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OPT Decision Factors

The application process for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) is fairly straightforward, but your timing and selected employment dates can have significant impact on your plans. Students are encouraged to speak with an ISO Advisor before preparing their application.

 

Pre-Completion vs. Post-Completion

Most F-1 students choose to save their available OPT permission until they are finishing their degree and will apply for post-completion work authorization. Since the ISO is often able to authorize similar employment during a student's academic program through F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT), the use of pre-completion OPT is very rare. Both CPT and OPT have very similar minimum eligibility requirements. A major advantage of CPT is that the authorization comes from the school instead of USCIS, meaning the processing time is usually much faster and does not involve a fee. If you are planning to use your OPT employment as both pre- and post-completion, these will be treated as separate applications, requiring the same process and fees for each one. Instead, you may want to consider an adjustment to your completion date and/or requested employment dates to allow for a single period of post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT has the added challenge that you must maintain full-time enrollment during academic terms and would not be eligible for the Cap Gap Extension or STEM Extension, that might otherwise be available to you.

 

When to Apply

Applications for post-completion OPT may be filed as early as 90 days before the completion date listed on the I-20 and up to 60 days after completion. For students requesting pre-completion OPT, you may apply 90 days before your intended start date. The ISO is usually able to process the OPT recommendation and issue your new I-20 within 1 week. Your mailed application must be received within 30 days of the OPT recommendation date in SEVIS by ISO. Once the required materials are successfully filed, USCIS may take 90 days to process the OPT application and sometimes longer in rare cases. The average processing time changes throughout the year due to volume. If USCIS is not able to approve your OPT application by your requested start date, they will adjust your employment dates based on when it can be approved (within a limit of 14 months after your completion date). For this reason, you must wait to begin work until you have received the EAD card authorizing your employment.

 

Selecting Employment Dates

The start date requested for post-completion OPT may be delayed up to 60 days after the completion date listed on the new I-20. It is your choice whether to start your work authorization immediately or use the 60-day period to delay. You can choose how many of these 60 days you would like to use. Any time between the end of your studies and the start of your employment authorization is considered part of your F-1 program and you will maintain your status during that time. Many students use this time to continue the job search, relocate, or take a break before starting work.

There is a common trade-off that you should consider when selecting your employment dates. If you choose to delay the start of your OPT, you may not begin working until the authorization start date has been reached, even if your OPT application has already been approved. This can cause a problem for students who receive an offer to begin work prior to the start of their OPT. If you choose an earlier OPT start date, you will have more flexibility to accept potential job offers, but you will also be required to start reporting periods of unemployment.

Impact of I-20 Completion Date: When requesting a post-completion OPT recommendation, students should determine their expected completion date with their academic advisor carefully. This date will be printed on the new I-20 and reflects the expected completion of all degree requirements for the individual student, including classes, exams, final thesis, etc. Students must maintain full-time enrollment through the completion date, or obtain permission for a reduced course load. This date also triggers the end of F-1 On-Campus work permission, which includes all service-based Graduate Awards and assistantships, positions hired through Student Employment, and any other paid work at the University. Many graduate students have some flexibility in determining this date, based on their academic and employment plans. Academic programs that are based on course requirements alone, however, will be more strictly tied to the student's last academic term.

Once your OPT application is submitted, it is very complicated, and often impossible, to make changes to your requested employment dates. You must choose these dates carefully! If you do not have a job when you apply for OPT, you can maximize your job search after graduation by using the full 60-day allowance to delay OPT.

 

For additional guidance, return to F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT).