Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is authorization to gain practical experience in a position directly related to your program of study either before or after the completion of your degree.

F-1 students are eligible for one year of OPT at each degree level. Some F-1 students may be eligible for the STEM Extension of OPT for two additional years if they meet all the criteria.

Pre-Completion OPT is authorization to gain practical experience during your degree program (before the program end date on your I-20). Pre-Completion OPT can be either part-time (less than 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).

  • Part-time or full-time: During your annual summer vacation if eligible and if you intend to register for the next term or session.
  • 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.

Most students do not apply for pre-completion OPT and instead use Curricular Practical Training for internships, practicums and field experiences because many Syracuse University degree programs include them in the curriculum.

Post-Completion OPT is authorization to gain practical experience AFTER the completion of your degree.

  • Post-completion OPT is always full-time (20 hours or more per week).

A master’s or doctoral student who has completed all course work requirements and is working on a thesis, dissertation or equivalent may apply for either pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Below is a comparison of pre- and post-completion OPT benefits:

Pre-Completion OPTPost-Completion OPT
Part-time employment while school is in session; full-time during approved school breaks. If you plan to do both part-time and full-time, it requires two separate applications to USCIS with two fees.Full-time employment.
Unemployment is not counted.Unemployment is counted; maximum unemployment 90 days from OPT start date.
May extend program end date if degree requirements are not met.Cannot extend program end date because your program is considered to be completed. You will not be able to return as an F-1 student in your degree program if you do not complete your thesis or dissertation by the end of your OPT. If eligible, STEM Extension is possible.
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.

If you are unsure about which type of OPT is more appropriate for your situation, please visit the Center for International Services to speak with an advisor, during our Advisor on Call hours, Monday – Friday from 11 am until 3 pm.

If you are unsure about which type of OPT is more appropriate for your situation, please visit the Center for International Services to speak with an advisor, during our Advisor on Call hours, Monday – Friday from 11 am until 3 pm.


Duration of OPT

F-1 students are eligible for OPT for a maximum of 12 months at each degree level.

  • Pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the 12 month total at each degree level.
    • Full-time pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the 12 months total you are eligible for. For example, if you are approved for 3 months of full-time pre-completion OPT, you would have 9 months of OPT left at that degree level.
    • Part-time pre-completion is subtracted at ½ the rate. For example, if you are approved for 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT, you would have 11 months of OPT left you at that degree level.
  • You are only eligible for OPT once per degree level.
    • For example, once you are approved for OPT at the master’s level you would not be eligible for a second period of OPT at the master’s level again.
  • Once you are approved for OPT at a higher degree level, you are ineligible for OPT at any lower level.
    • For example, if you are approved for OPT at the master’s level, you would not be eligible for OPT at the bachelor’s level at any point after the master’s level approval.
  • 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 24-month STEM extension and applied in a timely manner.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be in valid F-1 status
  • Be in the U.S. when you request your OPT I-20 and when you submit your application to USCIS. You cannot apply for OPT from outside the U.S.
  • Have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year (two semesters) from inside the U.S. Your enrollment may be fulfilled at Syracuse University, a previous University or between multiple universities
  • 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 your current degree level
  • Have not already completed OPT at a higher degree level
  • Are not in an English language training program

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 end date, you will not be eligible for OPT.

A Note About Program End Dates: Your program end date is the last day of the semester that you are enrolled in your program, not the date you participate in graduation ceremonies at the end of the year. Your program end date may not be accurately reflected on your current I-20. Your program end date may be adjusted if you are completing your program earlier than your program end date on your current I-20.

  • If you have an assistantship in your final semester your program end date will be May 15th (for Spring graduates) or December 31st (for Fall graduates)
  • If you enroll in Maymester or Winterlude to complete degree requirements your program end date will be the last day of the Spring semester (Maymester) or Fall semester (Winterlude)
  • Program end dates for Master’s and Doctoral Students who have a thesis or dissertation requirement may be different from the last day of the semester. Your program end 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. The end date might be:
    • Any day after completing all course requirements
    • The thesis or dissertation defense date
    • The date the final thesis or dissertation is submitted to the Graduate School, etc.

  • If you are completing your first academic year (two semesters) 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 work until after your first academic year of study has been completed.
  • If you have completed academic year (two semester) of study, you may submit your OPT application as early as 90 days prior to your requested work start date.
  • If you are a master’s or Ph.D. student applying for OPT based on completion of your coursework requirements, you may submit your application as early as 90 days prior to requested work start date.

