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After graduation, F-1 students may be eligible to work in the U.S. to gain practical experience related to their field of study. Please review the information below and begin preparing now for your post-graduation options.

Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is F-1 employment authorization for off-campus work that is directly related to your major field of study.

Below are a number of guidelines and requirements to keep in mind about OPT:

  • Post-completion OPT is available AFTER completion of studies (Commencement)
  • OPT start date (chosen by you) must fall within the 60-day grace period after Commencement
  • OPT employment must be directly related to your field of study and pursued ‘full-time’ (at least 20 hours per week)
  • No job offer is needed to apply for OPT; however, from the start of OPT, students may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment
  • What counts as ‘employment’ for the purposes of OPT is fairly flexible (for example, internships, self-employment, unpaid work all ‘count’ as work on Post-Completion OPT)
  • Post-Completion OPT is authorized for up to 12 months of full-time employment, ending no later than one year after the end of the original 60-day grace period
  • Students are eligible for OPT only after having been in F-1 status and studying full-time for at least one academic year  

Review the following deadlines and considerations to time your OPT application accordingly:

  • Students should plan at least two weeks for preparing OPT materials, requesting an OPT I-20 from OIP, and submitting the OPT application to USCIS.
  • USCIS must receive the OPT application within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance (**if you are delayed in submitting your application to USCIS, please contact OIP to request a new OPT I-20 rather than risk OPT denial**)
  • The earliest USCIS will accept an OPT application is 90 days before Commencement; the latest USCIS will accept an OPT application is 60 days after Commencement (and again, within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance).
  • Students are encouraged to start the OPT application process as early as possible due to lengthy USCIS processing times. The OPT approval process typically takes around 3 months, though USCIS updates their processing time on their website. Applying early reduces possible risks associated with an OPT being denied after the application window has closed. Applying early also gives students the best chance of being able to begin employment on the desired start date.
  • Students are not legally eligible to begin employment under OPT until the EAD is approved and in the hands of the student AND the start date of the EAD has arrived.

To apply for OPT, follow these steps:

  • Attend OIP’s OPT workshop to get a broad understanding of OPT
  • Decide on an OPT start date (anywhere from the day after graduation through the last day of your 60-day grace period)
  • Complete Meredith’s OPT I-20 Request Form (signed by your faculty advisor) and submit to OIP to request an OPT I-20; while OIP is processing your new I-20, you can be working on the next steps
  • Prepare the rest of the OPT application materials (if filing by mail, prepare paper copies; if filing online, prepare digital copies – name each file what it is)
    • Form G-1145 e-Notification of Application (only used if filing by mail)
    • A 2” x 2” recent US passport-style photo (or two paper photos if filing by mail)
    • Filing fee (currently $410). Payable by credit or debit card for online application; if filing by mail, get a check or money order payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    • OPT I-20 ***issued no more than 30 days before you submit your application***
    • Previously issued CPT or OPT I-20s (if applicable)
    • Previous EADs (if applicable)
    • Passport bio page
    • F-1 visa 
    • I-94 record (get most recent Form I-94)
  • Create a myUSCIS account if filing online (review How to Create a USCIS Online Account for assistance), go to ‘File a Form Online,’ select ‘Application for Employment Authorization (I-765),’ and then begin working your way through the application (see I-765 tips below). Make sure to not submit the application at this stage.
  • Receive email from OIP that your OPT I-20 has been issued and make an appointment when you are ready with all materials in order to add your OPT I-20 and review your application together before submitting.

The following addresses the most common questions about the online I-765, not every single question on the application. If you have questions that are not answered here, please contact OIP. 

