Optional Practical Training

Students applying for OPT MUST request an I-20 with an OPT Recommendation by submitting an OPT Request in ISSDeacs before they apply with USCIS. If a student submits an I-765 OPT Application to USCIS without an OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISS their application will be denied and they will not be able to get a refund on their fee.

What is it?

  • 12 month work authorization period
  • A student is required to engage in employment that is directly related to the course of study listed on the Form I-20. ALL opportunities pursued while on OPT must directly relate back to the student’s major course of study.
  • OPT is not a separate visa category; the student remains in F-1 student visa status that is sponsored by Wake Forest University.


  • F-1 visa holders only
  • Enrolled for a minimum of 9 academic months (2 semesters)

Additional Information

  • Pre-Completion OPT

    At Wake Forest University PhD students or Master’s students in a thesis program who have completed all coursework but have not yet identified a dissertation defense date may apply for Pre Completion OPT.
    Pre Completion OPT is not available to undergraduates or Master’s students in programs that culminate in a project or comprehensive exam.

  • Post-Completion OPT

    A student who is in their final semester or has completed his/her course of study (graduated) may apply for permission to pursue post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT authorizes the student to work full-time. Most students pursue this option. Candidates for a graduate degree who have successfully completed all course requirements but who are still working on a dissertation are eligible to submit an application for and receive a period of Post-completion OPT prior to conferment of the degree.

  • Application Process

    When to apply

    F-1 students may submit a Post-completion OPT application no more than 90 days prior to the program end date listed on Form 1-20. An OPT application can also be submitted during the 60-day grace period that follows the program end date listed on Form 1-20.


    Students applying for OPT MUST request an I-20 with an OPT Recommendation by submitting an OPT Request in ISSDeacs before they apply with USCIS. If a student submits an I-765 OPT Application to USCIS without an OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISS their application will be denied and they will not be able to get a refund on their fee.

    1. Log into your ISSDeacs account to view the virtual OPT Information Session.  This is a requirement and must be completed before you attend an OPT review session with an ISS advisor.
    2. Start your OPT application in your ISSDeacs account.
    3. Paper applicants only: Download Form I-765 from the USCIS website
    4. Paper applicants only: Download Form G-1145 for Electronic Notice from the USCIS website
    5. Gather Items from OPT Application Checklist which is available in your ISSDeacs account.
    6. Schedule an OPT review session (Group session appointments only; offered bi-weekly) with a Designated School Official (DSO): https://calendly.com/isss-appt

    Bring all documents from OPT checklist to the meeting. The DSO will input a recommendation into the SEVIS system and create an updated I-20 for you. This updated I-20, with OPT recommendation on page 2, is required by USCIS. Applications without this recommendation will be rejected by USCIS. When you complete your OPT request within your ISSDeacs account, you will also confirm what dates you would like for your OPT to begin and end. Be firm about these dates. Once the application is sent to USCIS, the dates requested cannot be changed.

    NOTE: USCIS may take at least 90 days to adjudicate an OPT application. If you will not be at your present place of residence in 5 months time, you should plan to use a trusted friend or family member’s address in the U.S.

    Receipt Notice: Once your application has been received by the USCIS, you will receive a Receipt Notice. This is a very important document that contains your application receipt number. Should your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) not arrive in a timely manner, this is the primary proof that your application was submitted to the USCIS Service Center.

    On-Line Status Check: The status of your application can be checked on-line by accessing the following website: http://www.uscis.gov/tools

    Processing Delay: If USCIS requires additional evidence or your application is returned for another reason, the processing time will be increased. For this reason, it is important that you pay attention to details when completing the application.

    Note: USCIS has, by regulation, the authority to take 90 days or more to make a decision on your application. This does not include time to produce the card, and mail it to you. The 90 day clock begins on the date USCIS receives the application (not on the date you send it).

  • FAQ’s About Standard OPT

    When is OPT available?

    An F-1 student is eligible to receive a total period of 12 months of OPT for each higher degree level that is completed.

    Example 1:
    • Student receives a Bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution. They are eligible for 12 months of OPT for their Bachelor’s degree.
    • Student does not use the OPT period, and enrolls in a Master’s program. They receives his Master’s degree. The student will have only 12 months of OPT available as a result of their Master’s degree.
    Frequently Asked Question

    Why does a student only have 12 months of OPT after their Master’s if they never used the OPT period from their Bachelor’s degree?


    OPT must be used AT THE TIME of the degree. To maximize their work authorization in the U.S., The student should have used their period of OPT after their Bachelors, and then completed their Master’s degree and used the additional 12 month OPT period gained. In choosing to enroll directly in a Master’s program after completing their Bachelor’s, the student forfeited their 12 month OPT period for their Bachelor’s degree.

