Optional Practical Training (OPT) (for F-1 Students)

Optional Practical Training is a 12 month temporary employment authorization that provides an opportunity for F-1 students to apply knowledge acquired from their academic program to a work experience in their major field of study. It is a benefit of maintaining status that is available during an F-1 student's course of study (pre-degree completion), after each degree level completed (post-degree completion), or may be used as a combination of both pre- and post-degree completion as long as one does not exceed the equivalent of 12 months of OPT authorization.

A 24 month post-completion OPT extension may be available to certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) graduates who are employed by an employer that participates in the E-Verify program. More information...

OPT must be recommended by the Slutzker Center for International Services and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS work authorization is issued in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) commonly referred to as an EAD card. The EAD is a photo identity card similar to a university ID or driver's license. It indicates the date an authorized F-1 student may begin employment and the date the student must end employment.



  • Optional Practical Training
  • OPT Eligibility
    • In order to be eligible to apply for OPT, you must meet all of the following requirements:

      - Be an F-1 student visa holder who has been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year prior to submitting an OPT application (Year enrollment may be fulfilled at Syracuse University, a previous University, or between multiple universities.)

      - Be maintaining lawful F-1 status.

      - Intend to obtain employment in a position directly related to your major field of study.

      - Have not completed more than 364 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

      - Have not utilized an equivalent of 12 months of OPT work authorization in current degree level.

      - Have not already completed a degree at this level (e.g., second bachelor's degree) or at a higher level. Are not in an English language training program.

  • When OPT Can Occur
    • Prior to Degree Completion:

      Part-time or Full-time: During your annual vacation if eligible and if you intend to register for the next term or session. (Pre-completion OPT)

      Part-time: While school is in session provided that OPT does not exceed 20 hours per week and you maintain your full-time student status. (Pre-completion OPT)

      Full-time: If you are in a master's or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis, dissertation or equivalent. (Can be either pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Please talk with an SCIS advisor about which might be most appropriate for your case.)

      After Degree Completion (Post-completion OPT):

      Full-time: After completion of your degree.

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

      Comparison of Pre and Post-Completion OPT benefits when one’s course work is complete and only dissertation or thesis is remaining.

      Pre-Completion OPT

      Post-Completion OPT

      Part-time employment while school is in session; full-time during approved school breaks

      Full-time or part-time employment

      Unemployment is not counted

      Unemployment is counted; maximum unemployment 90 days from OPT start date.

      May extend program end date if eligibility requirements are met

      Cannot extend program end date; must complete dissertation/thesis by end of OPT authorization

      Cannot apply for STEM extension

      Eligible to apply for STEM extension if you meet all requirements

      Not eligible for Cap-Gap Extension

      Eligible for Cap-Gap Extension

  • Duration of OPT
    • Initial OPT applications have a maximum duration eligibility of 12 months for each higher degree level (Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral Degree) you complete.

      If you have used part of your OPT employment benefit during your degree program, you are only entitled to the remaining benefit, not a new 12 months. You will not receive additional OPT time if you complete another degree at the same level (e.g., two master's degrees) or a lower level (e.g., complete a master's degree and then go back to school to complete a second bachelor's degree).

      Also, please note that if you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) after the work authorization start date you requested, 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 applied 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) so please plan ahead to ensure a timely receipt of your application. If your application is received by USCIS more than 60 days after your *program completion date, you will not be eligible for OPT.

      Prior to Degree Completion OPT:

      - 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 year of study, you may submit your OPT application as early as 90 days prior to the work authorization start date you requested.

      - If you are applying for OPT based on completion of your coursework requirements, you may submit your application as early as 90 days prior to the work authorization start date you requested.

      After Program Completion OPT:

      - 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 (e.g. if your graduation date is May 15 you may apply for your OPT as early as February 15).  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.

      *A Note About Completion Dates:
      The date of the completion of your program 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 year. Your completion date will be specified by your academic department on the Recommendation Letter that they will provide to you as part of the OPT application process.

  • OPT Application Process
    • Submitting Your OPT Application

      OPT must be recommended by the Slutzker Center for International Services before you can submit an application for OPT to the USCIS.

      Step 1:


      - Read all of the OPT information included on the Slutzker Center Website.

