OPT Application and Other Resources



All eligible F-1 students must receive an OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISSO BEFORE submitting an online OPT application to USCIS.

Post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12 month period of work authorization, or practical training. OPT is an opportunity for F-1 students to take what they learned in the classroom and apply their knowledge to a work setting. As such, all work must be directly related to a student's level and major field of study. Generally, these work experiences are off-campus or for non-student positions at ISU.

Students pursuing a STEM designated major are eligible for a 24-month extension and will apply for the STEM extension during the first year of OPT. Read more on the OPT STEM Extension FAQ page.

Prospective employers may not be aware of the employment options available to F-1 international students. At some point, you may need to explain to an employer the employment options that you have as an international student. To find more information on how to advocate for yourself, please review the Job Search webpage on the ISSO website.

OPT Process

  1. Complete the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Checklist in Cystart
    • Complete the OPT Workshop: Modules 1-4
    • Submit Optional Practical Training Recommendation I-20 e-form in Cystart to receive an OPT Recommendation I-20
  2. Receive email from ISSO to pick up OPT Recommendation I-20
  3. Gather OPT application documents
  4. OPT application review by ISSO (recommended)
  5. Submit OPT application online in myUSCIS
  6. Receive receipt notice
  7. Wait for application to be processed by USCIS, time may vary
  8. Receive EAD card in the mail
  9. Start employment only after receiving EAD card and reaching employment start date listed on EAD
  10. Use EAD to complete I-9 with employer
  11. Report employment

Eligibility and Application Timeline


Generally, F-1 students are eligible for OPT after they have been in F-1 status for one academic year. Depending on their degree program, students are eligible for OPT once all coursework is completed. Read in more detail on OPT eligibility


Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior but no later than 60 days after their program completion date. 

Program Completion Date

Determining Your Program Completion Date

When you apply for OPT, your I-20 program end date may be shortened to a new program completion date. The new I-20 end date is particularly important when applying for OPT, as it determines the timeline to apply for OPT. 

  • Undergraduate students:
    • Completion Date: Last day of the semester in which the final courses for the degree were taken
  • Graduate students students in coursework only programs:
    • Completion date: Last day of the semester in which the final courses for the degree were taken
  • Graduate students with creative component, thesis, or dissertation:
    • There are multiple options for selecting a program completion date:
      • Earliest: Last day in the semester in which the final POS coursework is taken (excluding research credits)
      • Last day of any semester between POS completion and last day of semester in which you defend
      • Final oral defense date that is scheduled in Accessplus
      • Latest: Last day of the semester in which you defend
        • If you defend in the interim period, the latest program completion date will be the previous semester end date.
          • For example, if you defend between the end of spring and beginning of summer terms, your program completion date will be the last day of the spring semester.
Impact on On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment, including graduate assistantships, must end no later than your program completion date. Your I-9 work authorization will end on your established program completion date. 

For example, graduate students who select their defense date as their program completion date will have their I-20 program end date and I-9 work authorization shortened to their scheduled defense date. All on-campus work must end on their defense date. 

Optional Practical Training Checklist

Before applying with USCIS, students must first work with ISSO to request an OPT Recommendation I-20. To begin the process of requesting an OPT Recommendation I-20, students must go to the Optional Practical Training Checklist in CyStart. Read more in the steps below:

Step 1: OPT Workshop

The beginning of the Optional Practical Training Checklist is the online OPT Workshop. The OPT Workshop is a training that goes over what OPT is and how to apply that consists of multiple modules and quizzes. A score of 100% is required in order to continue with the OPT application process. The OPT Workshop is virtual and can be done online at any time. 

Students are required to complete the OPT Workshop before they can request the OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISSO.

Step 2: OPT Recommendation I-20 Request

Timeline for Request

Students can request their OPT Recommendation I-20 up to 100 days prior to their program completion date but no later than 45 days following the date all degree requirements are completed to allow time for ISSO processing. 

Request Form 

To request the OPT Recommendation I-20, complete the OPT Recommendation I-20 request form found in the Optional Practical Training Checklist in Cystart. Once submitted, the form will be routed by email to your academic/faculty advisor for review.

Selecting an OPT Start Date

Students can select an OPT start date of any day within their 60 day grace period following your program completion date. Read in more detail on selecting an OPT start date

Processing Time

ISSO can only start processing your OPT Recommendation I-20 request once we have received feedback from your academic/faculty advisor. ISSO can take up to 10 working days to process the OPT Recommendation I-20 request.

Step 3: OPT Application Review

Gather OPT Application Materials

After receiving an OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISSO, request to have your OPT application reviewed by ISSO. Gather the necessary application documents outlined in the OPT Checklist to prepare your application.

