It typically takes several months for OPT to be approved, so we recommend starting the process early.
Step 1: Attend an OPT Session
Sessions will take place by zoom, and will last approximately 1 hour. Please refer to the Fall 2021 OPT Slides (pdf). The zoom link will be emailed to the international student listserv before each session; the same zoom link will be used for each session.
Multiple OPT sessions are scheduled for Fall 2021:
Friday, October 8, 3pm
Wednesday, October 13, 1pm
Thursday, October 21, 9am
Tuesday, October 26, 1pm
A session explaining the basics of H-1Bs (a common work authorization that some people do after OPT) is scheduled:
Friday, November 5, 3pm
Step 2: Draft forms and gather documents
Before your appointment, review the I-765 so you can ask questions of your advisor during your OPT appointment.
Gather required documents.
OPT - Applying by Mail
OPT packet, checklist and tips from the Office of International Students, Scholars, and Programs
Select F-1 Practical Training. Click on Optional Practical Training Application. Complete required fields, and submit.
Schedule an appointment with an ISSP advisor. **do this using the East Coast timezone**
Step 4: Mail Your OPT Materials or Apply Online
Following your appointment, you will mail your application to USCIS (Immigration), or submit your application to USCIS online. If you mail, we recommend using a mailing method with a tracking number.
Your OPT application must arrive at USCIS within 30 days of when we issued your OPT I-20 (60 days if you're applying for a STEM extension). If it arrives late, it may be denied. Worried about timing? Talk with your international advisor.
About 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail you a Receipt Notice. On the Receipt Notice there is a Receipt Number (like a tracking number for your application/case). With it, you can check your case status online.
While we are always happy to discuss your OPT process with you, you are ultimately responsible for what you submit to USCIS, and whatever outcome results from this.
Step 5: Your OPT is Approved
It usually takes several months for your OPT application to be approved. For current processing times, see the USCIS website; select the I-765 form. Most W&M students' forms are processed by the Potomac Service Center. You can determine the service center processing your documents by looking in the lower left corner of your receipt notice.
Once your OPT is approved, USCIS will create and send you your Employment Authorization Document (i.e., OPT card).
You may begin working when you receive the card and reach the start date on the card.