  • 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 Program End Date on your I-20 is May 3, you may apply for your OPT as early as February 2).
  • If you are a master’s or Ph.D. student applying for post-completion OPT based on completing your required course work (and still have your thesis or dissertation left to complete) you can apply as early as 90 days before your requested work start date, as long as you will have completed all your required course work by the requested start date.
  • Please be aware that your application must be received by USCIS 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. (e.g. if your program end date on your I-20 is May 3, your application must be received by USCIS on or before July 2).

OPT Application Process

The OPT application process is a multistep process that requires requests to:

  1. Your Academic Department
  2. The Center for International Services through the ISSS Portal in MySlice
  3. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) online

DO NOT submit an online application to USCIS without first obtaining your OPT recommendation I-20.

Request that your department issue an OPT Recommendation Letter on department letterhead. Your department should provide the letter to you because you will need to upload it to your request for your OPT Recommendation I-20 in the ISSS Portal in MySlice.

All students applying for OPT must request a specific OPT start date. Students will enter this selected start date on their request for an OPT Recommendation I-20 in the ISSS Portal in MySlice.

  • Students applying for pre-completion OPT may select any date after they have completed their first two semesters as a full-time student as their requested pre-completion OPT start date.
  • Students applying for post-completion OPT must select an OPT start date that is any date after the program end date (the last day of the final semester of registration) up to 60 days after the program end date.

Students will also need to enter their requested end date.

  • Students applying for pre-completion OPT should select the specific date they want pre-completion OPT to end.
  • Students applying for post-completion OPT should select the date one year from their requested start date, unless they have been authorized for pre-completion OPT.
    • If you have been approved for pre-completion OPT and are now applying for post-completion OPT, please see the section above regarding the rate at which pre-completion OPT is subtracted from post-completion OPT.

If you would like to discuss how to choose an OPT start date please visit the Center for International Services to speak with an advisor, during our Advisor on Call hours, Monday – Friday from 11 am until 3 pm.

  • Log in to the International Student and Scholar (ISSS) Portal through MySlice. If you do not have access to the portal please email the Center for International Services with a detailed description of the issue (include screenshots if possible) or visit the Center for International Services during walk-in advising (Monday – Friday from 11 am to 3 pm).
  • Go to the Student Request Center on the right side of the page.
  • Go to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request icon.
  • Complete the Questionnaire.
  • Upload the Required Documents:
  • Read the Next Steps and Confirm.
  • Submit the request.

Within 3-5 business days you should receive an email that your OPT I-20 has been processed and is available in the ISSS Portal. You must complete Steps 4 & 5 below within 30 days of the date your OPT I-20 is issued.

  • Obtain a digital passport-style photograph. 2 X 2 inches, white or light background, no glasses.
  • Prepare digital files of:
    • your passport biodata page (with photo and expiration date)
    • most recent F-1 visa
    • I-20s authorizing CPT or previous OPT (if any)
    • any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS if you have had employment authorization in the past (e.g., OPT for previous degree)
    • most recent I-94
  • Print your OPT I-20 from the ISSS Portal and sign and date on the bottom of page 1 in ink, scan the newly signed OPT I-20 and save a digital file of it.

  • Create a USCIS Online Account and log in.
    • When creating your account select that you are an applicant or petitioner
  • After logging in, click on “File a Form Online” to begin your application process.
  • Select “I-765, Application for Employment Authorization” from the drop-down list.
    • Instructions for filing the online I-765 can be found online here.
  • Complete the online I-765 Form and upload your documents:
    • Your 2 X 2 Photo
    • Your most recent I-94
    • Previous EADs or Government ID – this is where you upload your passport and most recent visa
    • Previously authorized CPT or OPT – Upload any I-20s previously authorizing CPT or OPT (if any)
    • Form I-20 – Your SIGNED OPT I-20 (you do not need to upload any other I-20s in this section
  • If you have questions about the I-765 or you would like a Center for International Services Advisor to review your application please SAVE it, do not submit it to USCIS.

