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The basics
THE USA: Visa Guides - Must read

How to apply for a post-study visa in the USA

Many international graduates find that they have enjoyed their time so much in a study destination that they want to remain after qualifying. Just how do you do this in the USA? We explore how to apply for a post-study work visa.

post-study visa options in the US

If you are an international student in the USA and are nearing the end of your course, you may find yourself asking the question – what next? The country has an excellent higher education system and is a good country to live in, but its strict immigration laws can be difficult to understand. We are here to help you. In this article, we explore the post-study visa options in the USA and the application process.


What is Optional Practical Training?


As a graduate of a US academic institution, the easiest method to stay and work in America is to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT programmes allow graduates to start temporary employment directly related to their field of study.


You have the option to take part in OPT at either of these stages:


  • pre-completion (before you complete your course and during your studies);
  • post-completion (after you complete your course -for graduates); or
  • a combination of pre-completion and post-completion.


This means that you do not have to wait until you have graduated to participate in OPT. However, you may prefer to choose the post-completion route if your goal is to spend additional time in the USA.


We look at the post-completion OPT as an option for staying in the USA after you graduate.


Who can apply?


You can apply for an initial post-completion OPT if you have recently graduated from your studies and you:


  • hold an F-1 student visa
  • have been nominated by your education provider’s Designated School Official (DSO).


STEM OPT Extension


If your degree was in an eligible science, technology, engineering or maths (known as ‘STEM’) field, you can apply for an extension to your OPT, if you meet the above requirements and:


  • your degree is included on the STEM Designated Degree Programme List
  • your initial post-completion OPT was given to you based on your STEM degree
  • your employer uses E-Verify.


Explore the top five graduate careers in the USA.


How long can I stay?


Initial post-completion OPT allows you to live in the US while you train for up to (a maximum of) 12 months. However, any time you may have spent on a pre-completion OPT will be deducted from this amount. So, the time you may have already spent in the country on a pre-completion OPT will be subtracted from the 12 months given on a post-completion OPT.


The STEM OPT extension allows you to stay in the USA for an additional 24 months.


What rules are there?


Whilst in an OPT placement, you will be able to:


  • work in a position directly related to your major area of study
  • work full-time or part-time.


If you receive a STEM OPT extension, you must also:


  • report any changes to your personal information to your DSO within (no later than) 10 days
  • report any changes to your employer’s information to your DSO within 10 days (no later than)
  • report to your DSO every six months to re-confirm your employer’s and your personal information, even if there has been no change.


While working on an OPT placement, you are not allowed to:


  • transfer to another school
  • begin studies at another educational level
  • be unemployed for:
    • more than 90 days (initial post-completion OPT)
    • more than 150 days total (initial post-completion OPT + STEM OPT extension).


Although there is no requirement to obtain medical insurance for the length of your OPT, healthcare in the USA is extremely expensive. It is advisable to obtain medical insurance for the length of your stay.  Be aware that your visa may include other conditions depending on your circumstances.


When to apply


This table will help you understand when to apply for your OPT.


OPT category

You should apply…

Initial post-completion OPT

  • within (no later than) 30 days of your DSO recommending you for OPT on SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).
  • up to 90 days before, but no later than 60 days after, you complete your degree.

STEM OPT extension

  • within (no later than) 60 days of your DSO recommending you for OPT on SEVIS.
  • up to (a maximum of) 90 days before your existing OPT employment authorisation expires/ends.


If your initial OPT period expires/ends while your STEM OPT extension application is processed, you will have your employment authorisation automatically extended for up to (a maximum of) 180 days. This is dependent on you submitting your extension application on time. The 180-day extension ends when a decision is made about your application.


How much does it cost?


An OPT application costs USD 410. Depending on what other documents you need to supply, you may also have to pay additional fees. Remember, you will need to be able to afford to support yourself while you’re in the USA. Don’t forget to include costs like rent, bills, health insurance and travel costs into your budget.


You may find our article about the cost of living in the USA helpful when budgeting. 


What documents do you need?


When you apply for OPT, you will need:

  • your passport (or another valid travel document)
  • all previously used SEVIS receipt numbers
  • details of any previously authorised OPT or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and the academic level in which it was authorised
  • a copy of the form-I20 endorsed by your DSO.


If you are applying for a STEM OPT extension, you will also need to provide evidence that you completed a degree listed on the STEM Designated Degree Programme List.


Find out more about what the USA offers international students.


Completing your application


Your first step in applying for OPT is to make sure your DSO has recommended you on SEVIS.  This process varies between academic institutions. You will usually need to submit an OPT I-20 request form to your college or university. Most institutions have a copy of this form available to download on their website.


When you have submitted your request to your education provider, your DSO will input this onto SEVIS. If you are successful, a new form I-20 will be generated for you. When you have received your new I-20, you will need to apply for Employment Authorisation Form (form I-765), along with your supporting documents. This may be done online or on paper.


Now that you have all the information you need, why not make a start on your OPT application today?


What happens after you apply?


You will normally receive a decision about your OPT application within (no later than) 90 days.


Another option: H1-B visa


We know that for some people, a training programme is not a good route. If your occupation is considered highly specialised, the Specialty Occupations (or H1-B) visa may provide a better option to securing temporary worker status in the USA.  Generally, an H1-B visa allows you to stay in the USA for three years and can be extended up to six years in total. 


The H1-B visa is not something you can apply for yourself. As such, you will need a job offer from an employer who is willing to sponsor you and complete the application on your behalf. Find out more about the H1-B visa and whether it is right for you.


What other visas are there


Why not read up on some of the other work visas available in the USA? You might decide one of these is better for you than OPT or the H1-B visa. And at the very least, it’s always good to fully understand your options.


Don’t forget!

Always be aware of your visa and form I-20 dates and conditions – these will tell you what you can and cannot do when you are in the USA.  If you have any problems related to your OPT after it’s been approved, your DSO will usually be able to help.



Presently the USA is only accepting visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Find out more about the rules related to COVID-19 and if they might affect your post-study visa options. 


Now that you have more information on applying for a post-study work visa, you can explore universities in the USA and look for your ideal qualification with our course matcher tool.

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