Eligibility for Post-Completion OPT
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 status that permits off-campus employment in the student’s field of study to begin after the student’s program completion date.
Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT at each degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral). OPT work authorization can be used either before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) degree completion. Any time used prior to degree completion is subtracted from the 12-month total. Students become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when moving to a higher degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s to Master’s, Master’s to Ph.D.).
Post-Completion OPT must be used directly following program completion and may not be “saved” to be used at a later time. The 12-month period of Post-Completion OPT must be completed within a 14-month period following the student’s program completion date.
In order to apply for Post-Completion OPT, students must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Must have completed 1 academic year of full-time study
- Must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application
- Must not have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the current degree level
- Must have OPT time remaining at the current degree level
Failure to complete the program of study as expected for any reason – an incomplete or failing grade, or otherwise failing to meet graduation requirements – can impact a student’s eligibility for Post-Completion OPT. Students must apply for an extension of their Form I-20 (prior to its expiration) if they will not complete their studies before the program end date listed on the form
All students are advised to confirm their eligibility for graduation with their academic advisor or department prior to applying for Post-Completion OPT, since withdrawal of the OPT application at a later time may not be possible. Students who have a pending application for Post-Completion OPT (not yet approved) and who learn they may not graduate as expected should contact ISSS immediately to determine if withdrawal of their OPT application is possible.
Application Process for Post-Completion OPT
OPT Application Overview
The application process for Post-Completion OPT is broken into three main steps:
- The student must request and receive a new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation from ISSS.
- The student will submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requesting Post-Completion OPT authorization.
- USCIS will review and adjudicate the application, and if approved, the student will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
To see a list of documents required to apply for OPT, please refer to the Pre- and Post- Completion OPT Application Checklist.
OPT Application Timeline
We recommend students submit the request for their new Form I-20 to ISSS as early as possible (three to four months in advance of program completion) as it may take over 90 days for USCIS to reach a decision on the application. Please check current USCIS processing times.
STEP ONE: Issuance of New Form I-20 with OPT Recommendation
In order to begin this process, students must submit a completed Academic Advisor’s Certification Form and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to ISSS to request a new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation. The MOU will require students to select a requested start date. When selecting a start date, students should take the following items into consideration:
- Students must select a start date within the 60-day grace period following the program completion date
- Upon submission of request materials, the student’s program dates in SEVIS will be updated if necessary; the program may be shortened to reflect the expected date of completion. The student’s new Form I-20 recommending OPT will also show the new dates (if any change is required). The 60-day grace period will be based on the program end date on the new I-20.
- The program completion date reported in SEVIS will be the last day of the final exam period in the student’s final term of enrollment. For undergraduate students, this will typically be the term the student graduates. For graduate students, this will typically be the term the student defends their thesis/dissertation or completes their master’s project.
Students can submit the two request forms to the ISSS front desk or via email to the student’s International Student Advisor. Students should allow 2-3 weeks processing time for ISSS to review the request and to issue a new Form I-20 recommending OPT. The student will be contacted via email once the document is ready and should come to ISSS in person to pick-up and sign the new Form I-20.
STEP TWO: Submission of OPT Application to USCIS
Once students have received their new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, they will compile their OPT application (checklist available here) and mail their application to USCIS. USCIS must receive the student’s application within 30 days of the Form I-20 issuance date.
When compiling the application for USCIS, students should carefully consider the mailing address they choose to include on Form I-765. All correspondence from USCIS, including the receipt notice, requests for additional documents (if applicable), and the EAD (if approved), will be sent to the mailing address listed on Form I-765. Students should list an address at which they will be able to receive mail for at least three to four months.
Students are responsible for mailing the OPT application to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox facility. Currently all OPT applications should be mailed to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox facility, but as this designation by USCIS can change at any time, students should always check the USCIS website to verify the address that should be used to mail their application.
If unsure about where to mail the application or which mail/delivery service to use, students should speak with their International Student Advisor.
STEP THREE: USCIS Review and Adjudication
Once the application is received at the USCIS lockbox facility, the payment will be processed and the application will be forwarded to a USCIS Service Center for processing. USCIS will send an official Form I-797 Notice of Action: Receipt Notice to the student approximately two to four weeks after receiving the application. This notice will confirm official receipt of the application by USCIS and indicate a case number which can be used to track the application.
