in your packet of materials)

Step 4: Mail in Your Application Documents

We recommend shipping through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Mail your application packet with all of the required documents listed above to the following address:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

Frequently Asked Questions