Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT provides students one year of eligibility to work in the United States in a job that is directly related to their major area of study. Students can work for any employer, anywhere in the United States and do not need a job offer to apply for the OPT work authorization through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
There are many rules and requirements that must be met in order to stay in status while doing OPT. One of the best ways to learn about OPT is to download and review the OPT PowerPoint presentation.
This web page contains important information. You must read it carefully before you decide to apply for an OPT authorization.
After you have reviewed this page and the PowerPoint presentation, you are ready to download the OPT Packet online or pick up a paper version from the Global Education Office (GEO).
Frequently asked questions about OPT
- It normally takes the USCIS 2-3 months to fully process an OPT application and issue the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card. Plan accordingly!
- You cannot begin working until your OPT start date has occurred and the EAD card is in your hand.
- A job offer is not required to apply for OPT; however, you should know how the proposed work you hope to find is related to your major field of study.
- Your academic advisor will need to certify your expected date of graduation by completing the OPT Academic Advisor’s form for GEO (found in the application materials below).
- You may submit your application to USCIS up to 90 days before but no later than 60 days after completing your degree (your graduation date).
- You must choose a start date for OPT that is within your “Grace Period” (the 60 days immediately following graduation or the completion of your degree). USCIS can not grant an OPT start date that is outside of that grace period.
- It will take the USCIS 2-3 months to process your OPT application. We suggest choosing *when* you would like to begin working, then apply 2-3 months before that date.
- The total amount of time you may be authorized for OPT at one time is 12 months maximum.
- A student becomes eligible for another 12 months of Optional Practical Training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. (i.e. 12 months of OPT after a bachelor's degree, another 12 months after a master's degree, another 12 months after a doctoral degree).
- Some students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields may apply for an additional 24-Month STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Extension.
- Most students use OPT after graduation. In some instances, it can be used for summer vacation, semester breaks, while school is in session, after completion of your degree (excluding a thesis or dissertation), or after completion of all requirements for your course of study – but it is recommended to consult with your International Student Advisor (ISA) if that is your plan.
In order to be eligible to apply for OPT, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must be in valid F-1 visa status.
- You must have been enrolled full-time in an academic program for at least one academic year (2 semesters) before beginning OPT.
- Your academic advisor will need to certify your expected date of completion (see the Academic Advisor Recommendation Form below).
- You must not have already used 12 months of full-time CPT (part-time does not count).
- You must submit your application while you are still in the United States. You are not eligible to apply for OPT if you have already graduated and have left the United States. (This includes short trips to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean)
- You MUST have an OPT EAD Card in your hands and the start date has occurred before beginning work.
- You can only work between the start and end dates listed on your OPT EAD Card.
- You may not begin working before the start date on your EAD Card (even if you have received your EAD card!).
- You may not continue to work after the end date on your EAD card.
- If you failed to meet your graduation requirements, you can only work part-time (a maximum of 20 hours per week) on OPT while completing your degree.
- You must work at least 20 hours per week while on OPT. If you work less than 20 hours per week you are accumulating “unemployment” in the eyes of DHS. If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, you will be out-of-status.
- Your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated if you transfer to another school in the United States, or start a new course of study.
OPT Application Process
When you are ready to apply for OPT, please complete the following steps, in order:
Choose a start date for your OPT Work Authorization to begin. You can choose any date between the day you complete your degree and 60 days after. For almost all undergraduates, “the date you complete your degree” will be your graduation date. For master's degree candidates, this is either the date of your final exam or the day you submit your thesis. Look at the OPT Math slide on the PowerPoint or come talk with the ISA if you are having difficulty deciding on a date.
Complete the following forms:
- Academic Advisor Recommendation for OPT
- Student Acknowledgement of Responsibility
- USCIS Form I-765
- USCIS Form G-1145 (This tracks your application status - optional, but recommended!)
Assemble the following documents:
- USCIS Forms I-765 and G-1145 (found above)
- Copies of all previous Form I-20s (first and third pages only, all schools attended)
- Copy of Passport Biographical Information page
- Copy F-1 Student Visa Stamp (inside your passport)
- Copy of Form I-94 (front and back of card or print out from website)
- Copy of new OPT I-20 (You will request this new I-20 from ISA after you choose start date and at your “Application Review” appt before mailing)
- Obtain two passport-style photos. Write your I-94 number on the back in pencil.