NOTE: If an application is returned for any reason (e.g. payment could not be processed, I-765 missing signature, etc.), students must stop by ISSS and speak with an advisor prior to refiling the application
During the adjudication process, students should be mindful of the following items:
- Checking the Status of the OPT Application
Students may check their case status online at www.uscis.gov; they should click on “Check your Case Status” and enter the case number from the Receipt Notice. It may take up to 90 days or longer for USCIS to reach a decision on the case. If the application takes longer than USCIS’s published processing time, students may submit a case inquiry through USCIS’s e-request system.
- Request for Evidence
In the course of adjudicating the application, USCIS may send a Form I-797 Notice of Action: Request for Evidence to an applicant if an item is missing or if USCIS requires additional information before making a decision on an application. Students who receive a Request for Evidence are advised to contact ISSS immediately for assistance with preparing the additional documentation.
- Impact of Long Processing Times
If a student’s OPT application is approved after the student’s requested start date, USCIS will give the student a new start date. The end date will also be adjusted to 12 months after the new start date or 14 months after the student’s program end date, whichever is earliest. Students are permitted to remain in the U.S. beyond their grace period if they have a pending OPT application with USCIS.
- Withdrawing the Application
Students who no longer wish to pursue Post-Completion OPT may choose to withdraw their application, so long as the application is still pending with USCIS. Students will need to correspond with USCIS to complete the withdrawal process prior to adjudication.
Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the applicant. Please note it can take two to four weeks for the EAD card to arrive once the online case status at uscis.gov is updated to “Approved”. Students may not begin employment before receiving the EAD and before the start date on the card.
Upon receipt of the EAD, students should check the card for accuracy (they should check name spelling, date of birth, and OPT authorization dates). If there are any errors, students should notify ISSS immediately.
STUDENTS MUST SUBMIT A COPY OF THE EAD TO ISSS.
Maintaining Status on Post-Completion OPT
Students completing their programs and commencing Post-Completion OPT employment must keep in mind the following regulations and guidelines so as not to violate the rules of their F-1 status:
Students may only work after receipt of the EAD, only for the dates as specified on the EAD, and only in positions related to the field of study and degree program for which the OPT was recommended.
On-Campus Employment after Completion of Program
Students may not continue working on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill after the program end date listed on the Form I-20 unless they have received an EAD and their OPT dates cover the dates of employment. When recommending a student for Post-Completion OPT, the program end date on the Form I-20 may be updated to reflect the expected date of completion. Students should notify their academic department and Human Resources regarding the new program end date. Students who intend to use OPT work authorization to work at UNC after the program end date on their Form I-20 will need to bring a letter verifying employment at UNC to ISSS for Payroll purposes. Employment during the OPT period must be commensurate with the student’s degree level and related to the student’s field of study.
90-Day Unemployment Limit
Students approved for Post-Completion OPT may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment within the OPT period. While participating in Post-Completion OPT, students must be employed or participating in permitted practical training activities for at least 20 hours per week to avoid accruing unemployment; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual. The “unemployment clock” begins from the first day listed on the student’s EAD.
Students who have accrued more than 90 days of unemployment are considered out of status and should make plans to depart the U.S., start a new program at UNC, or transfer to a new program/school prior to exhausting the 90-day unemployment limit. A student will be considered out of compliance if they have exceeded the 90-day limit on unemployment time or if they have failed to report their employment information to ISSS, even if unemployment time was less than 90 days. To avoid violating their F-1 status, students must report all required information about their employment activities while on OPT, whether paid or unpaid, in a timely manner to the ISSS office and/or through the SEVP Portal.
For more reporting guidelines, please see Reporting Requirements.
Types of Allowable OPT Employment
Students may work for multiple employers and may be employed part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week). If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week. Keep in mind that OPT activity less than 20 hours per week will count toward unemployment accrual.
