New process for F-1 Students enrolled during or after Spring 2022

NOTE: All students must request OPT first through the Duke Visa Services TDS portal and receive the new OPT I-20 from Duke Visa Services (DVS) with “Optional Practical Training Requested” on page #2, before you can file an OPT application with USCIS (you may file by mail or file electronically).

What is Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a work authorization benefit for which eligible F-1 students may apply. It may be used prior to or after completion of studies. OPT taken prior to completion of studies is commonly referred to as “pre-completion OPT”. OPT taken after completion of studies is called “post-completion OPT”. This section discusses both types of OPT in detail. Important Note: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approval is required for Optional Practical Training.

Clinical house staff employment is allowed on this visa ONLY if the student has used this F-1 visa to obtain a medical degree from a U.S. medical school. Foreign medical graduates whose F-1 visas are for Ph.D. programs may not use their practical training for clinical house staff employment. Students must have obtained an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS before the start date of employment.

The Application Process

There are 3 major steps in the Pre-Graduation and Post-Graduation Optional Practical Training Process.

Step 1

You must gather and upload the required documentation to the Terra Dotta Portal (TDS) BEFORE we can issue the NEW Form I-20 with the Optional Practical Training request on page 2 required for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as part of the OPT application. You must receive this new Form I-20 whether mailing the Form I-765 to USCIS or submitting it electronically. You cannot use your current I-20 for the OPT filing process. While the information on this website provides an overview of the Optional Practical Training process, please click here for access to the Terra Dotta Portal. You will be directed to log in with your Duke NetID and password. PLEASE DO NOT CREATE A NEW ACCOUNT. If you have any questions about using our online TDS Portal for your OPT request, please contact your Duke Visa Services (DVS) Advisor. You can find your DVS Assigned Advisor on our Department Liaisons page.

Step 2

After uploading the documentation to the TDS Portal, you must alert your DVS Assigned Advisor by email that you have uploaded the required documentation to the TDS Portal. The DVS advisor will review your documentation and if required contact you for additional information or clarifications. If you have submitted the required documentation, the DVS advisor will issue a NEW I-20 with the Optional Practical Training request on page 2. You will receive instructions from your DVS Advisor on how to retrieve the Form I-20.

Step 3

After completing steps 1 and 2, you have the option of filing the Form I-765 to USCIS by mail or online via the USCIS Form I-765 portal. You must submit the new Form I-20 with the Form I-765 whether mailing the application or submitting it electronically. If you choose to file electronically, the link to the USCIS portal is in the TDS Portal.

Helpful Hints to review before beginning the process

Review the F1 and J1 Work Authorization Presentation.

After logging into the TDS Portal, review the information in the “Learning Content”, complete all sections, and upload the required documentation to our online OPT request in the TDS Portal.

If you choose to mail the paper Form I-765 application with USCIS, you can find the link to Form I-765 PDF in the TDS portal (Completed I-765) under “Learning Content: Materials Needed for OPT Application”. You may fill it out electronically, but a handwritten signature in black ink is required (no e-signatures). You will upload the completed and signed Form I-765 and listed documentation for your OPT request into our TDS Portal. All instructions provided are related *only* to completing the forms for OPT purposes. Please remember to enter your name exactly as it appears in your passport and on your Form I-20. USCIS will not accept double sided applications so print all pages one-sided. NOTE: All students must request OPT first through the TDS Portal , and receive the new OPT Form I-20 from your DVS, before you can mail an OPT application to USCIS. You must include the new OPT Form I-20 with your paper Form I-765 USCIS application. If you choose to mail a paper application, use a courier service that offers tracking and mail your application to the appropriate address, listed on USCIS's I-765 Addresses page under “Foreign Students, F-1 Optional Practical Training".

