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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is temporary employment authorization for practical training directly related to a student’s major field of study. Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per degree level. A one-time 17 month OPT extension (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics degree recipients.

OPT is authorized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There is a $380 application processing fee. Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to their program completion date and as late as 60 days after they complete their program of study. Application processing can take up to three months, so applying early is highly recommended.

OPT authorization is granted in the form of an Employment Authorization Document or EAD card. It is date specific but not employer specific. Students cannot begin working until they have received their EAD card and it is at least the start date indicated on the EAD card. Students are limited to a maximum accrual of 90 days of unemployment during the standard authorization period of post-completion OPT.

OPT Eligibility

Students who plan to apply for OPT, must meet all of the following requirements:

  • F-1 student visa holder who has been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (consecutive Fall and Spring semester);
    • An exchange student enrolled in a non-degree program is not eligible for optional practical training.
    • A student studying English in an intensive English language training program is not eligible for practical training.
    • Year enrollment may be fulfilled at SUNY-ESF, a previous University, or between multiple universities as well as in other immigration statuses that allow for full-time study.
    • An applicant for pre-completion OPT can submit their OPT application to USCIS "up to 90 days before being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year."
  • Maintained lawful F-1 status;
  • Intend to obtain employment in a position directly related to your major field of study;
    • For every job you obtain, you should maintain evidence of the position held, the duration of that position, job title, supervisor/ manager’s contact information, and a description of the work.
    • If the connection between your job description and degree program is not clear, it is recommended that you obtain a signed letter from your supervisor/manager/ hiring official stating how your degree is related to the work performed.
  • Have not engaged in an aggregate of 364 days or more of full-time CPT at the same degree level;
  • Have not already completed a higher level degree; and
  • Have not utilized an equivalent of 12 months of OPT work authorization in current degree level.

When OPT Can Occur

*Prior to Degree Completion/ Pre-Completion OPT:

Part-Time (deducted from available OPT at one-half the full-time rate):

    • While school is in session, provided that OPT does not exceed 20 hours of work a week and you maintain full-time student status
    • During an annual vacation if you are currently enrolled, eligible for registration, and intend to register for the next academic term
    • Once all coursework except for thesis or dissertation  remains in academic program

Full-Time:

  • During an annual vacation if you are currently enrolled, eligible for registration, and intend to register for the next academic term
  • Once all coursework except for thesis or dissertation  remains in academic program

After Degree Completion/ Post-Completion OPT:

Full-Time:

    • After completion of all course work (excluding thesis, dissertation, or equivalent)
    • After completion of degree

* Any OPT utilized prior to degree completion will be deducted from the initial 12 month allowable benefit.

* Pre-completion OPT does not automatically convert to post-completion OPT with the completion of one’s degree; a separate OPT application would have to be submitted including the application fee.

Comparison of Pre and Post-Completion OPT Benefits

Pre-Completion OPT

Post-Completion OPT

  • Eligible for part-time employment while school is in session
  • Eligible for full-time employment
  • Eligible for full-time employment during summer vacation or when only thesis/dissertation is remaining
  • Eligible for part-time employment of at least 20 hrs of work/week (or average over 1 month)
  • Not subject to unemployment provisions; no unemployment accrual limit
  • Subject to unemployment provisions; maximum unemployment accrual of 90 days
  • May extend I-20 program end date if eligibility requirements are met
  • Cannot extend program end date; must complete dissertation/thesis by end of OPT authorization or change status, change education level, transfer, or depart the US prior to the end of the 60-day grace period following OPT end date
  • Not eligible for Cap-Gap Extension
  • Eligible for Cap-Gap Extension

Duration of OPT

  • 12 months of standard OPT is available per higher educational level
    • If you have used part of your OPT employment benefit during your degree program, you are only entitled to the remaining benefit; you are not eligible for a new 12 months
    • You do not receive additional OPT time if you complete another degree at the same level (e.g. two master's degrees) or a lower degree level (e.g., complete a master's degree and then complete a second bachelor's degree
  • The 12 months of standard OPT per higher degree level can be split between two consecutive degree programs of the same degree level
    • The standard OPT end date of the first OPT authorization should be less than 12 months if a  student wishes to retain a period of OPT for pre-or post-completion OPT for another degree at the same degree level.
  • If you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) after the work authorization start date you requested (on your I-20 and I-765), you are not eligible to recover the time that passed while you were waiting to receive your EAD card in the mail. You must still stop working on the end date indicated on the EAD card unless you are eligible for a 17 month STEM extension and have applied for the extension in a timely manner.

