Do NOT file an I-765 application for OPT online with USCIS before you have the new I-20 issued by your CGE advisor showing the recommendation for OPT. USCIS cannot approve an application that was submitted online before you have the new I-20!
What is Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Post-Completion OPT is a benefit of F-1 status that allows F-1 students to obtain work authorization for full-time employment in their field of study for up to 12 months after completion of a degree or, for graduate students, after completion of all degree requirements except for a graduate thesis, dissertation, or equivalent. OPT employment MUST be in the field of the degree and initial employment may begin only after a student applies to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card).
In order to be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must meet the following criteria:
- Valid F-1 status
- Completion of at least 1 academic year of full-time study in the U.S. (a fall and spring semester)
- Enrollment in final semester of study or, if a graduate student, completion of all degree requirements except for dissertation, thesis, or equivalent
- Present in the U.S.
- Full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization has not exceeded 12 months full-time (in aggregate) and student has not used 12 months of full-time, pre-completion OPT
- USCIS cannot receive the application (with the new I-20 showing the CGE advisor’s recommendation) more than 90 days prior to graduation/completion date.
- USCIS must receive application (with the new I-20 showing the CGE advisor’s recommendation) no later than 60 days after graduation.
- CGE advisor recommendation for OPT must not be older than 30 days when USCIS receives the application.
- Graduate students who have completed all degree requirements except for dissertation, thesis, or equivalent: Discuss timing with your CGE advisor.
You may not apply if you left the U.S. after graduation without applying. Your grace period is over and you may not return to the U.S. in F-1 status unless you are returning to begin a new program.
Application Process (read all instructions before starting)
1. Required: Register and attend an OPT Workshop.
Do not register for more than one workshop. If you need to cancel your attendance, sign in again, click on the workshop, then click on “Cancel Registration” at the bottom of the page.
2. Submit CGE's Application for OPT I-20:
- Download and complete the forms listed below:
- OPT Request & Department Recommendation (must have academic department advisor’s signature unless you have graduated)
- OPT Acknowledgment of Responsibilities
- Instructions for Handling USCIS Mail (if using CGE address)
- I-765 DRAFT Follow the I-765 instructions at the link on the USCIS website https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 (Click on the view draft snapshot to print a .pdf of your completed form.)
- Log into Nole Start at https://istart.fsu.edu
- Go to F-1 Student Services
- Choose "Submit Forms/Applications"
- In the drop-down menu, select "OPT Request"
- Upload all the required forms
DO NOT SUBMIT AN INCOMPLETE APPLICATION OR YOU WILL DELAY PROCESSING! You can save a draft if you upload some forms and need more time to complete the application.
3. While waiting for the CGE to process your request, you can prepare all the additional documents needed for your application to USCIS (see section below). Do NOT file an online I-765 with USCIS before receiving your new I-20 with your CGE advisor’s recommendation for OPT!
4. After reviewing your application, your advisor will email you instructions and a new I-20 with the recommendation for OPT
5. You can file your I-765 online with USCIS or send it to USCIS by mail. https://www.uscis.gov/i-765
6. USCIS will send an I-797 Receipt Notice to the address you used on your I-765. If you used the CGE address, the CGE will email you a copy of the receipt. USCIS also sends you an electronic notification of receipt.
7. USCIS will send an I-797 Approval Notice and an Employment Authorization Document/EAD to the address you used on your I-765. Check USCIS processing times at https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. If you used the CGE address, the CGE will notify you when the EAD arrives. You can pick it up at the CGE or follow instructions to set up a courier shipment through eShip.
- Go to study.eshipglobal.com to log in or create a free account.
- Click on the “OPT Application” image or the “Send Packages to USCIS” button.
- Enter your sender address and select the appropriate USCIS location as the recipient. You can refer to this link if you would like to double check the service center. [Find the correct lockbox and the relevant address here (look under “Foreign Students”).
- On the University Information, Search for Florida State University (for an additional 10% discount on already discounted pricing). You will select the service option and make a payment.
- Print your label, attach it to the shipping envelope. You can either schedule a free pick up from your location by clicking on “Schedule Pick Up” or you can drop off your package at the nearest carrier location. If you don’t have an envelope, you can get one free of charge at the nearest shipping carrier location.
If you have any questions or concerns around this mailing option or need further assistance with shipment creation, pick up or delivery, please reach out directly to UEMS support team (email@example.com) for immediate assistance.
Additional Documents You Will Need for Your Application (Do not submit to CGE)
- Two recent passport-style photographs: Follow this example (you will upload photos if you file online)
- Copy of most recent I-94: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home#section
- Copy of your passport biographic data page
- Copies of previous I-20s issued for OPT or CPT, plus copies of any previous EAD cards
- Fee payment. You can use a credit card if you file online. If you choose to submit a paper application, you will send a check or money order for the current application fee: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765
- Form G-1145 if you are filing by mail: https://www.uscis.gov/g-1145
- Check your Case Status Using your I-797 Receipt number: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do
- SEVP Portal Help Videos: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/sevp-portal-help
- SEVP Portal User Guide: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/assets/sevp_portal_student_user_guide.pdf
- USCIS Online Filing Tips: https://www.uscis.gov/file-online/tips-for-filing-forms-online
- CGE video which discusses the process of completing the I-765 form for OPT
- Written instructions to help you with the I-765 application
What are the requirements for OPT employment?