  • Review USCIS’ tips for filing online (including Chrome as the recommended browser) 
  • Basis of eligibility: (c)(3)(B) is the eligibility category for POST-COMPLETION OPT
  • Reason for applying: Initial permission to accept employment
  • Have you previously filed Form I-765?  Select ‘yes’ if you have ever submitted an I-765 to USCIS. Be prepared to upload a copy(ies) of the resulting EAD(s) and consult with OIP if you have questions. Select ‘no’ if this is your first time filing an I-765.
  • Is someone assisting you with completing this application:  This is asking about attorney assistance, so generally the answer is NO
  • US mailing address:  Be very careful here – whatever address you list is where USCIS will send correspondence (and your EAD) to.  If you do not have an address (or a friend or family member’s address) that will be secure for the next 3-5 months, please use OIP’s address       (c/o International Programs, 3800 Hillsborough Street, Lux 124, Raleigh, NC 27607).  Then indicate that this is not your physical address, and add the address where you currently physically reside.
  • A-Number:  If you have a previous EAD, list the USCIS number here; if you do not have a previous EAD, leave blank
  • USCIS Account Number: If this is your first online application to USCIS, you do not (yet) have one, leave blank
  • Evidence section: 
    • Use the “Employment Authorization Document or Government ID” section to upload the copies of your passport and visa (and any previous EADs)
    • The “Previously Authorized CPT or OPT” section is for past CPT and OPT I-20s
    • For the “I-20” section, upload your new OPT I-20 only (issued within 30 days of OPT application filing)
  • Additional Information section: This section is used to supplement answers elsewhere on the I-765. Particularly, any previous CPT or OPT authorizations should be listed here, as well as any previous SEVIS Numbers. Also, if you were unable to fit a name or explanation earlier on the I-765, that can be explained in this section.
    • Example: Previous CPT “Evidence” > Page: “Previously authorized CPT or OPT” > Question: “Previously authorized CPT or OPT” > Additional information: Enter the details of any previous CPT Authorizations, for example: Part-time CPT with Amazon, 01/01/2019 – 05/15/2019, Bachelor’s, N00012345678  
    • Example: Previous SEVIS Number Section: “About You” > Page: “Your immigration information” > Question: “What is your SEVIS Number” > Additional information: Enter the details of any previous SEVIS numbers, for example: N0087654321, University of North Carolina, Bachelor’s, 08/20/2019 – 05/31/2020
  • Review and Submit section: here you can access a Draft of your I-765 to review with OIP before submitting the application. Once you have met with OIP to review your application and you have double checked that all information is correct, then digitally sign and submit the application.
  • Pay the application fee. Once you pay the fee, your OPT application is submitted and no further changes can be made.

What comes next after submitting your OPT application:

  • Receipt Notice. USCIS will issue a I-797 Receipt Notice available in MyUSCIS shortly after your application is submitted, and within a few weeks after, you should receive a paper copy of the Receipt Notice at your mailing address. Do check the receipt notice to ensure the correct spelling of your name and mailing address. *The receipt number on your notice may be used to follow the processing of your case on USCIS’ case status tracker.
  • Request for Evidence (RFE). In some cases, USCIS may follow up with you to request additional information through an RFE that you should receive both through your MyUSCIS account and in the mail. An RFE is not cause for alarm, but it must be responded to relatively quickly, so please reach out to OIP immediately if you receive an RFE so that we can support you in a quick and effective response.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If/when your OPT is approved, USCIS will mail an approval notice and EAD to the mailing address you provided on your I-765. The EAD is your ‘work permit,’ confirming that you are authorized to work under the parameters of OPT.
  • SEVP Portal. Once your OPT has been approved and the start date has arrived, you will receive an email from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov inviting you to set up your SEVP Portal account. The SEVP Portal is where you complete any and all of the following required F-1 reporting (within 10 days of a change) during your OPT period:
    • Employment: employer’s name, address, and dates of your job
    • Changes to your employment: adding a job, leaving a job
    • Changes to your mailing or residential address
    • Changes to your legal name

 After graduating,  F-1 students who travel outside the U.S. for a temporary absence can return to resume employment, provided that they show these required documents:

  • Current I-20:  Page two should list your current employer’s information and be signed by an OIP DSO within the last six months.
  • Unexpired F-1 Visa:  If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to apply for a new one prior to your return
  • Unexpired Passport:  The expiration date should be at least six months into the future
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) 
  • Proof of employment (for example, a job offer or letter confirming your resumption of employment). If you are returning to the U.S before receiving a job offer, you may show evidence of your job search, interview appointments, etc as intention to use your OPT, as long as you have not accrued more than 90 days of unemployment on OPT.