- Write a personal check, money order, or cashier's check to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for $410 USD. (Ask GEO where to get money orders.)
- Make an appointment with your International Student Advisor (ISA). Bring all completed forms and documents to your appointment for review. At this appointment, your ISA will recommend your OPT in SEVIS and print an OPT Requested Form I-20.
- Make a complete copy of your OPT application for your records before mailing. As a precaution, the Global Education Office will scan a copy of your I-765 Form and OPT I-20 for your student file.
- Mail your OPT application to the USCIS Lockbox at the following address: Attn: I-765 USCIS PO Box 660867 Dallas, TX 75266
We recommend mailing your packet via Priority Mail or Express Mail so you can track it and ensure it arrives there safely IMPORTANT: You may not begin working until you have received your OPT card!
Tracking your application status
Once you file your application, you will be able to track its progress online. Look for the box under “Case Status Online.” This will require you to have an application receipt number from USCIS. This will be sent to GEO a few weeks after you submit your application to USCIS. The number will appear in the upper left-hand corner of a Receipt Notice. For more detailed information on your case you can call the Vermont Service Center (VSC): 1-800-375-5283.
Things to remember while on OPT
Notify your ISA of any changes
You are required by law to notify your ISA of these changes via email:
- If you moved and changed your address - within 10 days of any change.
- Employment information [employer name, address and work start date] within 10 days of any change.
- Jobs ending (email your ISA the date of your last day at work)
- How the job is related to your degree (send your ISA one or two sentences via email which is then entered into your SEVIS record)
Employment and Unemployment
Be sure that the employment is related to your major and appropriate to your degree level. Check with your ISA if you are unsure. You are allowed to do internships and unpaid work, consultant and contract work, short-term jobs/gigs, volunteer opportunities while on OPT – as long as it is still related to your major. Remember that you have a 90-day unemployment allowance (see the info below)
90-Day Unemployment Allowance: If you accrue more than 90-days of unemployment, you will be out-of-status. You must be working at least 20 hours per week while on OPT for the work to be counted as “employment” for immigration purposes. If you work less than 20 hours per week, you are accumulating “unemployment” in the eyes of DHS. SEVIS is tracking and counting the number of days of unemployment for all students on OPT. If you accrue 90 consecutive days of unemployment, your SEVIS record will be automatically “terminated” (closed) and you will be out of status. GEO strongly recommends that you keep excellent documentation of your job searches and employment (e.g., requests for interviews, job offer letters, dates of working, all pay stubs, offer letters, etc.). This is to your benefit in case you are ever questioned by an immigration or law enforcement official regarding your legal visa status. You may also need to present this information if an employer decides to sponsor you for an H1B visa.
Keep your I-20 updated
Your Form I-20 must be signed by your ISA every 6 months while on OPT. We are happy to print and mail a new one to you upon request.
Transferring to another school
Plan to further your studies? Your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated if you transfer to another school in the United States or start a new course of study. Contact GEO and we can transfer your SEVIS record to that new school.
Travel outside the United States
Planning to travel outside the United States while on OPT? Contact the ISA first to be sure you have all the required documents to be able to re-enter the country with minimal (or no) problems. Please read and consider the information below before you make your plans.
- When you travel outside the U.S., it is recommended to have your EAD Card and a letter of offer/employment on company letterhead from your current or future employer on hand. These two documents along with your other important travel documents may be requested upon re-entering the United States. You should also be able to confidently explain how your current job relates to your degree.
- NOTE: During your 60-Day “Grace Period” after completing OPT, you cannot leave the country and then re-enter with your F-1 visa (like to Canada)!!
- Please consult your ISA with any travel questions.
After completing your time in OPT, you again have a 60-day grace period. During this time, these are your options to remain in valid visa status:
- Prepare to leave the United States. You cannot leave and re-enter with your F-1! (No short trips to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean are allowed after completion of OPT)
- Have a pending application for the STEM Extension
- Have a pending application for a change of status (i.e., H1-B)
- Obtain a SEVIS transfer to another school with the new school's Transfer Pending I-20
- Be accepted into a master’s level program at SUNY Plattsburgh and have a Change of Level Completed I-20 from your ISA.