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International Student and Scholar Support

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. Check below for details on how to apply. On the left-hand side of the screen, you'll find other sections to click through so you can learn important information about the OPT benefit. On the right-hand side, you'll find a virtual workshop that will help you understand the OPT application process.

What is OPT?

OPT is benefit of the F-1 visa. It is 12 months of work authoriazation after graduation. USCIS approves the authorization and you receive a 12-month EAD card. The work must be related to a student's degree. Students can use OPT time at each higher degree level. 

How to Apply:

This online workshop gives you a complete overview of the OPT process. Watching the online workshop is very important so that you understand the OPT process.

We are pleased that you have decided to extend your stay in the US and apply for post-completion OPT. While you are on OPT, you remain in F-1 student immigration status and ISS staff will continue provide you with immigration and advising support. The $100 SEVIS maintenance fee will offset the expenses of mandatory SEVIS compliance and record management after your graduation. The SEVIS maintenance fee is not required for applications for pre-completion OPT (OPT that occurs during the program of study). This fee is separate from the $410 application fee paid directly to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Follow this link to pay the $100 Post-completion OPT SEVIS Maintenance Fee.

  • OPT I-20 Request Form (required), located in the ISS Forms Library. Email to 
  • I-765 (optional and only if applying by mail): ISS will check the I-765 for completion if you wish. You are responsible for confirming the accuracy of all information and for ensuring that you are submitting the most current version of the I-765 from the USCIS website.

This can take up to 5 business days.

• Your Academic Advisor Form & OPT Statement of Responsibility should not be submitted to USCIS. These are internal ISS forms.

• Your Academic Advisor Form & OPT Statement of Responsibility should not be submitted to USCIS. These are internal ISS forms.
• Online Filing: If you wish to file your OPT application online, see this section of our website, or watch this helpful video. Many students choose to use the online option at this point due to the convenience factor. Processing times tend to be similar for both online and mailed-in applications.
• Filing by Mail: The following checklist is a recommendation if you are mailing your application to USCIS. But you should always check the official I-765 instructions on the USCIS website prior to mailing your application.

  • G-1145
  •  I-765
    *Your signature must be a “wet signature” in black ink. A digital or scanned signature is not acceptable on the I-765.
    *Make sure to use extremely clear handwriting or type your information other than the signature.
    *Always make sure you’re using the most recent form available on the official USCIS website.
    *Using the ISS Office address as your mailing address is not recommended. It does not have an impact on your OPT application in any way and it is preferable for you to use your own personal address or an “ICO” (in care of) address to which you will have access.
  • Copy of new OPT I-20 (an ISS Advisor will create the new I-20 and email to you after reviewing the forms mentioned above)
    *You should print 2 copies of the I-20 sent to you via email. Sign and date both. Keep one copy for yourself. Mail the other copy to USCIS.
  • Copy of Passport Photo Page
  • Copy of F-1 visa
  • I-94 (can be obtained here by selecting “Get Most Recent I-94.”)
  • Check or money order made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For the filing fee amount, see the USCIS Form I-765 website and scroll to “Filing Fee” under “Form Details.” At this time, F-1 students do not have to pay the biometrics fee because they file in the (C)(3)(B), (C)(3)(C), or (C)(3)(A) category.
    *ISS recommends that you do not utilize the Form G-1450, as we have seen students’ applications be denied due to issues with credit card numbers not being accepted.
  • 2 New Passport Photos
    *Taken within the last 30 days
    *With name and I-94 number written on the back.
    *For examples of acceptable passport photos, see the DOS website.
    *You can get appropriate passport photos taken at a drugstore such as CVS or at a mailing store such as Fed-Ex. If you wish to take the photos yourself, review the Department of State’s tool for taking digital photos.