      - Attend the Slutzker Center Optional Practical Training Seminar

      To prepare for Step 2:

      Obtain and complete the following documents:

      - Recommendation Letter on department letterhead (following appropriate sample).

      - Students should obtain the recommendation letter from an academic advisor or departmental chairperson.

      - Form I-765 (sign the application in BLUE ink)

      - Training Data Sheet & Student Responsibilities Checklist (read, check, and sign) This form is fillable; Please type responses directly into it.

      - Clear photocopies of the first and third page of your current I-20 and all of your previous I-20's from every school attended.

      - Clear photocopies of your passport, visa, and the front and back of your I-94 card.

      - If you were issued an EAD card previously (e.g. for previous OPT for your undergraduate degree, economic hardship employment), include a clear copy of your previous EAD card (front and back).

      - Two identical color 2x2 inches photographs with your name and I-94 number written lightly on the backs. 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.

      Photographs can be purchased at local businesses such as:


      - Copy Center (Marshall Square Mall)

      - Rite Aid

      - CVS

      - Sears Portrait Studio 

      - David Studio of Photography

      Please follow the following instructions when taking the photos for OPT:

      Submit two (2) passport-style (2x2 inches) color photos with a white background taken no earlier than 30 days before submission to USCIS. They should be unmounted, glossy and unretouched. The photos should show a full-frontal facial position. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photo should not be larger than 2 x 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 1/4 inches. Lightly print your name and your I-94 number on the back of each photo with a pencil.

      7 Steps to Successful Photos

      1. Frame subject with full face, front view, eyes open

      2. Make sure photo presents full head from top of hair to bottom of chin; height of head should measure 1 inch to 13⁄8 inch (25 mm to 35 mm)

      3. Center head within frame (see Figure 2 below)

      4. Make sure eye level is between 11⁄8 inch and 13⁄8 inch (28 mm and 35 mm) from bottom of photo

      5. Photograph subject against a plain white or off-white background

      6. Position subject and lighting so that there are no distracting shadows on the face or background

      7. Encourage subject to have a natural expression

      professional photo layout

      - Check or money order for $410.00 made payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security."

      OPT_check



      - Clear photocopy of your current health insurance documentation and documentation of health insurance coverage for at least the first 90 days of your requested OPT.
      (You should not have a lapse in health insurance. If you will transition directly from your insurance to the employer's insurance, please submit documentation of your health insurance benefit and information about the plan. If your employer’s plan does not include Medical Evacuation and Repatriation coverage,  you will have to purchase a supplemental medical evacuation & repatriation policy (MEDEX) for about $30.00 per year.)

      - Form G-1145 - this form is optional.  You should print and complete the form if you would like to receive an email and/or text message notification that USCIS has received your application.

      Step 2:

      1. Step 2 processing is available on a first come, first serve basis Mondays from 3-5pm and Thursdays from 10am-12pm only.

      2. Bring ALL of the documents listed above with you when you attend your PT Step 2 appointment.
      If you will be submitting your application near the end of the 60 days after your program completion grace period, please discuss this with the Slutzker Center Advisor at your PT Step 2 appointment since your application must be received at USCIS by no later than 60 days after your program completion date.

      3. It is your responsibility to mail your OPT application documents; the SCIS does not mail applications on behalf of students.

      Step 3:

      Once you have completed all of the above steps, you may mail your completed OPT application packet to the USCIS Service Centers. You must mail the application within 30 days of the date the I-20 recommending OPT was issued; it must be recieved by no later than 60 days after the program completion date indicated on your I-20 requesting OPT.

      A completed application must include

      - Check or money order for $410 payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"  

      - Two 2 x 2 inches passport style photographs taken within the past 30 days with your name and I-94 number written gently on the back of your photos.

      - Completed and signed in blue ink Form I-765 (original).

      - One clear photocopy of your current SEVIS I-20 (with recommended OPT dates - see p. 3 of I-20).

      - Clear photocopies of all of your previous SEVIS I-20's- include page 1 and 3 of all your I-20's.

      - One clear photocopy of your visa.

      - One clear photocopy of your passport

      - One clear photocopy of the front and the back of your I-94 card.

      - If you were issued an EAD card previously, include one clear photocopy of the front and back of your EAD.

