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 typically takes 3 months to be approved, so it is important to plan ahead.

Eligibility
Different Types of OPT
When should you apply for OPT?
How long does it take to get OPT authorization?
The OPT application process
Travel While on OPT
Reporting OPT Employment
Returning to School
Going Home
Change or Adjustment of Status
Reporting Changes


Eligibility

  • 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 you are authorized for multiple part-time positions at the same time, when combined, exceed 20 hours per week.
  • Students do not need a job to apply for OPT.

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Different Types of OPT

  • Pre-Completion OPT: Before you finish your studies
  • Post-Completion OPT: After you finish your studies
  • 24 Month STEM OPT Extension: Eligible students may apply for a 24 month extension of their OPT.  This is commonly referred to a "STEM extension." Read More
  • Cap-Gap OPT Extension: For students whose prospective employers filed a qualifying H-1B-cap subject petition.

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When should you apply for OPT?

OPT authorization typically takes 3 months to be approved, so it is important to plan ahead. It is not possible to expedite an OPT application.

  • 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.
  • 24 Month STEM OPT Extension: USCIS must receive your extension application within the 90 period before your the post-OPT end date.
  • CAP Gap OPT Extension: this will be automatically authorized by USCIS, if your H1B application is selected for adjudication.

*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.

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How long does it take to get 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
  • 3 months (estimate) to obtain approval from the government

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The OPT application process

  1. Complete the 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 recommend OPT in SEVIS and provide you with a new I-20. The OISS will contact you to come to the office to pick up the application once it is complete. Please allow 5 business days.
  4. Student 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!
  5. The majority of OPT applications are approved without any delays.  However, sometimes, USCIS requests additional information.  You must provide this information by a deadline stated in the request.  Watch you mail! 
  6. Once approved, USCIS will mail you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You will also receive a paper approval notice.
  7. If you applied for a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) on Form I-765, a number will be issued and a SSN card will be mailed within 10 days of EAD approval.
  8. When you reach the start date on your EAD, SEVIS will send you a link to set-up your SEVIS student portal. In your portal you will be able to update employment and address information. Contact the OISS directly if you want to change the email address in SEVIS.
  9. Send a copy of your EAD to the OISS for your file.
  10. Set up your SEVIS student portal.  SEVIS will send you an email notification to initiate the process once you reach your OPT start date.

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Reporting OPT Employment and Unemployment

Once OPT is approved and the start date is reached, students are limited to 90 days of accrued 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 employment via your student SEVIS portal.

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Travel While on OPT

Travel before program completion is the same as usual.

Travel after graduation: students must have:

  • An unexpired passport valid for at least six months beyond the end date on the EAD 
  • A valid F-1 visa (Canadian citizens are exempt)
  • I-20 endorsed for travel within the past six months
  • The employment authorization document (EAD) and USCIS approval notice
  • 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.
  • Students with an expired F-1 visa who leave the U.S., must apply for a new F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S. while on OPT.

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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.

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Going Home

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.

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Change or Adjustment of Status

Students who are approved for another immigration status or U.S. Permanent Residence (green card), must report this to the OISS so we can close your SEVIS record.

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Reporting Changes: Report to following to the OISS within 10 days:

  • Change in legal name
  • Change in mailing or residential address (You can change your address yourself in the student SEVIS portal.)
  • Change in employer or stopping work. (You can change your employment yourself in the student SEVIS portal.) The OISS can assist if necessary: 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.

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For more information, please contact the OISS or call 646.592.4203.