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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 a virtual OPT workshop via Zoom.
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for post-completion OPT.
  • 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.

Requesting OPT I20:

  1. Participate in and complete quiz from the OPT Online Workshopor attendance at an OPT In-Person Workshop.
  2. Send the OPT I-20 Request Form (located in the ISS Forms Library) to the general ISS email address:

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:

  • ISS highly recommends that you have a job offer before applying for pre-completion OPT so that you do not "waste" your 12 months of OPT time.
  • 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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