See OIP’s travel page for more details. If you need to travel internationally before receiving your OPT EAD, please consult with OIP.  And if your employer has filed for an H-1B on your behalf, make sure to check with your employer about any international travel plans, as leaving the U.S. while an H-1B petition is pending can jeopardize a petition.

STEM OPT Extension

STEM OPT is a two year (24 month) extension of post-completion OPT employment authorization for F-1 students who have completed a qualifying degree in certain Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

To be eligible for the STEM Extension of OPT, a student must meet the following criteria: 

  • Students are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension once per STEM degree and become eligible for another one only after having completed another qualifying degree at a higher level; F-1 students are eligible for up to two STEM OPT Extensions.
  • STEM OPT Extension applicants must currently be on active post-completion OPT and cannot have exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
  • Qualifying STEM degrees are those whose CIP codes (see ‘program of study’ section on I-20) show up on DHS’ Designated Degree Program List and are either the degree the current post-completion OPT is based off of or a previously earned degree from an accredited and SEVP-certified U.S. educational institution conferred within the last 10 years.
  • Qualifying employment is required to apply for STEM OPT.  It  must be paid employment, directly related to the STEM degree, and must be at least 20 hours/week

Review the following deadlines and considerations to time your STEM OPT application accordingly:

  • The earliest USCIS will accept a STEM OPT application is 90 days before the expiration of the post-completion OPT EAD; the latest USCIS will accept a STEM OPT application is on the post-completion OPT EAD expiration date.
  • Additionally, USCIS must receive application within 60 days of the STEM OPT I-20 issuance (**if you are delayed in submitting your application to USCIS, please contact OIP to request a new OIP I-20 rather than risk denial**)
  • Students are encouraged to start the application process as early as possible due to lengthy USCIS processing times. The STEM OPT Extension approval process typically takes between 3-5 months, though USCIS updates their processing time on their website. Applying early reduces possible risks associated with the application being denied after the filing window has closed. 
  • If you do not receive your STEM OPT EAD by the end of your Post-Completion OPT, you may continue working for up to 180 days after the end of your Post-Completion OPT (or until a decision is made on your application), as long as your application was ‘timely filed.’  You should receive your new EAD before you reach 180 days.  
  • Students should plan at least a month for preparing the STEM OPT application materials.

To apply for STEM OPT, follow these steps: 

  • Step One: Confirm your eligibility according to the above mentioned criteria and work with your employer on completing the Form I-983 Training Plan. Step-by-step instructions for completing the I-983 are accessible here.
  • Step Two: Submit to OIP your completed I-983 and your STEM OPT I-20 Request form. While OIP is processing your new I-20, you can be working on the next step
  • Step Three: Prepare STEM OPT application materials (if filing by mail, prepare paper copies; if filing online, prepare digital copies – name the files what they are and note that .doc or .bmp files not accepted):
    • Form G-1145 e-Notification of Application (only used if filing by mail)
    • A 2” x 2” recent US passport-style photo (or two paper photos if filing by mail)
    • Filing fee (currently $410). Payable by credit or debit card for online application; if filing by mail, get a check or money order payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    • STEM OPT I-20 (you will receive this from OIP; print, sign and then copy or scan) – must have been issued less than 60 days before USCIS receives your application **
    • EAD (current and any past) front and back
    • Passport bio page
    • F-1 visa 
    • I-94 record (get most recent Form I-94)
    • Copy of the STEM qualifying degree diploma (if you are applying based on a previously earned degree – not your Meredith degree – please consult with OIP for further appropriate documentation)
    • Transcript for your STEM qualifying degree program
  • Step Four: Create a myUSCIS account if filing online (or log back in if you already have an account)
    • Go to File a Form Online
    • Select Application for Employment Authorization (I-765) 
    • Begin working your way through the application (see I-765 tips below). **Make sure to not submit the application yet**
  • Step Five: Receive email from OIP that your STEM OPT I-20 has been issued and make an appointment when you are ready with all materials in order to add your STEM OPT I-20 and review your application together before submitting.

