Graduate Studies

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of immigration employment for payment that is directly related to your major and appropriate level of study.  The information below is for Post-Completion OPT (working after you have completed your degree program).  If you are interested in Pre-Completion OPT (working while still enrolled), please contact the Immigration Specialist.

OPT Eligibility and Application Process

Who is Eligible for OPT?

  • Students must have been in school and registered full-time for at least one academic year.
  • The student must be in good academic standing.

How long can I work in Optional Practical Training?

  • Students are eligible for up to 12 months of full-time OPT (or 24 months of part-time OPT) per academic level

When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

  • Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to their program end date; it is recommended to apply early as it can take up to three months to process. 

  How do I apply for Optional Practical Training?

  • You will be notified when you are eligible to apply.
  • After you have completed the necessary documents, set up an appointment by calling (309) 298-1806 or emailing   

  What do I bring to my appointment when applying for OPT?

  • Completed (and printed) I-765 and G-1145 (optional)
  • A personal check or money order for $410.00 made payable to: U. S. Department of Homeland Security (do not abbreviate).  Cash payments are not acceptable.
  • Two passport-style photographs which may be obtained from the WIU Visual Production Center, Tillman Hall 207; two pictures will cost approximately $8.  Pictures must be recent. 
  • Current I-20 (you will receive an updated I-20 at your appointment)
  • Copy of your valid passport
  • Copy of your current visa
  • Copy of your I-94 (

 How and when is my application sent?

  • Your documents will be checked at your appointment, but it is your responsibility to mail your application to USCIS once it is complete.

  What happens after my application is mailed?

  • When your application is received at the Potomac Service Center, a Form I-797 (Notice of Action) will be sent to the address  listed on your application.
  • WIU will send the original Form I-797 to you (if you selected to have the card sent to WIU).
  • You may check the online status by accessing the USCIS website at https://egov. 

  When will I receive information about my application?

  • If your application is approved, your EAD will be mailed to the School of Graduate Studies (if you elected to have it sent here).
  • In the very unlikely event that your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial.

  How will I be notified that my EAD card has arrived at WIU?

  • When your card arrives, you will be contacted by email. You will be required to show ID when you come to the office to pick up your EAD card or you can arrange for regular or express mailing. 
  • The card will only be given to someone else if you have made prior arrangements with the office to do so.

Can I change my mind after applying for OPT?

  • Authorization for OPT may not be rescinded or deferred once permission has been granted and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been issued.


Unemployment and Employment 

Students approved for OPT may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during the total 12-month period of OPT.  This is calculated based on the start date of the EAD card.

Types of activity that constitute employment while on OPT

An F-1 nonimmigrant on standard post-completion OPT avoids "unemployment" when his or her activity constitutes "employment."

SEVP OPT Policy Guidance 1004-03 (2010) [7.2.1] states that the following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study. While a student engages in such activity during a period of standard post-completion OPT, he or she is not considered "unemployed":

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study.
    • For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week
    • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
  • Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. SEVP says that "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration."
  • Work for hire. SEVP says, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."
  • Self-employed business owner. SEVP says, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • "Employment through an agency. SEVP says, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
  • Volunteers or unpaid internsStandard OPT. SEVP OPT Policy Guidance states that, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."


Working on OPT

  When can I begin working?

  • Students may begin work only after they have received the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from USCIS and the beginning date on the EAD has been reached.

  Can I change jobs while on OPT?

  • Yes, as long as the employment is always directly related to your major and appropriate for their level of study
  • This information must be reported to the Immigration Specialist.

  Can I travel while outside the U.S. while waiting for my EAD? Can I travel while on OPT?

  • Travel is not recommended while waiting for your EAD car.
  • Once you have your EAD and have started working, take the following documents when travelling:
    • Valid Passport
    • Valid F-1 visa
    • Valid I-20 with travel endorsement
    • EAD card (OPT card)
    • Offering letter from your employer
    • Paystubs from current employer.

  Do I Pay Income Taxes while in OPT?

  • Students in F-1 status who have been in the U. S. for fewer than 5 years are not to have Medicare and Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks; however, they are to have income tax withheld in accordance with tax treaties.
  • Students must complete federal and state income tax forms which are due on April 15 of each year.
  • Students must keep former employers updated as to new addresses so that they can send W-2s (the form employers send to employees indicating the total wages paid and taxes withheld) to students.
Ending your OPT

If you begin a new program of study, your OPT will end once the program starts.

Your F-1 status remains valid 60 days after the expiration of your EAD card.  During this 60-day grace period, you are no longer authorized to work, however you may legally stay in the US.  If you depart the US during the 60-day grace period, you are no longer eligible to re-enter under your previous F-1 visa status.

    • If you plan to return home after the end of your OPT, please make sure that you depart the US before the end of your 60-day grace period
    • If you plan to change your visa status, we recommend you begin this process before your OPT is expired
    • If you plan to start a new degree program at another university or college, please make sure to contact the Immigration Specialist at WIU regarding the transfer procedures of your SEVIS record.  Transfers must be completed before the end of your 60-day grace period
WIU degrees that are eligible for STEM Extension


  • Biology, BS
  • Business Analytics, BB
  • Civil Engineering, BS
  • Chemistry, BS
  • Clinical Laboratory Science, BS
  • Compute Science, BS
  • Electrical Engineering, BS
  • Engineering Technology, BS
  • Engineering, BS
  • Forensic Chemistry, BS
  • Geographic Information Science, BS
  • Geology, BS
  • Information Systems, BS
  • Mathematics, BS
  • Mechanical Engineering, BS
  • Meteorology, BS
  • Network Technologies, BS
  • Physics, BS


  • Applied Statistics and Design Sciences, MS
  • Biology, MS
  • Chemistry, MS
  • Computer Science, MS
  • Engineering Technology, MS
  • Environmental Science: Large River Ecosystems, PhD
  • GIScience and Geoenvironment, MS
  • Instructional Design and Technology, MS
  • Mathematics, MS
  • Physics, MS
  • Quantitative Economics, MS