      If you live in:

      Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minneasota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

      File your application at:

      USCIS Phoenix Lockbox:

      USPS Deliveries (USPS - Priority Mail or Express Mail):
      USCIS
      P.O. Box 21281
      Phoenix, AZ 85036

      Express Mail/Courier Deliveries (FedEx, DHL):
      USCIS
      Attn: AOS
      1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
      Phoenix, AZ 85034


      If you live in:

      Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia

      File your application at:

      USCIS Dallas Lockbox:

      USPS Deliveries (USPS - Priority Mail or Express Mail):
      USCIS
      P.O. Box 660867
      Dallas, TX 75266

      Express Mail/Courier Deliveries (FedEx, DHL):
      USCIS
      Attn: AOS
      2501 S. State Hwy, 121 Business, Suite 400
      Lewisville, TX 75067

      Step 4:

      USCIS will send an application receipt to you in the mail within 2-3 weeks of receiving your application. It will note the date your application was received and the date the receipt was mailed. In the top right-hand corner, the receipt will also include an "EAC number." This number can be utilized to check the status of your case.

      Step 5:

      If your application has been approved by USCIS, you should receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card) in the mail within approximately 90-120 days. Please be aware that you may not begin working prior to reaching the start date on your EAD and you must stop working on the end date.

      Step 6:

      Submit a photocopy of your EAD card to the Slutzker Center for International Services.

      Scanned files, email to:
      lescis@syr.edu

      Step 7:

      Report any changes of information (name, address, employment, interruptions of employment) to the Slutzker Center within 10 days of the change through the OPT Students Information Update Form.
  • Completing the Form I-765
    • Filling in item 3 (U.S. Address):

      If you provide an acquaintance's address, you should write it as:

      Your name
      In care of (c/o) ___ (name of person whose address you provided)
      Street address(and apartment number if applicable)
      City, State, Zip Code


      When providing an address, please be aware:

      If you have moved and did not provide USCIS with your valid address on your application, your EAD card will be returned to USCIS. USCIS mail is NOT forwarded.

      If your address changes while your application is being processed, please contact the Slutzker Center immediately as this may delay your receipt of the EAD card.

      If your name (or your acquaintance's if your mail is being sent "in care of") does not appear on the mailbox, it is possible that the U.S. Post Office may return your EAD card to USCIS.

      USCIS will not mail EAD cards overseas.

      Filling in item 11 (Previous USCIS Employment Authorization)

      Please note that having applied for CPT does not apply to this situation. If you have only applied for CPT previously, you would mark "No."


      Answer "yes" if you applied for an employment authorization document from USCIS before. (e.g. OPT, Severe Economic Hardship.)

      Answer "no" if you have never applied for an employment authorization document before.

      Filling in 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

      Sign the Form I-765 with blue ink and provide a valid telephone number and date.
  • Completing the Data Training Sheet
    • Filling in item 17 (Requested Employment Start Date)

      Your start date may be anytime up to 60 days after the program completion date indicated on your academic advisor's letter.

      In general, if you are submitting your OPT application well in advance (3 months early) and already have a job offer, it is advisable to enter a start date that is closer to your/the employer's desired start or your program completion date.

      In general, if you are submitting your application less than 3 months early and/or do not yet have a job offer, you may want to provide a later anticipated start date (towards the end of the 60 days) since you will not receive additional OPT eligibility if your application is not processed by your anticipated start date/you do not find employment immediately.

      Please note that your OPT must be completed within 14 months from your program end date regardless of your requested OPT start date and actual EAD start date.

      Filling in item 18 (Requested Employment End Date):

      The end date must be no later than 12 months from your anticipated start date and within 14 months from your program completion date.
  • Application Processing Times
    • OPT application processing times vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 2-3 months to process.

  • Check Status of Your Application
    • If you have your application receipt number, you are able to check the status of your OPT application processing case online. To do so, you may click on the link provided here or:


      Go to www.uscis.gov

      Locate the "Check Case Status" area (on the bottom of the right-hand corner) under the bolded "Help with:"

      Enter your EAC Application Receipt Number in the "Enter case number here" prompt 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, after applying for OPT, you learn you have to take another course...