The following addresses the most common questions about the online I-765, not every single question on the application. If you have questions that are not answered here, please contact OIP.  

  • Review USCIS’ tips for filing online (including Chrome as the recommended browser) 
  • Basis of eligibility: (c)(3)(C) is the eligibility category for STEM OPT Extension
  • What is your degree:  List your degree level and major CIP Code (you can find the CIP code on your I-20, under the Program of Study section on page one). For example, B.S. in Biology 26.0101
  • Employer’s name & E-Verify number:  Check with your employer for the exact name and number listed for them in the E-Verify system.  Note: the E-Verify number is different from the EIN (Employer Identification Number) that you used on your I-983.
  • Reason for applying: Renewal of permission to accept employment
  • Have you previously filed Form I-765?  Select ‘yes’ 
  • Is someone assisting you with completing this application:  This is asking about attorney assistance, so generally the answer is NO
  • US mailing address:  Be very careful here – whatever address you list is where USCIS will send correspondence (and your EAD) to.  If you do not have an address (or a friend or family member’s address) that will be secure for the next 3-5 months, please use OIP’s address (c/o International Programs, 3800 Hillsborough Street, Lux 124, Raleigh, NC 27607).  Then indicate that this is not your physical address, and add the address where you currently physically reside.
  • A-Number:  List the USCIS number from your current EAD
  • Evidence section: 
    • Use the “Employment Authorization Document or Government ID” section to upload the copies of your passport, F-1 visa and EAD
    • For the “I-20” section, upload your new STEM OPT I-20 only (issued within 60 days of OPT application filing)
    • For the “College degree” section, upload the copy of your diploma and transcript
    • The “Institutional accreditation” section is only required if you are applying for the STEM Extension based on a previous degree (not your Meredith degree). Please see OIP for more details.
  • Additional Information section: This section is used to supplement answers elsewhere on the I-765. For example, if you were unable to fit a name or explanation earlier on the I-765, that can be explained in this section.
  • Review and Submit section: here you can access a Draft of your I-765 to review with OIP before submitting the application. Once you have met with OIP to review your application and you have double checked that all information is correct, then digitally sign and submit the application.
  • Pay the application fee. Once you pay the fee, your STEM OPT application is submitted and no further changes can be made.

What comes next after submitting your OPT application:

  • Receipt Notice. USCIS will issue a I-797 Receipt Notice available in MyUSCIS shortly after your application is submitted, and within a few weeks after, you should receive a paper copy of the Receipt Notice at your mailing address. Do check the receipt notice to ensure the correct spelling of your name and mailing address. *The receipt number on your notice may be used to follow the processing of your case on USCIS’ case status tracker.
  • Request for Evidence (RFE). In some cases, USCIS may follow up with you to request additional information through an RFE that you should receive both through your MyUSCIS account and in the mail. An RFE is not cause for alarm, but it must be responded to relatively quickly, so please reach out to OIP immediately if you receive an RFE so that we can support you in a quick and effective response.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If/when your STEM OPT is approved, USCIS will mail an approval notice and EAD to the mailing address you provided on your I-765. The EAD is your ‘work permit,’ confirming that you are authorized to work under the parameters of STEM OPT.