- Your job duties must be directly related to your current/most recent field of study
- Work should be appropriate for your level of study or degree obtained
- Work must be full-time (20 or more hours/week is full-time for OPT purposes)
- Special exception during pandemic – 20 hours or more not required
- Work can be regular employment, a paid or unpaid internship, volunteer work, artistic performance, or self-employment. (see question regarding self-employment)
- You can have multiple employers concurrently or change employers during the 12-month period
What about unemployment? How much is allowed and how does USCIS count it?
- You may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the 12-month OPT period. If you exceed 90 days of unemployment your F-1 status is no longer valid.
- Days of unemployment start accumulating from the OPT start date on your EAD card. The “clock” stops when you report employment in the SEVP Portal and starts again when you end a job. You must report the end of your employment in the Portal. The “clock” will stop again when you find new employment and enter the start date in the Portal.
What are the OPT reporting requirements?
- While on OPT you are REQUIRED to report ALL changes regarding:
- Personal information (legal name, address, email address, etc.)
- Employment or Unemployment status (employment start/end date, company information, position etc.)
- Except for requesting a change in the email address in SEVIS or a legal name change, FSU requires you to make your own updates through the SEVP Portal. You will receive an email from Do-Not-Reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov on the start date of the Employment Authorization start date or soon after. You must follow the instructions to create your SEVP Portal account.
What about travel during OPT?
You may travel abroad during OPT but you must have all the required documents:
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry
- Valid F-1 visa (unless automatic revalidation of a visa applies) https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-1218?language=en_US
- OPT I-20 signed for travel (travel signature must not be older than 6 months at time of re-entry)
- EAD card
- Job offer or proof of employment in the U.S.
Travel while your OPT application is pending is NOT recommended. If you choose to travel abroad, you should carry all the required travel documents and your OPT receipt. Your eligibility for travel and re-entry in F-1 status ends at the end of the OPT period (not the grace period).
Can I work on campus after graduation, while waiting for my EAD?
You are not eligible to work on campus after graduation. You are not authorized to work anywhere until you have the EAD issued by USCIS.
How many times am I eligible for OPT?
You can be eligible for 12 months of OPT after each higher degree level. You must use it after completing each level. You cannot accumulate OPT time.
I completed a PhD program and a year of OPT. Now I want to enroll in a master’s program. Am I eligible for OPT after the completion of my Master’s degree?
No, if you used OPT at the doctoral level, you cannot use it after a degree at a lower degree level.
I didn’t apply for OPT after I completed my Bachelor’s degree and I enrolled directly in a Master’s program. Can I obtain 12 months of OPT for my Master’s and 12 months of OPT for my previous Bachelor’s?
No, Post-Completion OPT must be used at the end of each degree level. If you don’t use OPT after a degree level, you forfeit it.
I am considering completing two degrees at the same level. Can I split Post-Completion OPT between the two degrees?
Combining or splitting Post-Completion OPT is complicated, requires planning in advance, and USCIS may not approve it. Talk to your CGE advisor.
When can I begin my Post-Completion OPT work?
You may not begin employment until you have your EAD and the authorization dates are current.
I have found a job related to my minor or a certificate I completed while working on my degree. May I accept this offer?
No. Employment must be related to your major.
How are days of unemployment counted?
The days of unemployment start accumulating from the OPT start date on your EAD card. The “clock” stops when you report employment in the SEVP Portal and starts again when you end a job. You must report the end of your employment in the Portal. The “clock” will stop again when you find new employment and enter the start date in the Portal.
Can I study during OPT?
USCIS authorized OPT for employment in your field of study. You may engage in part-time, non-degree “incidental” study. Regulations at 8 CFR 21.2(f)(10)(ii)(B) state: Termination of practical training. Authorization to engage in optional practical training employment is automatically terminated when the student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level.
How do I keep track my employment if I am volunteering or working on gigs?
You should keep a journal with your projects and hours worked, so you can prove that you are meeting OPT employment requirements. Ask your supervisor for a letter confirming the dates, hours worked, and duties when you finish the experience. If you are volunteering, the letter should also confirm that the work would not normally be paid.
May I be self-employed while on OPT?
SEVP issued Policy Guidance 1004-03 that states: “A student on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. 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.”
What should I do if I have OPT but decide to leave the U.S. if I am reaching 90 days of unemployment or if I decide to leave my job and move outside the U.S?
You should contact your CGE advisor to let them know that you are leaving the U.S. and, if employed, enter the end date of employment in the SEVP Portal. Your CGE advisor can end your SEVIS record so that days of unemployment do not accumulate, giving the appearance in SEVIS that you have violated your F-1 status.
I was granted OPT but decided to start a new academic program. Can I end my OPT early?
Yes, you can stop your OPT at any time to start a new academic program. You will lose the remaining unused OPT time. Talk to your CGE advisor about timing. You must have maintained your F-1 status to be eligible to begin the new program (you haven’t exceeded 90 days of unemployment).