Students in F-1 status who have completed two semesters of an academic program are eligible for a total of 12 months of work authorization known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). You can apply to use your OPT eligibility before graduation (pre-completion OPT) or during your final semester (post-completion OPT). Beware! Pre-completion OPT counts against and will reduce the total time you have available for post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT counts at half the rate of post-completion OPT. For example, if you participate in 6 months of pre-completion OPT, you will “lose” 3 months of post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is not ideal, and UAB students apply for it very rarely only in very individual circumstances. Post-completion OPT is far more common.

When to Apply for Post-Completion OPT

You have a 150-day window to submit an application for post-completion OPT: no sooner than 90 days prior to graduation, and no later than 60 days after graduation. APPLY EARLY! Your post-completion OPT start date can be anytime during the 60 day period after the spring, summer, or fall semester graduation date. If you apply for post-completion OPT during your last semester, you must complete an pdfOPT Recommendation Form (pdf) with your academic advisor before ISSS requests OPT for you in SEVIS and prints a new I-20. This step will help make sure that you have actually met all requirements needed to graduate before ISSS requests OPT for you and issues a new I-20 (students must have this new I-20 in hand prior to applying for OPT). Once USCIS approves your OPT application, it cannot be canceled, and the $410 fee cannot be refunded once an application has been received by USCIS. Students must also sign a pdfconfirmation of responsibility form and submit to ISSS prior to applying for post-completion OPT.

Update: F1 Visa students can now apply for OPT online through the USCIS website after contacting ISSS for an OPT recommendation.

After choosing the file online option on the middle of the Form I-765 page, students will be prompted to set up a USCIS online account before completing the I-765 and uploading the required documents (see the FAQs below for the required documents). After completing the application and paying the required $410, students will immediately receive a USCIS receipt to track their case.

You must find employment related to your major within 90 days of your OPT start date to maintain status. Once employment is confirmed, you must either enter your job information using the SEVP OPT portal or complete an pdfOPT Employer Information Form and forward it to an international student advisor. Any changes in employment or your residential address must be reported within 10 days.

SEVP Portal and Reporting Requirements

The US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will email you inviting you to create a SEVP OPT portal account. This account will allow you to update your residential home address, email, phone number, and employment information. If you cannot log in to the portal or do not receive an invitation email from SEVP on the first day of your OPT period, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. A portal reset message will be sent to your current email address.

You must update your OPT employer information and change of residential home address via the portal within 10 days. Please contact ISSS or attend one of our annual OPT workshops if you have any specific questions about reporting requirements while on OPT.

Form I-9 Reporting for UAB Employees

F1 students wishing to continue or begin employment at UAB on OPT post-graduation must work with their department administrators to update or complete a Form I-9. The Form I-9 is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired in the United States. Each newly hired employee must complete and sign Section 1 of Form I-9 no later than his or her first day of the employment, and Section 2 must be completed within three business days of the date of hire. ISSS can assist with the Form I-9 completion and updates by appointment. Book an appointment with ISSS.

Optional Practical Training FAQs

  • When should I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

    For either pre- or post-completion OPT, students should apply at least 90 days before they wish to begin working. USCIS often approves OPT within 3 months, but it is not guaranteed and can sometimes take longer. Students in their final semester can apply once they are within 90 days of their graduation ceremony.

  • What documents do I need to do in order to apply for OPT?

    When filing online through the USCIS website, students will complete a Form I-765, then will be prompted to upload the following:

    • New I-20 with post-completion OPT recommendation on page 2 (*You must contact ISSS to request this.*)
    • Previous I-20 documents with CPT or OPT approval
    • Previous EAD (work authorization card), if applicable
    • Passport photo (measuring 2x2 inches, with white background)

    You will also need to pay the $410 fee using a valid debit or credit card. You will be directed to pay.gov after completing the application to pay the fee.

    Documents must be uploaded using a PDF, JPG, JPEG, TIF, TIFF, or PNG format. Photos must be uploaded using a JPG, JPEG, PNG format.

  • Can I volunteer and report it as OPT employment?

    Yes, as long as you are confident the volunteer position relates to your major. This applies only to post-completion OPT (not STEM OPT).

