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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.

Eligibility for OPT:

  • Before applying for OPT, you must watch the OPT Online workshop (to the right), or attend an in-person OPT workshop. At an in-person workshop, you can submit your OPT application and receive a new I-20 within 5 business days at the most.
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for post-completion OPT.
  • Your application must be reviewed by an international student advisor to get your new OPT I-20, which is required for the OPT application.
  • You need to be a degree-seeking student who has been in full-time student status for at least one academic year.
    • Exchange students do not qualify for OPT, as they will not obtain a degree from the University of South Carolina.

Required OPT Application Materials:

(All documents can be found in the Post-completion OPT Application (part 1 &2), located in the Forms Library. Note that participation in a workshop is required prior to applying for OPT.)

  1. Participate in and complete quiz from the OPT Online Workshop, or attendance at an OPT In-Person Workshop
  2. I-765 (found in OPT Application Part 2 in our Forms Library)
  3. G-1145 (found in OPT Application Part 1 in our Forms Library)
  4. Academic Advisor Recommendation Form (found in OPT Application Part 1 in our Forms Library)
  5. Copy of Passport Photo Page
  6. Copy of most recent F-1 visa
  7. I-94 (retrieve using this link)
  8. Personal check/cashier's check/money order for $410 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  9. 2 Passport Photos (taken within the last 30 days) with name and I-94 number written on the back
  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.

While Your OPT Application is Pending:

Keep in mind that it typically takes 90 days for your OPT application to process. 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. 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. Typically, being at risk of losing your job offer does not qualify as an adequate reason for expedite.

If your OPT Application has been pending for more than 90 days, email the ISS advisor who helped you apply for OPT. He or she can email USCIS after 90 days to check on the status of your case. This is not an expedite, but it at least will give you an update on the exact status of your case.

Employment Requirements While On OPT:

  • You need to report updates in your physical location and employer within 10 days of the change. You can do this by logging into your SEVP Portal Account. You will receive an email from Department of Homeland Security with information about logging into your SEVP Portal once your OPT has been approved. Failing to report employment can lead to an automatic termination of your status.
  • You have 90 days of allowable unemployment (150 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)

Applying for pre-graduation/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.

Applying for STEM Extension OPT:

If you are applying for your STEM Extension OPT, please see the STEM OPT section of our website.


Travel while on OPT

Documents Before Completing Academic Program & Before OPT Approval* After Completing Academic Program & Before OPT or STEM OPT Approval After Completing Program & After OPT or STEM OPT Approval
Valid passport Yes Yes Yes
Valid F-1 visa Yes Yes Yes
OPT I-20 with a valid travel endorsement signed within 6 months by an ISS Advisor Yes Yes Yes
Evidence of continued enrollment (e.g. Enrollment Verification from Registrar’s office) Yes    
Evidence of financial support strongly recommended strongly recommended strongly recommended
I-797 Notice of Action   Yes  
Job offer letter from employer OR current employment verification letter   strongly recommended Yes
EAD (Employment Authorization Document)   STEM OPT students whose original 12-Month EAD has expired should check with ISS about travel. Yes

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