  • Filing your application online: If you wish to file your OPT application online, see this section of our website. Many students choose to use the online option due to the convenience factor. Processing times tend to be similar for both online and mailed-in applications.
  • Filing your application by mail:
    • Mail your application to the address listed on USCIS’ Direct Filing Addresses section.
      • You should navigate to the section for “Foreign Students,” then navigate to the first row for Optional Practical Training.
      • Choosing regular mailing vs. courier mailing does not have an impact on your application. P.O. Boxes cannot be used by courier mail services, which is why there’s a separate address for courier services.
      • ISS recommends that you always mail your application with a tracking number.
      • ISS recommends that you keep a digital scan of all your application materials in your personal files.
  • It typically takes 90 days for your OPT application to process.
  • Regularly check the status of your OPT application on the USCIS website.
  • You might wonder if it's possible to expedite your application. You can see the official expedite criteria on the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services website. There is a very high standard for proving that a case requires expedited handling and students do not typically qualify.
  • Even if you mailed your OPT application, ISS recommends setting up an online account with USCIS once you get your receipt number. Doing this will provide you with tracking and communication benefits.
  • After approval, you should receive your employment authorization card (EAD card) within 1 - 4 weeks to the address you listed on your I-765.
  • If you already have employment, you can be legally hired after receiving your EAD card in the mail. 
  • A few days before the start date listed on your EAD card, you will receive an email with instructions for accessing the SEVP portal. You will need to log in and report your employment information. Read more about the SEVP portal on our website here.
  • If you are still searching for employment, you have up to 90 days to find a job!
  • For more details on job requirements while on OPT, see here.
  • It is very rare for a UofSC student's OPT application to be denied as long as the application guidelines were followed appropriately. If your application is denied, contact ISS immediately so we can be of support to you. 

The University of South Carolina provides access to Interstride for all international students. Interstride empowers and assists international students in their career exploration and job search experience. Some of Interstride’s features include:

  • A job and internship search engine
  • Visa and immigration support (H1B)
  • Webinars and workshops
  • Networking with classmates and alumni
  • Resources on career topics

To create an account and utilize this platform, please click here.

Need help with your resume or prepping for interviews? Please visit the Career Center’s website as a resource!


Resources from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:


OPT Application Due Dates

Event Date
Graduation (I-20 end date) May 4
Earliest you can submit OPT application (90 days before) February 4
Latest you can submit OPT application (60 days after) July 3
OPT start date choices (any one of the 60 days after) Between May 5 and July 3
Event Date
Graduation (I-20 end date) August 15
Earliest you can submit OPT application (90 days before) May 17
Latest you can submit OPT application (60 days after) October 14
OPT start date choices (any one of the 60 days after) Between August 16 and October 14
Event Date
Graduation (I-20 end date) December 16
Earliest you can submit OPT application (90 days before) September 17
Latest you can submit OPT application (60 days after) February 14
OPT start date choices (any one of the 60 days after) Between December 17 and February 14

USCIS Post-Completion Application Timeline

Frequently Asked Questions about OPT:

Unfortunately, you'll have to make that decision on your own. You can choose any start date 60 days after the end date of your I-20. If you're unsure, choose something in the middle. 

No! You can only work during those days (paid or unpaid). Employers must report all staff to the government. Be careful of shady employers. 

After the start date on your EAD card. Time between graduation and your OPT start date do not count. 

OPT applications are rarely denied, only delayed. Make sure all your personal information is accurate, and you've followed all of the instructions carefully.  See this tip sheet from DHS. 

Yes, but it can be risky while the application is pending. After you have your EAD card it’s no problem. See the travel section of our website for more guidelines. 

You have failed to maintain status. Your record is no longer active and you should make plans to leave the country. 

The additional fee is $1,685 (increased in Spring of 2024). Premium processing time is 30 days (or less). 

It is possible to update it while pending, however, this can cause delivery problems or delay the EAD card. It is better to keep the address on file and make sure you have some sort of access to the old mailing address. 

See this section on our website, or watch this helpful video from another university. 

No! Only if you have a business license and can prove true self-employment to USCIS. This includes reporting it on your taxes to the IRS. 

Yes. All work should be reported while on OPT. 

Yes. You receive 12 moths of authorization for each higher degree level. You can also use the STEM extension for each higher degree level. 

No. If you already used OPT for one master's degree, you cannot use it again. You only get to use OPT again when you obtain a higher degree.


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