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Applying for OPT

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 - Applying Online
  • OPT packet, checklist and tips from the Office of International Students, Scholars, and Programs
  • Form I-765, "File Online" button
Step 3: Complete the ISSP OPT e-form and make an appointment
  • Access the form via iStart.
  • Log into iStart with your W&M ID and password.
  • 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.