Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment authorization most students use after graduation to gain work experience in their field of study.

OPT is granted for a duration of 12 months (extensions are available for STEM majors) per educational level.

Eligibility Requirements

  • You must have been enrolled at Davidson full-time for one full academic year (two consecutive semesters)
  • You must be in lawful F-1 status
  • No job offer is necessary to apply
  • You must be in the U.S. in F-1 status at time of OPT application
  • You must receive a new I-20 from ISP with OPT recommendation
  • Your requested OPT start date can be anytime within the 60 day grace period after your program end date
  • You must submit the OPT I-20 to USCIS within 30 days of the recommendation date

Steps for Gaining and Maintaining OPT Authorization

Step 1: Gather Materials

Prepare the items below which are required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as part of the OPT application:

Step 2: Complete the OPT I-20 Request in WildcatSync

  1. Fill out the OPT I-20 Request in WildcatSync.
  2. Upload the documents to be reviewed by an ISP advisor.
  3. Submit the request form and allow 3-5 days for ISP to issue a new I-20 that will include the OPT recommendation.
  4. ISP will review the request and, if everything is in order, email the new I-20 to you.

If you would like, you may schedule an appointment with an ISP advisor to review the completed OPT application. When you attend the appointment you are expected to have all of the above items (review Step 1) so that ISP can review the material that is otherwise ready to be submitted to USCIS.

Step 3: Submit the USCIS application and payment

You must submit these to USCIS within 30 days of ISP recommending you for OPT.

  1. Log back into your USCIS account.
  2. Make any necessary changes after feedback from an ISP advisor.
  3. Upload the new I-20 with OPT recommendation.
  4. Submit the application and make the payment. Your application has not been submitted until you have completed the payment.

Step 4: Wait

It will generally take USCIS at least 90 days to process the OPT application and there is no way to expedite the process. For this reason, it is important that you apply for OPT at least three months before you hope to have the work authorization and begin your employment. You may not begin working until your OPT is approved, you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS, and the approved start date arrives.

Step 5: Maintain F-1 Status During OPT

Remember that throughout the entirety of your OPT, your legal immigration status is F-1. If you need to renew your visa, it would be an F-1 visa for which you apply. You must maintain a valid travel signature on your I-20 if you are traveling internationally. Travel signatures are valid for 6 months while on OPT.

Within 2-3 days before/after your approved OPT start date, you will receive an email instructing you to set up your SEVP Portal. The link will expire after 14 days, so do not delay. You are required to report employment and address updates through the portal. While on OPT, students are required to report any of the following within 10 days:

  • A change in name or residential address
  • The name and address of your employer. If you have more than one employer, you must provide each employer's name and address.
  • The name and address of any new employer(s)
  • Any change to any employer's name or address
  • Any period(s) of unemployment, including those days between the end of one job and the beginning of the new job
  • If you decide to cease OPT and depart the U.S. (also report to ISP)
  • If you change to another immigration status in the U.S. (also report to ISP)

Your employment must meet certain requirements:

  • All OPT must be directly related to your major area of study
  • You must work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full time
  • You are allowed to accrue an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during OPT