 

Tips for completing the I-765:

  • Answer the form questions in order — do not skip ahead. The form has conditional logic that will display the next set of questions according to your answers. Go in order so that you only see the questions you need to complete.
  • What is your eligibility category?
    • (c)(3)(A) Student Pre-Completion OPT
    • (c)(3)(B) Student Post-Completion OPT
  • Would you like to request Premium Processing Service?
    • For an additional cost of $1,500 USCIS will take one of several possible actions (issue an approval notice, a denial notice, a notice of intent to deny, or a request for evidence) on your Form I-765 within 30 days
    • NOTE: This does not guarantee an approval within 30 days
  • What is your reason for applying?
    • You should select “Initial permission to accept employment.”
  • Have you previously filed Form I-765?
    • If you have filed Form I-765 before (even if it was denied), you should answer "yes." You will give details about the previous application later in the Additional Information section.
  • Do you want the Social Security Administration to issue you a Social Security card?
    • If you do not already have a Social Security number (SSN), you should apply for it at the same time as you apply for your EAD card.
    • Do NOT apply again if you already have an SSN.
    • If you have lost your SSN card, you should apply for a replacement card through a local SSA office.
  • The system will review your application, but it will NOT check your answers for accuracy — you must make sure that the data you provided in your application is correct (spelling of name, birth date (MM/DD/YYYY), etc.).
    • An “error” means you may have missed something on the application or formatted something incorrectly.
    • If an error is highlighted in red, it must be corrected before you can submit your application.
    • A yellow error calls your attention to something that may need correction. Review it to make sure your information is correct. A common yellow error is not uploading evidence in the section that asks for evidence of previous CPTs or OPTs. If you did not have previous CPT or OPT, you are not required to upload evidence in this section.

  • If before submitting your Form I-765 to USCIS you would like an advisor to review your application, please come to the Center for International Services during Advisor on Call hours with your laptop for review. Please complete the I-765 to the best of your ability and have your documents uploaded before coming for review.
  • Advisor on Call Hours:
    • Monday – Friday from 11 am to 3 pm.
  • If you are outside of Syracuse and would like your I-765 reviewed, please email the draft of your I-765 to international@syr.edu.

  • After completing a final review of your Form I-765, sign and submit the application.
  • You will be directed to pay the application fee by credit or debit card. 
    • Until March 30, 2024:  $410 application fee
    • April 1, 2024 and after:  $470 application fee

After Submitting Your OPT Application

After submitting your application to USCIS a receipt notice will appear in the documents section of your USCIS account. The receipt notice will include a receipt number (IOEXXXXXXXXXX) which can be used to check the status of your case. USCIS will also send a receipt notice to you in the mail within 2-3 weeks of receiving your application.

Once you have your application receipt number, you can check the status of your OPT application online on the USCIS Case Status website.

OPT application processing times vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 1-3 months to process. You may check USCIS Official Processing Times online.

Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card will be mailed to the mailing address that you put on your I-765. If your mailing address changes after you have submitted your I-765 it is possible to notify USCIS of your new mailing address through your USCIS account or by completing their change of address form. You must do this as soon as possible, however there is no guarantee that USCIS will match up your request to change your address with your application in time for your card to be mailed to your new address.

If your application has been approved by USCIS, you should receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card in the mail. Please be aware that to begin working you must have your EAD card and it must be at least the start date on your card or any day after. You must stop working by the end date on your EAD card unless you have a properly filed STEM Extension.

Once you have received your EAD card email a picture of the front and the back of your EAD card to international@syr.edu.

If you requested a Social Security Number on your I-765 the SSN card will be mailed separately and should arrive shortly after you receive your EAD card.

If, after checking the normal processing times for I-765 based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student, you find that your case is beyond the normal processing times, you can submit an inquiry to USCIS about your Form I-765 through their case inquiry form, case outside normal processing time.

The criteria and process for requesting an expedited case can be found online here. Requests to expedite are considered on a case-by-case basis, but the criteria are difficult to meet, and it is unlikely an I-765 would be expedited.

For an additional cost you may file a request for premium processing of your application by filing form I-907 with USCIS. Within 30 days of receiving a request for premium processing, USCIS will take one of several possible actions (issue an approval notice, a denial notice, a notice of intent to deny, or a request for evidence) on your Form I-765.   NOTE: This does not guarantee an approval within 30 days.

Premium Processing Filing Fee:

  • Until February 25, 2024:  $1500
  • February 26, 2024 and after:  $1685

If you would like to request premium processing, follow instructions for form I-907.

