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Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment directly related to the student’s field of study after the student’s program completion date. Students in F-1 status can be eligible for up to 12 months of Post-Completion OPT. For more information about F-1 OPT, visit the STUDY in the STATES website maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

OPT authorization allows the student to work for any employer in the United States, so long as the job duties are directly related to the student’s major area of study and commensurate with the student’s educational level.  Practical training experiences that are unpaid may be permitted within certain limitations.

OPT is recommended by a Designated School official (DSO) at the school attended by the student, but authorization is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Official authorization comes in the form of a card known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  It may take up to 3 months or longer for USCIS to issue an EAD authorizing OPT. Students may not begin employment until they have received the EAD and until the start date indicated on the EAD.

An F-1 student completing an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in the U.S. is eligible to apply for a total of 12 months of full-time OPT. Once a student has been authorized for 12 months of OPT at a particular educational level, that student only becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Students who have been authorized for 12 months of OPT based on terminal degrees, such as PhD, D.D.S. J.D., PharmD, etc. are not eligible to receive additional OPT since all terminal degrees are considered equivalent in level.

To be eligible for OPT, a student:

  • Must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application.
  • Must have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time degree-seeking student for at least one full academic year (9 months).
  • Must not have engaged in 12 months or more of Curricular Practical Training (CPT). If a student has engaged in a total of 12 months of full-time CPT during a program of study, the student is not eligible for OPT for that program.

NOTE: F-1 exchange students and other non-degree students at UNC-Chapel Hill are not eligible for OPT.

There are two types of OPT:

  • Pre-Completion OPT is training that will be completed before graduation, either during the academic year (fall and spring semesters, when a student may be authorized to work 20 hours or less per week) or during school vacations such as summer or winter break (when a student may be authorized to work full-time).
  • Post-Completion OPT is full-time training that will commence after the student has completed their program.

Post-Completion OPT may be extended beyond 12 months in only two ways:

  • STEM Extension: Students who have graduated in eligible STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of OPT.
  • Cap-Gap Extension: Students with a receipted or approved H-1B change of status application filed with USCIS by a cap-subject employer may be eligible for an extension of OPT from their original OPT expiration date to the effective date of their H-1B status.

Please speak to an advisor at International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) if you have any questions. All F-1 students employed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) while on Optional Practical Training (OPT), should check-in with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).

For those employees of UNC-Chapel Hill who are applying for the STEM extension of OPT, please see our 24-Month STEM Extension page for more information on the UNC process.