If you choose to file the Form I-765 online application with USCIS, you can find the link to Form I-765 PDF portal (Completed I-765) under “Learning Content: Materials Needed for OPT Application” (click “File Online”). If you decide to file online, you have 2 options:

  1. You can print the Form I-765 using the I-765 PDF form, complete it and upload it to TDS for your DVS Advisor to review BEFORE you submit the online I-765 OPT application with the Form I-20.
  2. You can complete the online Form I-765 and save it as a draft. DO NOT submit it and DO NOT pay the filing fee. You can upload the draft copy to the TDS portal for a review by your DVS advisor. If you believe you may accidentally submit the online Form I-765, use #1. Failure to include the I-20 may result in a denial of the Form I-765 OPT application.

Keep in mind that our office is only required to issue the NEW Form I-20 with the Optional Practical Training request on page 2 required for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as part of the OPT application. We have provided detailed information in the TDS portal provided by USCIS regarding the OPT filing process and are available to answer additional questions.

Requirements for Pre and Post-Completion OPT

  1. The employment must be directly related to student's major field of study.
  2. OPT can be used only during the following times:
    • During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and intends to register for the next session.
    • While school is in session, provided that OPT (in combination with any other authorized employment) does not exceed twenty hours a week.
    • After completion of all course requirements (but before formal graduation), excluding a thesis or the equivalent.
    • After completion of the course of study.
  3. For most students, the maximum total time available for OPT will be 12 months of full-time employment. NOTE: A student becomes eligible for another 12-month period of OPT when they move to a higher educational degree level. Additional OPT time may be available if the student becomes eligible for the H-1B "Cap Gap" extension or the 24-month STEM degree extension.
  4. All OPT requires prior approval from the USCIS. DO NOT BEGIN ANY EMPLOYMENT WITHOUT USCIS APPROVAL. The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is the evidence of USCIS approval. The earliest start date one may begin working will be printed on the EAD.
  5. Students are eligible for OPT if they are in F-1 status and have been studying full-time for at least one academic year.
  6. OPT can only be approved for the student’s major field of study verified in DukeHub.

Pre-Completion OPT Restrictions

  1. Any time used in pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the initial 12-month allotment. Note: Part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted at 1/2 the full-time rate.
  2. Students may not engage in full-time employment during the school year.
  3. Students may supplement a teaching or research assistant-ship or other on-campus employment with OPT only if the total employment does not exceed 20 hours per week when school is in session and full-time during annual school holidays.
  4. Students may file up to 90 days before being enrolled for one a full academic year, provided the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year.

Post-Completion OPT Restrictions

  1. Available AFTER completion of studies graduation date.
  2. May be authorized initially for up to 12 months (minus time spent in pre-completion practical training).
  3. Can be filed without a job offer.
  4. Student must complete OPT within 14 months of graduation. The only exceptions are the H-1B "Cap Gap" extension and the 24-month STEM degree extension.

Please refer to the Learning Content of the TDS website and the questions below for further guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

No, OPT is a benefit of F-1 status. While engaging in OPT you are still considered to be an F-1 student under the visa sponsorship of Duke University.

As of April 1, 2024, the OPT Application fee is $470.00 for online filings.

Students can submit their OPT applications to USCIS beginning 90 days before their program end date through the 60-day grace period after the program end date

No, the regulatory provisions differentiate between pre-and post-completion OPT in the application process and in the requirements for maintaining employment.

OPT processing time is 2-5 months. This includes processing the application and producing the card. If you have a confirmed job offer, a timely filed application increases your chances of having the card without paying for Premium Processing.

A job offer is not required to file for OPT. Please see question #3 for information regarding when you can file. You may want your OPT start date to be as late as possible if you have no employment prospects.

For students who filed their OPT application online, a receipt notice should be available immediately in your USCIS Online Account under the Documents tab. For paper-filed applications, it may take USCIS up to 6 weeks to mail, via first class mail, a Receipt Notice after the application is received.

The current processing time at USCIS is 2-5 months from receipt of your application.

There now exists an option to request expedited processing for OPT applications. This is called the “Premium Processing Service” and assesses an additional fee. The Premium Processing option includes a government guarantee that they will review the OPT application within 30 days of receipt of the filing fee. Please note that this review does NOT mean they will decide the case within that time frame, or that the OPT card will be received in that time frame.