Post-completion OPT is based on you having completed your degree (undergraduate students), or at least your coursework (graduate students). If you learn that you will not be graduating as planned, then you must do the following:

  • Come to the Center for International Services during Advisor on Call (Monday – Friday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm) 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 request 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 per week until you have completed your degree requirements.

Reporting Requirements and Maintaining F-1 Status while on OPT

  • While on OPT, you remain in F-1 status and employment is required to maintain status. You must work at least 20 hours per week in a position directly related to your field of study and you may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment.
  • On the start date of your OPT (if it has been approved) you should receive an email from the Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) instructing you to create an SEVP Portal Account. You will use this account to keep the required information up to date in your immigration record.
    • If you do not receive this email please contact the Center for International Services by either:
      • calling 315-443-2457 OR
      • emailing with the subject line “SEVP Portal Account”
    • To maintain your status during OPT, you must report changes in personal and employment information within 10 days of the change.
    • You must report the following information within 10 days of any change:
      • Any change of address (within the U.S. or your foreign address)
      • Any change of name (first, middle, last)
      • Employer information upon obtaining a job or changing jobs:
        • Employer name
        • Employer address
        • Start date
        • Hours per week
      • When a job ends, the end date of that employment
    • If you are unable to access your SEVP Portal Account or have failed to report employment changes within 10 days in your SEVP Portal Account, please complete the Address or Employment Update Forms in the ISSS Portal in MySlice. After we receive your submitted form we will update your SEVIS record and you will be able to see this update in your SEVP Portal.

Traveling While on OPT

If you will return to the U.S. before you complete your degree requirements (before the program end date on your I-20), you may reenter the U.S. with the following immigration documents:

  • Most recent I-20 with a travel signature no more than six months old on the day you plan to reenter the U.S.
  • Valid passport
  • Valid* F-1 U.S. visa
  • Receipt Notice for OPT application or EAD Card (if approved)

We recommend that you also carry:

  • Documentation of student status (transcript, proof of registration, enrollment verification, SUID Card)
  • Proof of financial support (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 reenter the U.S. if you:

  • Have a valid travel signature (no more than six months old on the day you plan to reenter the U.S.
  • Carry the necessary immigration travel documents listed above; and
  • Meet the criteria for Automatic Visa Revalidation:
    • Your trip is less than 30 days
    • Your trip is solely to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands
    • You do not apply for a U.S. Visa while there
    • You are not a citizen of Iran, Syria, Sudan, or North Korea

As you are no longer an enrolled student and are not yet approved for OPT, it is not advisable to travel outside of the U.S. after you have completed your degree but before your OPT application is approved.

If you will return to the U.S. after you complete your degree requirements (after the program end date on your I-20), you must have the following documents to reenter the U.S.:

  • Most recent I-20 with a travel signature no more than six months old on the day you plan to reenter the U.S.
  • Your EAD card
  • Documentation that you are entering the U.S. to begin or resume employment (e.g. a job offer letter with a start date in the near future, a letter from your employer, a recent paystub, etc.)
  • Valid passport
  • Valid* F-1 U.S. visa

*If you are returning to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island, you may not need a valid visa to reenter the U.S. if you:

  • Have a valid travel signature (no more than six months old on the day you plan to reenter the U.S.
  • Carry the necessary immigration travel documents listed above; and
  • Meet the criteria for Automatic Visa Revalidation:
    • Your trip is less than 30 days
    • Your trip is solely to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands
    • You do not apply for a U.S. Visa while there
    • You are not a citizen of Iran, Syria, Sudan, or North Korea

    Approaching the End of Your OPT

    While you are approved for OPT you are still in F-1 status. Your F-1 status allows a 60-day grace period following the end date of your OPT. During this grace period you can:

    • Prepare to leave the U.S.
    • Travel within the U.S.
    • Transfer to a different school
      • If you request that your SEVIS record be released while your OPT is still active, your OPT ends on the date your SEVIS record is released to your new school. You must end your employment on or before your transfer release date.
    • Begin a new full-time program at Syracuse University
      • If your new academic program begins before your OPT ends, your OPT authorization is automatically terminated on the date the new program begins. You must end your employment on or before the program start date on your new I-20.
    • Apply for a change of your immigration status

    Note: If you are eligible for the STEM Extension you must apply before your OPT ends. You cannot apply during this grace period.