    Example 2:
    • The student receives a Master’s degree from a U.S. institution.
    • The student uses the 12 month OPT period following their Master’s degree.
    • The student then decides to go back to school and pursue another Master’s degree.
    • The student does NOT have another period of OPT available to them after their second Master’s degree.
    Frequently Asked Question

    Why does the student not have another period of OPT available after their second Master’s degree?


    OPT is allowed once per degree level. If the student chose to pursue a Ph.D., they would again be eligible for another period of OPT.

    Who is the application for the OPT adjudicated by?

    Permission to participate in a Standard OPT program is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

    The International Student Advisor/Designated School Official in International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) MUST submit the OPT request in the SEVIS system BEFORE the application can be submitted to the USCIS.

    Is a job offer required prior to applying for OPT?

    Although having a job is not a prerequisite for OPT eligibility, USCIS requires all students in a period of OPT to be employed. A student who is actively pursuing employment during the approved OPT period is considered to be in legal, F-1 status. Students are given a 90 day (3 month) unemployment period during the 12 months of approved OPT.

    Can I work for multiple employers?

    Students may work for as many different employers as they choose during the approved OPT period. All opportunities must directly relate back to the student’s major program of study.

    What should I expect regarding OPT processing timelines?

    Right now we know that OPT processing with USCIS is taking at least 90 days. Right now there is no reliable way to expedite the OPT processing time and USCIS processes cases on a first come first serve basis.

    When can I start working using my OPT?

    Only after the start date on the EAD card and only if you have the original EAD card in hand.

    What if I want to change my OPT start date?

    If you have not submitted your OPT application to USCIS then you may return your I-20 to ISSS with a note confirming the change to your requested OPT start date. If you have submitted your OPT application to USCIS, please keep in mind that changing your OPT start date after your application has been received by USCIS, is not simply a process of ISSS issuing a new I-20. Once USCIS has received your application, if you want to change the OPT start date, we must notify USCIS of your request, wait for USCIS to reply, and then issue a new I-20. This action will stop your application process and may cause additional delays in the processing of your application.

    What should I tell my employer if my OPT start date is after my job offer start date?

    You may share whatever information you feel is important with your employer. We recommend that you have an open conversation with your employer. You should be honest about the date USCIS received your OPT application and when you expect to receive your EAD card. Use the 90 day processing time as a guide. Most employers will understand and be able to adjust your start date. It is better to have this conversation early and not wait until you are close to your employment start date. Keep your employer informed regarding your OPT processing.

    Can I extend my graduation and receive CPT authorization so that I may start working sooner than my OPT start date?

    No, your graduation date is not a consideration regarding the end date on your I-20. The end date on your I-20 is based on the date that you will officially complete your degree requirements. Also, CPT will not be authorized during your final semester unless it is a required part of your degree program. Please keep in mind that an extension to your I-20 end date would only be granted based on documented academic or medical reasons, not for the purposes of employment.

    As a graduate student, with thesis/dissertation requirements, what date an I eligible to request my OPT to start?

    Graduate students in masters or PhD programs that require thesis or dissertation, may use their defense date or graduation date as their OPT start date. Please note that any on campus employment must end on your I-20 end date. Your I-20 end will be updated to your defense date or graduation date, per your request, in order to facilitate your OPT application.

    May I continue working on campus after my I-20 expires, but before I receive my EAD card?

    No, all on campus employment must end on your I-20 end date. You may not begin working again until the start date on your EAD card, and only if you have received the original EAD card. This includes volunteer work as well.

    Where can I obtain the most up-to-date information regarding my OPT application and processing?

    The best site to visit is USCIS.gov as USCIS is the agency responsible for processing your OPT application. On the USCIS web page you will be able to check your OPT application status and find the contact information for USCIS. You can call the USCIS customer service number (1.800.375.5283) to speak to a USCIS representative about your specific application.

  • Beginning & End Dates

    Employment Start Date

    When you apply for OPT, you are allowed to choose the beginning date for your period of employment authorization.

    Post Completion OPT: The earliest date to request is the day after program end date on the I-20 form. Exception: graduate students working on dissertations only can choose to begin OPT as soon as all course-work for the degree has been completed. The latest that you are allowed to begin a period of OPT is 60 days after the program end date listed on the Form 1-20.

    Starting Employment

    You are not allowed to begin employment until both of the following statements are true:

    1. You have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with you, AND
    2. The start date listed on the EAD is current.

    Please keep this in mind when talking with prospective employers. There are no exceptions to above.

    End Date

    All employment must cease on the end date listed on the EAD. The nonimmigrant may remain in the U.S. for a period of 60 days following the end date of the OPT, but no employment may be performed during this 60-day grace period, except in certain circumstances (please see the information related to “cap gap” employment).

    After OPT

    If you have the intention of remaining in the United States after you have completed your 12 month OPT authorization and do not want to interrupt your employment eligibility, you will need to file for a change of status prior to the end date of your OPT. For many nonimmigrants, this step involves applying for and obtaining an H-1B visa for a specialty occupation. If you plan on taking this course of action, you will need to find an employer who is willing to sponsor you.