    *Volunteer positions that do not relate to your degree cannot be reported in SEVIS as OPT employment.*

  • How long do I have to provide evidence of OPT employment?

    You do not have to have a job offer when you mail your OPT application, but you must provide ISSS with proof of employment within 90 days of the start date listed on your OPT EAD card. If you later resign from the job or are terminated, you are allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment from the OPT start date on their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The SEVIS government database counts days of unemployment, so be sure to log in to the SEVP portal and list your new employer ASAP.

  • What address should I use on my OPT application?

    You are welcome to use the ISSS/Sterne Library mailing address (below) on your I-765. However, ISSS will not be responsible if the US Postal Service loses your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If the card is delivered to your personal/residential address, you must send ISSS a scan or photo of your EAD when it arrives in your mailbox.

    UAB ISSS c/o Justin Lampley, PDSO
    1720 2nd Ave South
    SL 248
    Birmingham, AL 35294

    We strongly recommended that you sign up for the US Postal Service’s Informed Delivery system to track incoming mail from USCIS. If you lose your EAD, either in the mail or after receiving the card, you must submit a new application to USCIS and pay the $410 fee again for a replacement card. Contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 if you believe USCIS lost your card.

  • I moved apartments and lost my EAD or left it in an Uber. What can I do?

    You must file a completely new OPT application with USCIS, including submitting a new Form I-765 with passport photos and the $410 payment just like the first time you applied. It could take 3-4 months to receive your new EAD. Once you receive a Form I-797, Notice of Receipt, from USCIS for the replacement card, you can present it to your employer and work for 90 days while waiting for the new card to arrive in the mail. Keep your EAD in a safe place at home rather than carrying it in your wallet.

  • I received electronic notification that my OPT application was approved. When can I start working?

    You cannot start working for your OPT employer until the physical EAD card (OPT work card) arrives in the mail. You must present the actual card to your employer when you complete Section 2 of Form I-9 to begin working.

  • Can I travel outside the US while my OPT application is pending?

    We do not recommend that you travel outside the US while OPT is pending. However, the choice is up to you. If you need or have to leave the US while your application is still pending with USCIS, you can bring the following documents with you to try to lower your risk of problems at the airport when you re-enter the US:

    • Valid passport with valid F-1 visa
    • Form I-20 endorsed for travel within the last 12 months and indicating OPT on the second page
    • Form I-797, Notice of Receipt, from USCIS proving your pending OPT application
    • Travel letter from ISSS
  • Can I travel outside the US after my OPT has been approved and I have the actual work card?

    Yes. You shouldn’t have any trouble re-entering the US as long you travel with the following documents:

    • Valid passport with valid F-1 visa
    • Form I-20 endorsed for travel within the last 12 months and indicating OPT on the second page
    • Proof of employment (pay slips or letter from current OPT employer)
    • EAD (Employment Authorization Document), i.e., your OPT work card

    If the travel signature on your I-20 is older than 12 months and you require a new I-20 to travel while on OPT, you can either visit the ISSS office (if you are in Birmingham) to pick up a new one, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request a new I-20 mailed to your current residential address.

  • What if I go back to school during my OPT authorization period?

    Be careful! The SEVIS database will automatically end your OPT work authorization if you enroll in classes anywhere other than UAB, enroll in classes at another educational level, or enroll full-time. You cannot engage in full-time OPT while attending school full-time. For example, if you graduate with a master’s degree in April and begin working on your post-completion OPT in May, your OPT authorization will end if you begin a PhD program in August.

  • I have decided to return home and abandon my OPT. What do I need to do?

    Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to confirm you have left the US and will not return on your F-1 visa. We will then complete your I-20 record in the SEVIS database.

  • How do I report my OPT employment information?

    The US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will send an email to either your UAB or personal email address you inviting you to create an OPT portal account during the first week of your OPT period. This account will allow you to update your residential home address, email, phone number, and employment information. If you cannot log in to the portal or do not receive an invitation email from SEVP on the first day of your OPT period, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or complete and submit to ISSS an pdfOPT Employer Information Form.