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).
Before You Apply
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 review the information provided by the United States Department of Homeland Security Study in the States website:
After you have reviewed the information provided, you are ready to get started on the OPT application process.
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 (two 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:
- Step One — Choose a Start Date
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.
For help deciding on a date, come talk with an ISS staff member or visit this OPT calendar calculator.
- Step Two — Complete Forms
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.
Things to Remember while on OPT
Frequently Asked 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
- 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 ISS.