When to Apply for OPT

Work authorization for OPT must be obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and it can take up to 90 days for them to process a request so please plan ahead to ensure a timely receipt of your application. If your application is received by USCIS more than 60 days after the program completion date indicated on the I-20 with your OPT recommendation, you will not be eligible for OPT.

Applying for OPT Prior to Degree Completion:

  • If you are completing your first academic year of study, you may submit your OPT application 90 days prior to the date you will complete your first year of study provided that the employment will not begin until after an entire year of study has been completed.
  • If you have completed one full academic year of study, you may submit your OPT application as early as 90 days prior to the work authorization start date you request.

Applying for OPT After Degree Completion:

  • If you are applying for OPT based on completion of your degree, you may submit your application for OPT as early as 90 days prior to your program end date. Please be aware that your application must be received by USCIS by no later than 60 days after the day you complete your program or the program end date indicated on your I-20, whichever occurs first.

Note About Completion Dates:
The date of the completion of your degree is not necessarily the date you participate in graduation ceremonies at the end of the year. Graduate students may complete the requirements for a degree any day of  the year. Your completion date will be specified by your academic department on the Advisor OPT Recommendation Letter required for the ESF OPT application process.

Requesting an I-20 Recommending OPT (required for the OPT application)

  1. It is recommended that you attend an OPT workshop offered by the Office of International Education.
  2. Submit the following documentation to the Office of Instruction (227 Bray Hall):

Graduate Students

  • Enrollment Certification from the Registrar’s Office: Must indicate full-time enrollment  for every semester you were in F-1 status; if it does not, seek guidance from the Office of Instruction (227 Bray Hall).
  • A Recommendation Letter from your Major Professor/ Academic Advisor Supporting the Academic Value of OPT.

    The letter must include the following information related to your academic program: your full name; undergraduate or graduate status; degree level, academic program of study; whether you have completed all degree requirements, completed all of your course work for your degree, or still have course work remaining; if applicable, confirmation that you have established a defense committee and defense date; your expected date of degree completion/graduation. Please be sure to utilize the template that best reflects your OPT request--OPT after the completion of degree; OPT after the completion of course work with thesis/dissertation remaining; or OPT during a vacation period.

    Recommendation letters must be printed on department letterhead and endorsed by your Major Professor and the Associate Provost of Instruction.

    Undergraduate Students

  • Enrollment Certification from the Registrar’s Office: Must indicate full-time enrollment for every semester you were in F-1 status.
  • Degree Audit from the Registrar’s Office: Must indicate your upcoming degree completion.
  • A Recommendation Letter from your Major Professor/ Academic Advisor Supporting the Academic Value of OPT: The letter must include the following information related to your academic program: your full name; undergraduate or graduate status; degree level, academic program of study; whether you have completed all degree requirements, completed all of your course work for your degree, or still have course work remaining; and your expected date of degree completion/graduation. Please use the template below that best reflects your OPT request. Recommendation letters must be printed on department letterhead and endorsed by your Major Professor and the Dean of Instruction and Graduate Studies.

Upon submission, the Associate Provost of Instruction will review your academic record to determine if your OPT request is appropriate; if it is approved, the Associate Provost will endorse the OPT Recommendation Letter.

3.  Schedule an appointment to meet with the Coordinator of International Education

     Bring the following documentation to your appointment:

  • OPT Recommendation Letter
    - Must be signed by the Associate Provost of Instruction (227 Bray Hall)
  • Enrollment Certification from the Registrar’s Office
    - Must indicate full-time enrollment for every semester your attended SUNY-ESF in F-1 status
  • OPT Request Form
    - Type information into the form and be sure to include requested employment dates.
  • Check or money order for $380.00 made payable to the "Department of Homeland Security" with your I-94 number indicated on the "For" line
  • G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (if you wish to receive an email and/or text message informing you that USCIS has accepted your application or petition.)
  • Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization- Type information into the form and sign in blue ink.

    Check “Permission to accept employment”

    Item 3:
    Mailbox must be serviceable as USCIS does not forward mail. If you will move within 90 days of submitting your application, you may want to use an acquaintance's address [do not mark in care of (in c/o) as there is no c/o line on the I-765 and the Lockbox will NOT type in anything referenced as c/o prior to an actual street address] and have your acquaintance forward your EAD card to you to ensure that you receive it.

    Item 16:

    Eligibility Category
    ___For Pre-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(A)
    ___For Post-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(B)
    ___For 17-Month STEM OPT Extension: (c)(3)(C)

    Certification:
    Please sign the I-765 in blue ink and be sure that your signature fits within the lines of the signature section on Form I-765. If any part of the signature crosses the line on which students are supposed to sign, the signature can be rejected. (The signature that appears on the EAD card is scanned directly from the I-765.)

