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Office of International Education
Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (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 24 month OPT extension (for a total of 36 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 an 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 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).
  • Maintained lawful F-1 status.
  • Intend to obtain employment in a position directly related to your major field of study.
  • 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:


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.

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.

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 3 months for them to process a request so please plan to ensure a timely receipt of your application.

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.

Step one: Complete an OPT recommendations letter

Graduate Students

  • A Recommendation Letter from your Major Professor/ Academic Advisor Supporting the Academic Value of OPT.

Undergraduate Students

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.

Step Two: Submit the following documentation to to request for an OPT I-20 form from OIE:

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

Step Three: Prepare and submit your OPT online application to USCIS

  • Have the following document saved as PDF:
    • Your most recent I-94
    • Valid passport
    • Visa
    • All your previous I-20s
    • OPT I-20
    • Previous EAD card if you were issued one previously (e.g., for previous OPT, economic hardship/other employment).
    • Passport style photograph
  • Create USCIS Account and file your OPT application.
  • Review your OPT application information and then submit
  • Pay the I-765 application fee. Please note once you pay the fee, your application will be considered submitted, and you will not be able to make any changes.
  • After you submit your application, you can log into your USCIS account to check your application status regularly.

OIE never recommends traveling internationally while an OPT application is pending with USCIS.

Once you have received your EAD Card, please submit a copy by email to:

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 at least 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.

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

While engaging in OPT, you are still in F-1 status. 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, please submit the OPT/STEM OPT Reporting Form to

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. Please contact the College Cashier to enroll in the coverage.

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.

*** The Office of International Education reserves the right to a one-week time frame for reviewing and processing of any submitted requests. Students should anticipate OIE to take the full week and should expect to submit documents early to avoid potential complications. If a student requests the extension of an I-20, OPT, or other time-limited visa status, all application materials and required documentations must be submitted to the Office of International Education for review and approval no later than 30 days in advance of the SEVIS deadline for submission of the application materials. ***