Frequently Asked Questions
Optional Practical Training
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.
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 SEVP using the SEVP Portal. Students will receive an email from SEVP on the first day of their OPT authorized work period with information on how to access the SEVP Portal. It’s the responsibility of the student to enter their employer information into this government system. Students who don’t report their employer information will have their OPT authorization and F-1 status terminated by SEVP after 90 days of unemployment. Students are notified about the Portal on the first day of OPT authorized work as listed on their EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires a student 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.
OPT job employment must relate to your course of study. DSOs must enter remarks in your I-20 as to the employment we’re recommending. For example, we might write “Student plans to gain experience in the field of…”
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
- A completed and signed I-765
- A copy of your passport, visa or I-797A form
- A copy of your I-94
- Two 2-inch x 2-inch 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 $410
Director, Advising and Student Success
COA – Dare: 104
252-473-2264 ext. 7011
COA – Elizabeth City: AE 133
252-335-0821 ext. 2281