For more information please see: How Do I Request Premium Processing? | USCIS

You can pay the additional fee for premium processing when you submit your application to USCIS. You also have the option of adding Premium processing to your application after your application has started processing.

After submitting your application via the USCIS online process, you will immediately receive a receipt notice via email. In this email you will find your receipt number. With this receipt number you can CHECK YOUR STATUS on the USCIS website. You can also check your USCIS online account for updates.

Applications for OPT rarely are denied to eligible students.

For OPT, you may begin work only after you have received your EAD from USICS and as of the start date printed on the EAD. For Example: : If your work authorization begins on July 1, but your employer asks that you begin on June 23, you CANNOT work before your EAD start date. If your employer asks you postpone your start date until July 15, and your EAD start date is July 1, you can wait and start July 15, only you will lose 15 days of work authorization that you cannot recover. These will also be considered 15 days of unemployment time.

Under no circumstances can you begin to work, paid or unpaid, before obtaining appropriate work authorization. Volunteering for a position which normally provides compensation is considered employment and is, therefore, not permitted without appropriate authorization. You can only volunteer in a position related to your field of study. Information regarding Volunteer Activities can be found on the DVS website.

Both paid and unpaid employment are permitted on OPT.

Paid employment permits multiple employers, short-term multiple employers (performing artists), contract work, or hire by an agency. If hired by an agency, you must be able to show you have worked an average of 20 hours per week. If you desire self-employment, you must be employed full-time, have proof of proper business licenses, and be working in an area related to your degree program. It is your responsibility to obtain the appropriate business licenses. We recommend that you consult with an attorney who is an expert in immigration as well as business law. Keep in mind that you cannot be self-employed during the STEM extension.

Unpaid employment permits work as a volunteer or unpaid intern where this does not violate any labor laws. You must work at least 20 hours per week and you must have evidence from your employer to prove this. The work must still be directly related to your major field of study.

Most F-1 students can work a maximum of 12 months on OPT. Keep in mind that any time used during pre-completion OPT will be subtracted from this total. Also, 12 months of Full time CPT makes you ineligible to apply for OPT. If you have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment. Please see the following link for more details on the STEM Extension: F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) 24-Month STEM Extension | Duke Visa Services

Yes, students on post-completion OPT may be unemployed no more than a total of 90 days during the approved period of OPT. Unemployment greater than 90 days means your OPT is cancelled and you will have violated your F-1 status unless you have done one of the following:

  • Applied for a new degree program at your current school or transferred into another SEVIS school.
  • Departed the United States.
  • Taken some other action to maintain legal status (e.g., filed a change of status application).

No, you do not have to work for the same employer. You may change employers; however, you are required to self-report all your employment via the SEVP Portal.

If you exceed your unemployment days, then you are no longer in F-1 status (see question 18).

Your OPT application can only be cancelled in SEVIS if the status of the application is “pending”. Otherwise, the student must write directly to USCIS to withdraw Form I-765. Fees are nonrefundable.


Additional Guidance is available here: Optional Practical training Travel Checklist.

To ensure that you are eligible to return the US, you must have in your possession the following: A valid passport and F-1 visa stamp, an I-20 with a travel signature less than 6 months old on date of re-entry; a valid EAD (you left the U.S. with it) and your job offer letter.

During OPT, students must have a travel signature that is less than six months old upon re-entry into the US. If this is not the case; you should visit your SEVP Portal update your employment; then request a new I20 by clicking here.

While on OPT, you are required to report changes to your legal name, address, and employment within 10 days of the event. Students should self-report via their SEVP Portal.

SEVP Portal | Student and Exchange Visitor Program Portal

This means an F-1 student filing for H1-B status on April 1 with a benefit start date of Oct. 1 may qualify for an extension of status and/or employment authorization.

USCIS encourages online filing—where available—for a more efficient electronic submission and adjudication process.