Reporting requirements for F-1 students continue on STEM OPT and mostly center around the Form I-983. Reporting requirements include the following: 

  • OIP is here to continue to support you during your STEM OPT Extension period and to update your SEVIS record as needed; you and your employer(s) are responsible for submitting the required reports to OIP
  • Within 10 days of a change, STEM OPT participants are required to report any of the following changes to OIP:
    • Legal Name
    • Residential address
    • Change of status to a different visa category
    • Transfer to another F-1 program
    • “Material changes” to the information on your current I-983 (i.e. employer name or location, reduction in pay or hours, end of employment, start of a new job, etc.)
  • Every 6 months, STEM OPT participants are required to confirm with OIP that their STEM program (as reflected on their I-983) is still active and the employment information in the SEVP Portal is still correct. This ‘data validation’ is required even if no change has occurred.
  • Every 12 months and when ending employment, STEM OPT participants are required to submit a performance evaluation (see page 5 of the I-983) to OIP, in addition to their 6-month data validation.  The top half of page 5 is to be used for the 12 month evaluation.  The bottom half of page 5 is to be used for the 24 month evaluation OR at any time if you’re ending employment with a STEM OPT employer.
  • STEM OPT Participants can track their reporting deadlines in their SEVP Portal account.

Travel outside the U.S. for a temporary absence during STEM OPT is allowable, provided that F-1 students show these required documents:

  • Current I-20:  Page two should list your current employer’s information and be signed by an OIP DSO within the last six months.
  • Unexpired F-1 Visa:  If your F-1 visa is expired, you will need to apply for a new one prior to your return
  • Unexpired Passport:  The expiration date should be at least six months into the future
  • Unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) 
  • Proof of employment (for example, a job offer or letter confirming your resumption of employment).

See OIP’s travel page for more details. If you need to travel internationally before receiving your OPT EAD, please consult with OIP.  And if your employer has filed for an H-1B on your behalf, make sure to check with your employer about any international travel plans, as leaving the U.S. while an H-1B petition is pending can jeopardize a petition.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension

Regardless of field of study, an F-1 student on OPT or the STEM OPT Extension may be eligible for a H-1B ‘Cap-Gap’ extension of status and work authorization in certain scenarios. 

The H-1B is a work visa that some F-1 students change to in order to continue working in the U.S. after OPT. 

  • H-1Bs are employer-sponsored, meaning that an employer must apply for the H-1B on behalf of the prospective employee; an individual may not sponsor themselves for an H-1B visa. 
  • H-1Bs are for work in a specialty occupation, meaning that the job requires specialized knowledge and skills, and at least a bachelor’s degree is required in that specialty. 


Since the procedures and record keeping required for the H-1B are complex, an attorney or other trained person will be necessary to complete the paperwork.

The H-1B ‘cap’ refers to the limit on the number of H-1Bs available each fiscal year. Currently, the U.S. government has set the cap at 85,000 new H-1Bs available per year, of which 20,000 are reserved for individuals with a graduate degree from a U.S. institution. Note that not all employers are subject to this cap. Generally, employers in industry are ‘cap-subject’ and employers in education, government, and non-profit sectors are ‘cap-exempt.’ See USCIS’ H-1B website for more information.

Since cap-subject H-1Bs are requested with an October 1 start date, there has traditionally been a ‘gap’ in status between when students’ OPT ended and when the H-1B was set to begin. For example, a student whose OPT expires in June would traditionally have a gap with no immigration status and no work authorization until their H-1B began in October; the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension alleviates this dilemma. 

For students facing the cap-gap, an extension of immigration status and possibly work authorization is automatically applied IF the H-1B petition is an October 1 cap-subject petition filed with a change of status request (not consular processing) and is timely-filed (filed prior to the expiration of the student’s OPT or 60-day grace period).

  • If your H-1B (change of status) petition is received by USCIS before your OPT expires, your work authorization is extended through September 30th.
  • If your H-1B (change of status) petition is received by USCIS after your OPT expires but during your 60 day grace period, your F-1 status and permission to remain in the US are extended through September 30th, but you are not eligible to work during this time.

Once your H-1B has been filed and receipted, you may request a Cap-Gap I-20 from OIP which documents your automatic extension(s). Please email OIP with a copy of your current EAD and your H-1B approval or receipt notice to request the new I-20.