F-1 students are eligible to apply for off-campus work authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows for a total of 12 months of employment that is directly related to the student's field of study and may be used after graduation. Students must apply to graduate, complete an online application in Axess for preliminary processing, obtain an OPT endorsed I-20 from Bechtel International Center, and then apply by mail to USCIS for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
A job offer is not required in order for apply for Optional Practical Training. Employment is permitted only after you receive the EAD card, and only during the period specified on the card. Employment must begin within 90 days of the EAD start date to avoid violation of F-1 status.
Employment must be directly related to the major field of study. Employment must be at least 20 hours a week and can be paid, self-employed, internship, or unpaid/volunteer (in accordance with US labor laws). Multiple employers are permitted, provided all employment is directly related to the major field of study.
It is extremely important that you carefully plan the filing of your post-completion OPT application.
When to Begin and Submit Application
You may apply to graduate on Axess and begin the process with Bechtel International Center (also on Axess) 100 days before your program conferral date. You may submit your post-completion OPT application to USCIS no earlier than 90 days before your program conferral date and no later than 60 days after conferral date provided you do not depart the US. All OPT must be endorsed by Bechtel International Center and approved by USCIS.
Most students will apply as early as allowed for post completion OPT since the employment authorization processing time are often lengthy.
It takes 5-10 business days for Bechtel to endorse your OPT I-20 and approximately 90 or more days for USCIS to adjudicate your application. If approved, USCIS says it can take up to 30 days to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD); however, we find 5-10 business days to be more common. You must have your EAD and it be the start date on the EAD before you can begin work.
We are hearing that processing times with USCIS are delayed this year and it is likely to take over 90 days from point of application receipt to point of EAD arrival.
Choosing an OPT Start Date
When choosing your OPT start date, the earliest start date of post-completion OPT can be the day after degree conferral and the latest start date can be up to 60 days after the degree conferral date.
Once your application is received by USCIS, you cannot make edits to your application or to your proposed dates. Please choose your employment dates carefully.
Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their application risk violating their visa status and could forfeit their practical training. Do not submit paperwork for post-completion OPT to Bechtel International Center until you are absolutely sure of your graduation date. If you find that you will not graduate on time, please contact an International Student Advisor immediately.
PhD students: There is a special regulation for PhD students that allows the continued submission of the post OPT application while finishing the thesis. However, this does impact TA/RAships, travel, and employment. You will need to speak with an International Student Advisor to discuss your options.
Once the Post-Completion OPT period is over, students have a 60-day grace period in which they are required to depart from the US or change status.