  • Original AND clear photocopies of pages 1 & 3 of all I-20’s that have been issued to you  
  • Original AND clear photocopy of your passport identity page and expiration date page
  • Original AND clear photocopy of your I-94 card front and back
  • Original AND clear photocopy of your visa
  • Two recent, identical color passport-size photographs
    -  Write your name and I-94 number gently on the back of each photo
    - Photos must meet frontal passport specifications and should be on a white background taken no earlier than 30 days prior to submitting your OPT application.
  • Proof of health insurance including Medical Evacuation and Repatriation coverage. (If your plan does not include this, you may purchase a supplemental MEDEX plan for $6.25/month at the Cashier's Office. You are eligible to purchase SUNY health insurance coverage for your OPT authorization period if you do not have an employer yet or health insurance benefits with your position.
  • If you were issued an EAD card previously (e.g. for previous OPT, economic hardship employment),  include a clear copy of your previous EAD card

If all the submitted documentation is acceptable, a new I-20 recommending OPT (on page three) will be issued (required for the USCIS employment authorization application).

Submitting Your OPT Application to USCIS

Please review the application checklist below and make a copy of your completed application for your personal records prior to mailing.

A completed application must include:

  • Check or money order for $380 made out to the "Department of Homeland Security";
  • Two 2 x 2 passport-style photographs;
  • Completed G-1145 (optional)
  • Completed and signed Form I-765 (original);
  • Clear photocopies of page 1 & 3 of all I-20s including new I-20 recommending OPT;
  • One clear photocopy of your passport identify page and expiration page;
  • One clear photocopy of your visa; and
  • One clear photocopy of the front and the back of your I-94 card.
  • Also, if you were issued an EAD card previously, include one clear photocopy.

You are responsible for mailing your completed application to the appropriate USICS Lockbox or Service Center that processes applications for your eligibility category or place of residence. Please note filing locations are subject to change; please confirm mailing address by checking the USCIS website and pages 8-10 of the I-765 instructions.


Also indicate the type of application you are submitting e.g., Attn: I-765.

  • All U.S. Postal Service mail (1st class, Priority, Express) should be sent to the lockbox address (P.O. Box).
  • All other courier services or "express" mail (FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc) should be sent to the appropriate courier address.

Application Processing Times

OPT application processing times vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 2-3 months to process. An updated listing of Form I-765 application processing times at the various USCIS Service Centers is available online.

Checking the Status of your Application

If you have your application receipt number, you can check the status of your OPT application online. To do so, you may click on the link provided above or:

  • Go to www.uscis.gov
  • Click on"Check My Case Status" (on the left-hand side of the website) under "After I File"
  • Enter your EAC Application Receipt Number in the "Enter your receipt number" propmpt and click "Check Status"and USCIS will inform you if your application is in process, if they have requested further information, or if it has been approved or mailed.

If Your OPT Application Has Been Pending For More Than 90 Days

Federal regulation (8 CFR 274a.13(d))states that applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) must be processed within 90 days. If your EAD for OPT has not been issued within 90 days from the receive date indicated on your USCIS I-797 receipt notice, then you may submit a request to USCIS to expedite your case.

Please use one of the following methods-- not both-- to make your expedite request only after 90 days have passed (taking either action prior to the 90 day period may delay the processing of your application):

1) Call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request a referral to the Service Center and to make a request for expedited processing of your OPT application. When you make the request, state that you are requesting expeditious handling of an I-765 application because it is currently outside the normal processing time of 90 days, as required by federal regulation 8 CFR 274a.13(d). Be sure to write down the day and time of the call, the Officer's name and the referral ID number for your personal records. The Service Center should respond within five business days. If they do not, you will have to follow-up and provide the  request information you recorded.

2)Request an appointment through the InfoPass system: Federal regulation (8 CFR 274a.13(d))states that applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) must be processed within 90 days. If your EAD for OPT has not been issued within 90 days from the receive date indicated on your USCIS I-797 receipt notice, then you may submit a request to USCIS to expedite your case.