The following types of employment are allowed during Post-Completion OPT:
|Multiple employers||Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be directly related to student’s degree program.|
|Work for hire/independent contractor||This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.|
|Self-employed business owner||Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.|
|Employment through an agency or consulting firm||Students on OPT should be able to provide evidence showing the number of hours worked per week while employed by the agency.|
|Unpaid employment||Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. If this is the student’s only position, the work should be at least 20 hours per week. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.|
SEVIS Reporting Requirements During the OPT Period
Students are required to update ISSS with documentation and information as specified below (whenever applicable) for the duration of the OPT period. Students must:
- Submit a copy of the EAD card, once received
- Report any change in residential address within 10 days of moving
- Report all employment activity – PAID or UNPAID
- Report any termination of employment, specifying the employment end date
- Notify ISSS if permanently departing the U.S. prior to the end of the OPT period
- Notify ISSS if changing to a status other than F-1
For more reporting guidelines, please see Reporting Requirements
The Importance of Documenting Employment Activities
Students must keep accurate records of their OPT employment as they may be required by USCIS or the Department of State to show proof of their OPT activities. These documents may include:
- job postings and formal job descriptions
- timesheets and paystubs
- job offer letters and employment verification letters confirming starting and ending dates of employment
Such documentation may also be extremely important for individuals considering long term employment in the U.S. as they may be requested during the course of future immigration benefit applications such as an H-1B (work visa) petition or application for U.S. permanent residency.
60-Day Grace Period
Once students have completed their period of Post-Completion OPT, they are permitted to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status up to 60 days in order to prepare for departure from the U.S. Students are not permitted to continue employment during this period. Travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period, however, once a student departs the U.S., the remaining time of the grace period is forfeited, and the student may not re-enter in F-1 status. By the end of the grace period, students should do one of the following: depart the U.S., transfer their F-1 status to another school or process a change of education level to begin a new program of study at UNC.
Students approved for Post-Completion OPT are eligible to transfer their SEVIS record to begin a new program of study at another institution at any time during the OPT period. Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated as of the SEVIS transfer release date. Students must obtain a new Form I-20 from their new institution and must begin the new program of study within five months of the end of the OPT period or their SEVIS transfer release date, whichever is sooner.
Beginning a New Academic Program at UNC
Students may continue their education at UNC-Chapel Hill, however, if a student begins a new program of study at UNC prior to the expiration of OPT, the OPT period will automatically terminate as of the start of classes. Students must obtain a new Form I-20 for their new program at UNC prior to the end of their 60-day grace period and must begin the new program of study within five months of the end of the OPT period.
Reporting Requirements During Post-Completion OPT
F-1 students on OPT are required to notify ISSS directly about several types of events and/or changes that may occur before or during the period of Post-Completion OPT, including:
- Receipt of the EAD card (students must submit copy of the card to ISSS)
- Change in U.S. residential address
- Change in phone number or email address
- Commencement of any employment activity, paid or unpaid
- Termination of any employment (students must report a specific employment end date)
- Change in employment details such as job location
- Permanent departure from the U.S.
- Change of immigration status (to a status other than F-1)
- Detailed information about specific actions students should take to report these events can be found in the OPT Reporting Resource Guide.
Reporting Changes in OPT Employment Information
For all jobs held while on OPT, F-1 students must report the employer’s name and physical location of work, the start date of employment and (when applicable) the end date of employment. Students must also provide an explanation of how each job held is directly related to their major or program of study at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Students must report all changes in employment information directly to ISSS by submitting an OPT Employment Reporting Form.
NOTE: Even if a student has already updated employment information in the SEVP Portal, the student must still submit this form to ISSS. An ISSS student advisor must review and/or submit changes in the student’s SEVIS record to make sure it is updated accurately. The ISSS student advisor will also issue a new Form I-20 to the student that reflects the changes to the OPT employment information.
Reporting New Address and/or Contact Information
Changes to your U.S. residential address should be reported in ConnectCarolina under the “Immigration Reporting Address” (Address Type in ConnectCarolina: Imm Rprt Addr). Students should update the “Preferred” phone number and “Preferred” email address fields in ConnectCarolina, if this information changes. Students should be able to continue to access ConnectCarolina after graduation either with their Onyen and password OR with a UNC Guest ID. If students have trouble making this update in the system, however, they may also use the OPT Employment Reporting Form to report new contact information.
NOTE: Even if a student has already updated their address and/or phone number in the SEVP Portal, the student must still report this information to ISSS, either by updating the Immigration Reporting Address and/or Preferred phone number in ConnectCarolina OR by submitting an OPT Employment Reporting Form.
Travel While on Post-Completion OPT
In order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status during OPT, students will need the following documents:
- Form I-20 updated with most recent employment information (if applicable) and with a travel signature that will be less than six months old at the time of re-entry
- Valid F-1 visa
- Valid passport
- Employment offer or employment verification letter, if applicable
Students who are on OPT and have a pending H-1B petition should be especially careful about travel. Please consult an immigration attorney or the employer before traveling in this circumstance.