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Optional Practical TrainingInternational Students

Frequently Asked Questions

OPT stands for Optional Practical Training and is a 12-month temporary employment authorization that provides an opportunity for F-1 students to apply knowledge they acquired in their programs to work experience in their major field. OPT job employment must be related to the students program of study and cannot exceed 12 months. Students can participate in OPT one time at each academic level (associate, bachelors, masters or doctorate).
Please apply early. You can apply as early as 90 days before your program end date. You don’t have to wait for a job offer. You don’t need a job offer to apply for OPT. You’ll need a job once you are approved for OPT so we recommend if you don’t have employment when you apply you begin, in earnest, seeking employment after you apply. Allow three months for processing by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), plus additional time for gathering your documents, meeting with a DSO and mailing to USCIS. You cannot work until you receive OPT approval.

You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date (Your program end date is the last day of your final semester, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar). Please note that your OPT application must arrive at the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date or the request will be denied. We strongly encourage you to apply for OPT three months prior to your program end date. Although USCIS will accept your application up to 60 days after your program end date, you cannot begin work until the application is approved. A delayed application may result in delayed work authorization and/or loss of full OPT eligibility (12 months) due to the three-month processing time by USCIS.

Please read the following instructions carefully. Although we provide information, the OPT application is your application. We don’t approve the application or have the authority to influence the process. If there’s a request for information or to correct a problem, we’ll notify you of the request but it’s your responsibility to respond. Please note that if you choose to travel it could be difficult to respond to requests from USCIS about your application.

USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a “receipt date” and assigning a case number. Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it’s not, contact your DSO immediately.

Once you have received your receipt notice, you can track the status of your individual case using the case status search feature of the USCIS website. You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online. It’s normal for your case status to say “initial review” for most of the two- to three-month processing period.

USCIS will approve or deny your OPT. If approved, they’ll mail your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to you. It takes on average three to five months for USCIS to process an OPT request. You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you’ve received your EAD. Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD.

Warning: You must report your practical training/employment to College of The Albemarle (COA). You’ll need to complete the OPT Student Information Form at the start of your OPT and then at the six-month point. If you don’t report your practical training/employment to COA, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date printed on your EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

You’re required to check in with COA DSO every six months. This is recorded in SEVIS and is a federal government regulation. Upon receiving your OPT Student Information Form, a COA DSO will enter your employment information into SEVIS. We’re required to complete that step twice: once at the start of your OPT and once at the six-month mark. You must check your COA email during your OPT for correspondence from a DSO. You cannot be unemployed more than 90 days — at 91 days your OPT is terminated along with your record in SEVIS.

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OPT job employment must relate to your course of study. DSOs must enter remarks in your I-20 as to the employment we are recommending. For example, we might write “Student plans to gain experience in the field of…”

You must report your employer information to COA within 30 days of the approval of your OPT. Report your employer information by completing the OPT Student Information Form.

If you change your mind and don’t want OPT and you’ve mailed your OPT packet, you’ll need to contact USCIS to update or correct any issues. Once its mailed we cannot cancel your OPT at the college level.

You cannot be unemployed for over 90 days or your OPT will be terminated. You’re allowed to have multiple employers.

Once your OPT is completed, you are given a 60-day grace period to leave the U.S., transfer to another institution or pursue other opportunities. Be mindful that if you chose to transfer to another institution or return to COA, you must finish the application/transfer process within those 60 days.

Process for OPT Applications

OPT Checklist

Workshops are offered each semester roughly three and a half months before graduation. Check your email for information about OPT workshops.
Please bring the following items:

  • A completed and signed I-765
  • A copy of your passport, visa or I-797A form
  • Photocopies of all your previously issues I-20’s
  • A copy of your I-94
  • Two 2″ x 2″ passport photos taken within 30 days
  • Copies of past EAD cards, if applicable
  • A check or money order to U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $380
Bring all your documents for review. As soon as you pick up the I-20, sign your name. We’ll make a copy of your complete application for our records and for you to have.
If you don’t have employment confirmed for your OPT then begin seeking employment opportunities. After you receive your 797 receipt form, bring in or scan and email a copy to your DSO. Once approved (or denied) for OPT, bring your DSO a copy of the approval and EAD card and pick up and complete an OPT Student Information Form.