Please use one of the following methods-- not both-- to make your expedite request only after 90 days have passed (taking either action prior to the 90 day period may delay the processing of your application):

  1. Call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request a referral to the Service Center and to make a request for expedited processing of your OPT application. When you make the request, state that you are requesting expeditious handling of an I-765 application because it is currently outside the normal processing time of 90 days, as required by federal regulation 8 CFR 274a.13(d). Be sure to write down the day and time of the call, the Officer's name and the referral ID number for your personal records. The Service Center should respond within five business days. If they do not, you will have to follow-up and provide the  request information you recorded.
  2. Request an appointment through the InfoPass system: http://infopass.uscis.gov/. When you make the request, state that that you are requesting expeditious handling of an I-765 application because it is currently outside the normal processing time of 90 days, as required by federal regulation 8 CFR 274a.13(d).Rather than scheduling an appointment, USCIS will likely respond by sending your request to the appropriate USCIS Service Center for the file to be pulled and adjudicated.

If, after following either of these processes, no response is given within five business days after you contacted USCIS, please email the Office of International Education at OIE@esf.edu to indicate the actions that you have taken. Please provide your full name as you listed it on your OPT application, date of birth, country of citizenship, USCIS receipt number (starting with EAC...), USCIS receipt notice date, date and time you contacted USCIS to request expeditious handling, and the name and referral ID number of the officer with whom you spoke (if you called).

When you make the request, state that that you are requesting expeditious handling of an I-765 application because it is currently outside the normal processing time of 90 days, as required by federal regulation 8 CFR 274a.13(d).Rather than scheduling an appointment, USCIS will likely respond by sending a request to the appropriate USCIS Service Center for the file to be pulled and adjudicated. Additional information...

Once You Have Received Your EAD Card

Please submit a copy of your EAD card upon receipt—scan and email to: OIE@esf.edu or mail to the attention of the Coordinator of International Education at 227 Bray Hall, 1 Forestry Drive, Syracuse, NY 13210.

Employment While Authorized for OPT

You may not begin employment until you have received your EAD card and it is at least the start date of the authorized OPT period.  Engaging in employment prior to the start date or receipt of your EAD card is considered unauthorized employment.

All employment while authorized for OPT, must be directly related to your major program of study and 20 hours of work/week. For every job you obtain, you should maintain evidence of the position held, the duration of that position, job title, supervisor/ manager’s contact information, and a description of the work. If the connection between your job description and degree program is not clear, it is recommended that you obtain a signed letter from your supervisor/manager/ hiring official stating how your degree is related to the work performed.

While you are on OPT, maintenance of immigration status is dependent upon engaging in employment. Immigration regulations indicate that you may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during initial OPT authorization.

Acceptable Employment During Initial OPT Authorization:

  • Regular Paid Employment
    • Must be in a position directly related to a student’s major program of study
    • Must be at least 20 hours per week or an average of 20 hours per week over the course of a month (student should keep records of hours worked)
    • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as each position is directly related to the student's program of study.
  • Payment by Multiple Short-Term Multiple Employers
    • Students must maintain a list of all short-term employment they engage in including the employer’s contact information and the dates and duration of employment.
  • 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 must 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 guidance states, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student's degree program."
  • Employment through an Agency
    • SEVP guidance states, "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 Interns
    • SEVP guidance states, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
    • Volunteer work should not be work that the company typically pays people to perform or  displace U.S. workers.

Reporting Changes of Information (Address, Name, Employer) and Periods of Unemployment to SEVIS

While engaging in OPT, you are still in F-1 status. In order to maintain status, you must not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment and immigration regulations require you to report the following within 10  days of the change from now until the end of your OPT authorization: 

  • Any U.S. address change
  • Any foreign address change
  • Any change of name (first, middle, last)
  • Employer information (name and address) upon obtaining a job and changing jobs
  • Any periods of unemployment while authorized for OPT

 To report changes in personal information, email the information to OIE@esf.edu.

SUNY Health Insurance Coverage During OPT Authorization

F-1 students with active SUNY-ESF SEVIS records may be eligible to enroll in the SUNY International Student Health Insurance coverage for the duration of their post-completion OPT authorization period.

HTH Eligibility: OPT prospects must be currently enrolled in an HTH student plan in order to qualify for continuation as an OPT participant. OPT coverage must begin immediately after studies have ended. OPT coverage must be purchased in full at the beginning of the student’s participation in OPT. There can be no break in HTH coverage while transitioning from full time student to OPT participant. Also, there can be no break during the ensuing 12 months in which the OPT student is eligible.

Please contact the College Cashier (102 Bray Hall) to enroll in the coverage and provide them with copies of pages 1 and 3 of your I-20 recommending OPT and EAD card, if you have already received it.

Termination of OPT

OPT authorization is automatically terminated when an F-1 student:

  • transfers to another school;
  • begins coursework in a new academic program;
  • accrues more than 90 days of unemployment; or
  • works in an unauthorized field.

Additional Information & Resources


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