OPT Application Review

Once you have received your OPT Recommendation I-20 and gathered all OPT application materials, you are ready to have your OPT application reviewed by an International Student Advisor. Submit the OPT Application Online Review e-form in Cystart. Upload scanned PDF files of all OPT application materials in the e-form. Once submitted, your OPT application will be reviewed within 1-2 business days.

Following ISSO Review

Following review of your OPT application, feedback and next steps will be sent to your ISU email address. Review all feedback and make necessary changes. Check the finalized OPT application to ensure dates are correct, signatures are included, and I-20 is signed within 30 days of USCIS receiving the application.

Step 4: Submitting Your Application to USCIS

Submit OPT application online through myUSCIS. More information on filing your online OPT application can be found on the USCIS Tips for Filing Forms Online page.

Pending Application

Receipt Notice

Students will receive their receipt notice at the time of filing the OPT application in myUSCIS. Additionally, all students will receive an I-797 receipt notice mailed to the mailing address listed in their OPT application. If there is an error on the receipt notice, contact isso@iastate.edu to request assistance.

Change in Mailing Address

If you move while your OPT application is pending and you need to update the mailing address on your OPT application, you must update your address with USCIS by submitting a change of address request with USCIS. Note, it is important to submit the form as soon as you move, as updating your address using the USCIS change of address request is not reliable.

USCIS Processing

View your USCIS Case Status by enter the receipt number found on your receipt notice. The online case status system will show you if your application is pending, approved, EAD card has been mailed, etc.

USCIS can take up to 90 days to process OPT applications, although processing times vary from month to month. Once approved, students generally receive their EAD within 10 days. However, it can take up to 30 days for the EAD card to be received.

If you chose to have your EAD card mailed to ISSO, we will notify you by email once the card is ready to be picked up or mailed to you. 

Premium Processing

A request for premium processing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guarantees adjudication of a USCIS application within a set time frame. USCIS has expanded premium processing to include Optional Practical Training (OPT), STEM OPT Extensions, and Change of Status. Read in more detail on Premium Processing with USCIS Applications.

Withdrawing OPT Application

If you need to withdraw your OPT application, contact ISSO immediately at isso@iastate.edu. The OPT application withdrawal request must be made before USCIS processes your application. Students will not receive a refund of the application fee.

Delayed Graduation

In the event that you fail to meet graduation requirements after applying for OPT, action may be needed depending on the situation. Review scenarios below:

  • Undergraduate and graduate students in coursework only programs: Action must be taken before the program completion date on the OPT Recommendation I-20. Students must immediately contact an ISSO at isso@iastate.edu.
  • Graduate students with creative component, thesis, or dissertation may:
    • Choose to proceed with the OPT request. No action required.
    • Choose not to proceed with the OPT request. Action must be taken before program completion date on OPT Recommendation I-20. Contact ISSO at isso@iastate.edu.

During OPT

Employment on OPT

During OPT all employment must be directly related to your major and level of study. Employment during OPT is flexible. Read in more detail on qualifying employment.

Reporting Qualifying Employment and Address Changes

After your OPT application is approved, SEVP will send an email on accessing the SEVP Portal. Read more about the SEVP Portal at Study in the States website.

Students must update their living address and employment information within 10 days of any change. Students must update their address and employment information in the SEVP Portal to comply with immigration regulations. 

Read in more detail on OPT reporting requirements.

Unemployment on OPT

From the start date listed on your EAD card, you are allowed no more than 90 days of unemployment. Before exceeding the 90 days of unemployment, you must do one of the following:

Classes During OPT

OPT is automatically terminated when a student begins study at another educational level or if a student transfers to another institution. Contact isso@iastate.edu to discuss whether your future enrollment plans will impact your OPT authorization.

Travel and OPT

While on OPT, you may travel outside of the U.S. However, there are some associated risks with travel on OPT. Read in more detail on requirements when traveling outside of the U.S. 

Plan for STEM OPT

Students with a STEM designated CIP code and with qualifying employment may apply for a 24-month extension of OPT (STEM OPT). Students can apply for STEM OPT up to 90 days before their EAD card end date but no later than the end date of their EAD card. Read in more detail on Optional Practical Training STEM Extension. 

After OPT

For students who have maintained status throughout OPT and have reached their OPT end date, you will have a 60-day grace period in which you can: 

Disclaimer: This Frequently Asked Questions is intended for general information and guidance. As this information can quickly become outdated or may not apply to your situation, please consult with an International Student Advisor in the International Students and Scholars Office regarding your individual questions.