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International Student Services

F-1 Employment: Optional Practical Training

If you are an F-1 student, then Optional Practical Training, or OPT, allows you to work off-campus in your field of study for 12 months. OPT typically takes approximately 90 days to process because the application is sent to a USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) center for adjudication. 

Things You Need to Know to Apply

After reading over this page and attending an OPT workshop, complete the OPT application material, located in our Forms Library. Information about the OPT workshops can be found on our Off-Campus Employment page. If you cannot attend an in-person OPT workshop, please follow this link to watch the OPT Online Workshop.

  • You must meet with an international student advisor to get your new OPT I-20, which is required for the OPT application.
  • OPT usually takes 90 days (3 months) to process, plus mailing time, so apply as soon as possible! 
  • OPT employment must be directly related to your field of study/major.
  • In order to be eligible for OPT, you need to be a degree-seeking student who has been in full-time student status for at least one academic year.
  • Any applications postmarked December 23, 2016, or later will require a fee of $410 due to a USCIS fee increase.

The OPT Application material can be found in the Forms Library. Make sure to download Parts 1 and 2.

I want to apply for post-completion OPT.

Post-completion OPT is the most common type of Optional Practical Training. Post-completion means that your OPT will begin after your I-20 end date. Please note the specific requirements necessary to apply for post-completion OPT:

  • You can apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before your I-20 end date. ISS recommends that you apply as early as possible.
  • Your OPT start date needs to be within your 60 day grace period that begins the day after your I-20 ends.
  • Your degree requirements should be completed by the time your post-completion OPT begins.
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for post-completion OPT.
  • You cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT.

List of Documents Necessary for the Post-completion OPT Application

(All documents can be found in the Post-completion OPT Application (part 1 &2), located in the Forms Library.)

  1. I-765
  2. G-1145
  3. Academic Advisor Recommendation Form
  4. Copy of Passport
  5. Copy of visa
  6. I-94
  7. Check for $410 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  8. Passport Photos with name and I-94 number written on the back
  9. Participate in and submit form from the OPT Online Workshop, or attendance at an OPT In-Person Workshop
  10. Previous EAD cards, if applicable

When you have readied these documents, please email the ISS Office or visit us during walk-in hours to get in touch with an immigration advisor.

I want to apply for pre-completion OPT.

Pre-completion OPT is Optional Practical Training utilized before the I-20 end date and the completion of your studies. Pre-completion OPT is counted towards the 12 months of OPT available. If you do part-time pre-completion OPT, it is counted at half the rate of full-time OPT. Please note the specific requirements necessary to apply for pre-completion OPT:

  • You must have a job offer to apply for pre-completion OPT.
  • While school is in session, you are limited to part-time pre-completion OPT, unless you are exempt from full-time enrollment/on Z status. You can take part in full-time pre-completion OPT during summer and winter breaks.
  • You must have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year. You are eligible to apply for your pre-completion OPT to start the summer after your first academic year.

I am currently on OPT. What do I do to maintain my status?

Reporting Requirements while on OPT:

While you are on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status, and the University of South Carolina still manages your immigration record. Therefore, you must keep us updated on your physical location and employment information while on OPT. Even if nothing changes, please update ISS every 6 months. If you do not report employment within 90 days of your OPT start date, your immigration record will terminate. If you have more than 90 days of unemployment, your immigration record may also terminate. You need to report the following information to us within 10 days of any change using our OPT Update Form, located in the Forms Library.

  • Physical address (and mailing address, if different)
  • Employer
  • Employer address
  • Employer Identification Number/Federal Tax Identification Number
  • Title of your Position
  • How your position relates to your field of study
  • Supervisor's information
  • Periods of unemployment

Important Things to Keep in Mind While on OPT:

  • While on OPT, you have 90 days of allowable unemployment (120 days for STEM Extension OPT). 
  • You need to work at least 20 hours per week.
  • The following things are considered employment:
    • Paid employment
    • Unpaid/volunteer employment
    • Contract Hire (keep a list of the 1099's and the duration of your employment)
    • Self-employed (if you have the proper business licenses)
    • Multiple jobs (as long as all jobs are in your field of study)
  • It is extremely important to update ISS using the OPT Update Form. If you do not update us on your employment, your record will be automatically terminated after 90 days if there is no employment listed in your record.

I have applied for OPT and am waiting for my EAD. What do I do now?

Keep in mind that it typically takes 90 days for your OPT application to process. Please do not call or contact USCIS about your application without contacting the ISS Office first. It is better to avoid calling about your application unless absolutely necessary.

Requesting an expedite when it is not absolutely necessary can cause delays to your processing times. Do not request an expedite of your case without talking to the ISS Office first. You can see the official expedite criteria on the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services website. Please note that there is a very high standard for proving that a case requires expedited handling.