When to Apply
Applying for OPT is a long process. USCIS processing time may be up to 5 months. And, it may take ISS up to 15 days to process a student’s OPT recommendation request. This OPT Date Calculator can help students plan ahead!
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The earliest date USCIS can receive your OPT application is 90 days before you complete your one full academic year enrollment requirement.
The latest date USCIS should receive your OPT application is 90 days before your employment offer start date.
The earliest date USCIS can receive your OPT application is 90 days before your date of program completion.
The latest date USCIS can receive your OPT application is 60 days after your date of program completion.
USCIS must receive your OPT application no later than 30 days from the date your new I-20 was issued to you by ISS.
What’s my Date of Program Completion?
- Undergraduate and Coursework Only Master’s
- 2 business days after final grades are due for UW-Madison, according to the academic calendar. This date gives you time to confirm that you have completed all degree requirements and have passed all your courses with a high enough GPA to graduate.
- Master’s with Thesis and Doctoral Students
- Date that you deposit your thesis or dissertation to the Graduate School or to the Library, depending on your academic program’s requirements. This should be a date that you and your faculty advisor or committee agree upon in advance.
Is my Date of Program Completion the same as my current I-20 end date?
Maybe. It is possible that your current I-20 end date (the I-20 before you apply to ISS for OPT) is different from your actual date of program completion.
You may end your program earlier than estimated. ISS will shorten your current I-20 end date to match your date of program completion.
You may need more time to complete all of your degree program requirements (there is no additional time to complete certificate/minor requirements). You will need to work with your academic/faculty advisor or graduate coordinator to extend your I-20. You must extend your I-20 before the current I-20 end date! (There is an exception for master’s with thesis and PhDs who have completed all coursework, but have not completed their thesis or dissertation.)
On-campus employment ends on your Date of Program Completion
How to Apply
Step 1: Complete the Mandatory ISS OPT Workshop
Online in Terra Dotta
The OPT workshop is part of the OPT request form in Terra Dotta. You must complete all required video modules. All of the required modules will take you up to a total of 50 minutes to complete. You must complete the OPT Workshop Quiz after viewing the video modules.
Step 2: Complete All Sections of the OPT Form and Acknowledge Your Statement of Responsibility
Upload all necessary documents and fill out the “Document Mailing Information” and “OPT Request Form” questionnaires.
At the end of the form, you will do the following:
- Certify that you have completed the mandatory ISS OPT Workshop
- Review your mandatory reporting requirements while on OPT
- Acknowledge your understanding to fulfill those reporting requirements and the acceptable time frame to submit your OPT application materials to USCIS
Step 3: Submit the ISS OPT Application Form
Click on the “Submit” button at the top of the OPT form after you have completed all sections and accepted the Statement of Responsibility.
The earliest date to submit this form to ISS is 115 days before your date of completion, if you are applying for post-completion OPT.
Step 4: Submit your required documents to USCIS
*ISS recommends that you file your USCIS I-765 OPT application online.
Compile all of the documents required by USCIS. A checklist of required documents is available after you accept the Statement of Responsibility. USCIS processing times are posted online.
If you will submit your USCIS I-765 OPT application online: You need to create a USCIS account. DO NOT pay for your application until you are ready to submit your form. Once your pay your USCIS fee, your application will automatically submit.
If you will mail your USCIS I-765 OPT application: Make a copy of your completed OPT application packet before you mail it to USCIS. Keep this in a safe place for your permanent records. DO NOT mail your application without tracking information. The USCIS address you send your application materials to depends on the address you use on the USCIS Form I-765, Part 2, Question 5, and the method you use to mail the application. Direct mailing addresses for USCIS Form I-765 for foreign students applying for OPT are located on their website.
Completing your USCIS Form I-765
You, as the applicant, are responsible for your OPT application. You should review the full instructions available on the USCIS I-765 page.
ISS has developed guidance for USCIS Form I-765 for Pre- and Post- Completion OPT in response to common questions from students. (Note: This is guidance intended to help you and should not be viewed as legal advice.)
Online Application: USCIS Online I-765 Application Instructions
Mailing Application: Instructions or the paper I-765 for OPT. Download the USICS Form I-765 from www.uscis.gov using Chrome or Firefox and complete it in Adobe Acrobat. Print out all 7 pages single sided, and sign in black ink only.
Please review each item in the I-765 carefully. Each item discussed is highlighted in the image as to where it appears on the actual I-765 Form.
Tracking Your Application
USCIS will mail you a receipt notice (I-797C) with your OPT application case status number. You can track your case status at www.uscis.gov.
Request a tracking number when you mail your OPT application to USCIS. Track the package delivery and save the delivery confirmation with a copy of your OPT application packet.
Expediting Your Application
It is very difficult to expedite your OPT application with USCIS. The USCIS expedite criteria are difficult for an F-1 student to meet since your primary purpose in the U.S. is to study, and you must have sufficient funding to cover your educational and living expenses while in the U.S. in F-1 status.
Please do not contact State representatives to expedite your OPT application with USCIS. Wisconsin’s senators and representatives have contacted ISS directly to inform our F-1 students that they are unable to assist with OPT applications.
OPT and the 60 Day Grace Period
You can apply for post-completion OPT during your 60 day grace period. Your 60 day grace period starts the day after you complete all requirements for your degree program.
If your OPT application is still pending with USCIS during and/or after your 60 day period, you can legally remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until USCIS makes a decision on your case. You should keep a copy of your USCIS I-797C receipt notice as proof. If you are approved for OPT, your EAD card is additional proof of your current F-1 status. If you are denied for OPT, you must depart the U.S. immediately or risk accruing days of unlawful presence in the U.S. Always consult ISS if your OPT application is denied.
As long as you follow your OPT reporting requirements and you do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during your authorized period of OPT, you earn a 60 day grace period at the end of your OPT.