      Your OPT is based on your having completed your degree (undergrads) or at least your coursework (grads). If you learn that you must take an additional course in order to graduate, then you must do the following:

      · Make an appointment to talk with a Slutzker Center advisor to discuss the consequences to your OPT application and any actions that you need to take.
      · If USCIS has not yet processed your OPT application, you can ask them to withdraw it so that you can reapply with later OPT dates. It is at USCIS’s discretion as to whether they will approve your request.

      · If USCIS has already approved your OPT, then you cannot withdraw your application, and you may only work 20 hours or less on your OPT until you have completed your required course. The Slutzker Center must extend your program end date and issue a new I-20.
      · Students in STEM fields cannot apply for a STEM extension unless they have earned their degrees.

      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 processed within 90 days from the received date on your USCIS receipt notice, then you may submit a request to USCIS to expedite your case.
       
      Please use one of the following methods to make your request only after 90 days have passed:

      You may call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.  When calling, you will need to tell the customer representative that your case is outside the required processing time of 90 days, pursuant to federal regulation 8 CFR 274a.13(d) . The representative should enter a service request to the service center where your application is pending.

      You may submit an "e-request" at http://egov.uscis.gov/e-request/Intro.do indicating your case is outside the posted processing time.  You should have your receipt notice available in order to enter information into the online request form.

      You may email our office at lescis@syr.edu, providing your full name as written on your OPT application, USCIS receipt number (e.g. starting with EAC or WAC), and USCIS receipt notice date.  We will email the service center to inquire about your application.

  • Reporting Changes of Information (Address, Name, Employer) and Periods of Unemployment to SEVIS
    • While on OPT, you remain in F-1 status and employment is required to maintain status. In order to maintain status, you may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment.

      As part of your maintenance of status , you are responsible for reporting changes in personal and employment information to the the Slutzker Center within 10 days of the change. Upon receipt of such information, we will update your SEVIS record in order for you to maintain compliance to U.S. immigration regulations.

      You must report the following information to the Slutzker Center within 10 days:


      - any change of address (within the U.S. or your foreign address)

      - any change of name (first, middle, last)

      - any periods of unemployment while authorized for OPT

      - employer information (name and address) upon obtaining a job and changing jobs

      To update your information, please access the "Updating your Data " section of the Slutzker Center website or access the form directly.


      Access the "OPT Updating Your Data" form.

      Select "OPT/Academic Training Students."

      Enter in your information.

      Select "Submit" at the bottom of the page to submit the address update form online.
  • Termination of OPT
    • OPT authorization is automatically terminated when an F-1 student transfers to another school or begins coursework in a new academic program.

  • Traveling When OPT is Pending or Approved (Prior to Degree Completion)
    • If you will return to the U.S. (from outside North America) before you complete your degree requirements (before the end date noted in item #5 of your I-20):

      You may re-enter the U.S. with the following immigration travel documents:

      • Original current, valid I-20 with a travel signature no older than 6 months from the day on which you plan to re-enter the U.S.
      • Valid* U.S. visa
      • I-94 Card
      • Valid passport
      • Transcript
      • Letter of Registration
      • Additional Photo ID (e.g., SU ID)
      • Financial Documentation (e.g., bank statements, assistantship letter)

      *If you are returning to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or an Adjacent Island, you may not need a valid visa to re-enter the U.S. if you:

      • Have a valid travel signature (must be valid 6 months beyond the date you plan to re-enter the U.S.);
      • Carry the necessary immigration travel documents listed above; and
      • Do not meet any of the criteria posted on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

      You will still be required to have the rest of immigration travel documents listed above.

  • Traveling When OPT Has Been Approved (After Degree Completion)
    • If you will return to the U.S. after you complete your degree requirements (after the end date noted in item #5 of your I-20), you must have the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:


      • Original new, valid I-20 endorsed for OPT (on p.2) with a travel signature no older than 6 months from the day on which you plan to re-enter the U.S.
      • Your EAD card
      • A letter from an employer indicating a job offer in your major field of study or that you will be returning to resume your employment
      • I-94 Card
      • Valid passport
      • Valid* U.S. visa

      *If you are returning to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or an Adjacent Island, please check above criteria to see if you will require a valid visa to re-enter the United States or consult a Slutzker Center Advisor.

      It is not advisable to travel outside of the U.S.:


      • While OPT authorization is pending; or
      • If you have been authorized for OPT but do not have a job to begin/resume