Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary off-campus employment authorization, granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to F-1 students for the purpose of gaining practical experience in their major. Eligible students may apply for up to 12 months of OPT per academic level. Eligible students may apply for OPT both before and after graduation. OPT authorization can take 3 months to be approved, so it is important to plan ahead.
Students do not need a job to apply for OPT. You must:
- Have completed at least one academic year (2 semesters or 9 months) of full-time study by the time your OPT will begin
- Be in valid F-1 status at the time of the application
- Be in good academic standing and making normal progress toward finishing your degree
- Not have already been approved for 12 months of OPT at your current degree level
- Not have been authorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at your current degree level. Full-time is defined as 20+ hours per week. Part-time CPT does not impact OPT eligibility, unless a you are authorized for multiple part-time positions at the same time, when combined, exceed 20 hours per week.
When Can You Use Your OPT?
- Before you finish your studies (Pre-Completion OPT),
- After you finish your studies (Post-Completion OPT), or
- A combination of the two, as long as the total amount of OPT does not exceed 12 months.
**You may not start working until the OPT is authorized and you receive the authorization documentation back from the government.
When Should I Apply for OPT?
Pre-Completion OPT: 3 to 4 months before you will need work authorization
Post-Completion OPT: 90 days before program completion* through 60 days after program completion. Students who are graduating should apply for post-OPT as early as possible, unless you plan to begin a new degree program the following semester or plan to leave the U.S.
*Program completion is defined as when you have finished all degree requirements. This may be different from your graduation date. Spring graduates can use May 31; Fall and summer graduates: varies by academic program.
How Long Does it Take to Get the OPT Authorization?
Plan on three to four months:
2 weeks to gather the documentation and obtain academic signatures
2 weeks to process the application at the OISS
90 days (estimate) to obtain approval from the government
How Do I Apply for OPT?
1. Complete the entire OPT application
2. Bring the complete, original application to the OISS. (Cardozo students should bring their application to the Beren Campus.)
3. The OISS will contact you to come to the OISS to pick up the application once it is complete.
4. Student then mails the application to USCIS. The application must be received by USCIS with 30 days of the DSO recommendation on page two of the I-20. Once your OPT is recommended, come to the OISS and immediately mail your application. If USCIS doesn't receive you application within 30 days, your OPT will be DENIED!
Travel While on OPT
Travel before program completion is the same as usual.
Travel after graduation: students must have:
1. An unexpired passport valid for at least six months beyond the end date on the EAD
2. A valid F-1 visa (Canadian citizens are exempt)
3. I-20 endorsed for travel within the past six months
4. The employment authorization document (EAD) and USCIS approval notice
5. SEVIS Fee receipt Reprint I-901 Sevis Fee
6. Employment letter
7. Students are not advised to leave the U.S. until OPT is approved. If your OPT is approved while you are outside of the U.S., the employment authorization documentation is required for reentry.
8. Students with an expired F-1 visa should speak with the OISS prior to traveling
Reporting OPT Employment and Unemployment
Once OPT is approved and the start date is reached, students are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. Students, who go more than 90 days without reporting post-OPT employment information, are at risk of automatic SEVIS termination of F-1 status, I-20 and employment authorization. Report OPT
Returning to School
OPT employment authorization automatically ends when a student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level at the same school.
Students who decide to depart the U.S. early with the intention of forfeiting the remainder of their OPT, must report this to the OISS.
Notify the OISS within 10 days if any of the following happen:
- Change in legal name
- Change in mailing or residential address
- Change in employer (submit "report OPT Employment" form)
- Decision to depart the U.S. with the intention of forfeiting the remainder of your OPT
- Return to school full time, or
- Change of immigration status
For more information, please contact the OISS or call 646.592.4203.