  • Cancellation Policy

    If you apply for OPT and then decide to cancel your application, you will need to have the DSO inform the USCIS Service Center before the application is approved. Once your application is approved and production of your EAD has been ordered, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cancel the period of OPT for which you have been approved.

  • Mistakes on the EAD Card

    To correct a mistake on your EAD you must send in a new application to USCIS.

    If your forms were correct and the mistake was made by USCIS you will not pay the application fee again.

    If the mistake is on the form that you provided to USCIS you must pay the application fee again to receive a corrected card.

  • Lost EAD Card

    If you lose your EAD card, you will need to re-apply for the card with USCIS by submitting the Form I-765. You will be obligated to pay the I-765 filing fee again as well.

    When you receive your card from the USCIS, make sure that you retain a copy for your records.

  • International Travel & Re-Entry While on OPT

    While on OPT, you are still in F-1 status. Therefore, if you re-enter the U.S. after a temporary absence, you will need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport. The EAD does not take the place of the F-l visa stamp.

    Documents you need to present when re-entering the U.S. while on OPT
    1. Valid passport: Dated at least six months into the future at the time of re-entry
    2. Valid F-l visa stamp (see note in above section about renewing the F visa stamp at a U.S. embassy/consulate)
    3. Form 1-20 that has been authorized for travel on page 2 (travel signature only valid for 6 months on OPT)
    4. Valid EAD
    5. Letter from employer that verifies current employment status. In the absence of such a letter, you may be required to prove that you are actively seeking employment in the U.S. (i.e. invitation for interview, etc.)

    Note: It is advised that you refrain from traveling if the end date on your Form 1-20 has passed and you are waiting to receive your EAD from the USCIS. Should you choose to travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending, you should have the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you when you apply for re-entry.

    Exiting and re-entering the U.S. before the end date listed on the Form 1-20

    Travel during this period while you have an application for OPT pending with the USCIS should not pose a risk. When re-entering, however, you are advised to have a copy of the 1-765 Receipt Notice with you.

    Exiting and re-entering the U.S. after the end date on the From I-20 has passed, and the OPT application is still pending.

    Once you complete your program of study, it is advised that you do not leave the country until you have the EAD in hand. If an emergency or other situation dictates that you make a departure prior to receiving your card, please consult with ISSS prior to leaving. If you make a departure without your card and you do not have the card in hand when you attempt to re-enter the U.S., the Immigration Officer at the border may question your eligibility to reenter in F-1 student status since you have already completed your course of study and have no proof that you have been approved to engage in OPT.

    How long can I remain outside the U.S. and still successfully re-enter during my period of OPT?

    A temporary absence from the U.S. is defined as 5 months or less. However, the 90-day unemployment clock is what governs how much time you have to spend outside of the U.S.

    The 90-day unemployment clock while on OPT continues counting when you are outside of the U.S. unless you fall under the exception below:

    • If a student travels while employed either during a period of leave authorized by an employer or as part of their employment, the time spent outside the United States will not count as unemployment.

    If you remain outside of the U.S. for a period of time that exceeds 90 days without employment, you will lose your current F -1 status along with any period of OPT that was approved prior to your departure.

    Travel validation signature

    The travel validation signature on page 2 of your Form I-20 is only valid for 6 months while on a period of OPT from the date it was last signed.

    If you need a travel signature while on OPT, please email iss@nullwfu.edu.

    My F-1 visa stamp is expired. What should I do?

    Your F-1 visa stamp can only be renewed at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside of the U.S.

    • If you have no plans to travel outside of the U.S. during your period of OPT, you will not need to make a specific trip to renew your F visa stamp. It may remain expired during your period of OPT
    • If you do have plans to travel during your period of OPT and your F-1 visa stamp is expired, you will need to make arrangements with the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest to your travel destination to have your F-1 stamp renewed prior to re-entering the U.S.
    My F-1 visa stamp is expired but I have a valid B-2 visa stamp in my passport. Can’t I just use that to re-enter the U.S.?

    No. If you exit and then re-enter the U.S. in another nonimmigrant visa category, your remaining period of OPT will be cancelled immediately upon receipt of the new visa classification.

    Note of caution for traveling during OPT extended periods of time.

    Please be aware of the fact that a Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer is probably going to be suspicious of a student applying for re-entry who is not employed and has spent an extended period of time outside of the U.S. When making a re-entry to the U.S., it is strongly advised that you have a letter from your current employer that explains the details of your employment situation. If you are not employed when you make the re-entry, you will need to convince the Customs & Border Protection Officer that you are actively seeking employment (i.e. proof of pending job interviews, etc.).

    USCIS has stated that being employed while on OPT is a requirement for re-entry.

  • STEM Extension

    For students whose primary degrees were in an approved STEM field, you may be eligible for an extension of the standard OPT.