Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is authorization for “training” before or after completion of your degree in a position directly related to your program of study. All F-1 students are eligible for one year of authorization at each degree level.


Eligibility Requirements

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

  • Be in F-1 status enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year in the U.S. prior to submitting an OPT application. 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 current degree level
  • Have not already completed a degree at a higher level. For example, have previously completed a Ph.D. degree and are now completing a master’s degree and wanting to apply for OPT
  • Are not in an English language training program.

When OPT Can Occur

  • 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.)

  • Full-time: After completion of your degree. (Post-completion OPT).
  • Any OPT utilized prior to degree completion will be deducted from the initial 12 month allowable benefit.

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

  • Part-time employment while school is in session; full-time during approved school breaks.
  • Unemployment is not counted.
  • May extend program end date if eligibility requirements are not met.
  • Cannot apply for STEM extension.
  • Not eligible for cap-gap extension.

  • Full-time or part-time employment.
  • Unemployment is counted; maximum unemployment 90 days from OPT start date.
  • Cannot extend program end date; must complete dissertation/thesis by end of OPT authorization.
  • Eligible to apply for STEM extension if you meet all requirements.
  • 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 24 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 document is May 21 you may apply for your OPT as early as February 20). 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

You may file your application online OR on paper by mail.

Step 1:

Obtain a recommendation letter from your academic department.

Step 2:

Obtain a passport style photo of yourself -2 inches by 2 inches, white or light background, no glasses.

  • If filing on line, one digital photo.
  • If filing on paper, by mail, two photos are required; you should write your name and I-94 number on the back of the photos (in case they are separated from your application).

Step 3:

Prepare digital (if filing on line) or paper if filing on paper, by mail) copies of the following:

  • Your passport biodata page (with photo and expiration date).
  • Your most recent U.S. visa.
  • Your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
  • Any previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS if you have had employment authorization in the past (e.g., OPT for previous degree).
  • Any previous I-20 with CPT authorization (if filing online).

Step 4:

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

  • Filling in item 18 (Requested Employment Start Date)
        • Your start date may be any date after the program completion date indicated on your advisor’s recommendation letter 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 the end date of your OPT cannot be more than 14 months from your program end date regardless of your requested OPT start date and actual EAD start date.
  • Filling in item 19 (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 end date.

Step 5:

Step 6:

  • After logging in, click on: “File a form online” to begin your application process.
  • Select “Application for Employment Authorization (I-765)” from the drop down list.
  • Complete the online I-765 Form and upload documents:

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.

  • Eligibility Category
    • Pre Completion OPT (c)(3)(a)
    • Post Completion OPT(c)(3)(b)
  • What is your Reason for Applying: You should select “Initial permission to accept employment.” Unless 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 form.
  • 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 card, you apply for a replacement card through a local SSA office.
  • Review Your Form:
  • The system will review it but it will NOT check your answers for accuracy – you must make sure that the data you provided in your application is correct. An “error” simply 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.
  • Upload your documents to the application
    • Passport page with photo and expiration date
    • Visa
    • Print out of I-94 form
    • I-20 issued by the Center for International Services with OPT recommendation
    • Passport style photo
    • All previously issued EADs
    • I-20s authorizing CPT, if any
  • SAVE A DRAFT of your Form I-765 -  DO NOT SUBMIT IT TO USCIS

Step 7:

  • Come to the Center for International Services with the required documents for PT Processing and to obtain a new I-20 recommending OPT during OPT Processing Times

Required documents:

    • Print out of the Training Data Sheet
    • Print out of the Recommendation Letter from your department
    • I-765 saved on your laptop (phone screens are too small) with documents already uploaded OR a print out of the I-765 form
  • Processing is done on a walk-in basis (first come, first served) on:
      • Mondays from 3 pm to 5 pm
      • Thursdays from 10 am to 12 noon

Between February and May (to accommodate the large number of May graduates) processing increases to 4 days per week:

      • Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3 pm-5 pm
      • Thursdays from 10 am-12 noon

OR

  • If you are outside of the Syracuse area and cannot come for PT processing please scan and email the required documents to international@syr.edu  for processing.

Required documents are:

    • Print out of the Training Data Sheet
    • Print out of the Recommendation Letter from your department
    • Print out of the I-765 form
    • Print out of your most recent I-94 Arrival Record

A new I-20 with the OPT recommendation will be sent to you as an attachment to an email.  You must sign and date the new I-20 on the bottom of page one before making a digital file to upload to your application.

Step 8:

  • Sign and date the new I-20 recommending OPT on the bottom of page one and create a digital file of the I-20 (all three pages).

Step 9:

  • Log back into your uscis account and Saved I-765 application and upload the I-20 recommending OPT to your application (be sure to sign and date it on the bottom of page one before you create the digital file). You must submit the application within 30 days of the date the I-20 recommending OPT was issued; it must be submitted no more than 60 days after the program completion date indicated on your I-20 requesting OPT.

Step 10:

  • Pay the I-765 $410 filing fee by debit or credit card.

Step 11:

  • Submit your application

Step 12:

  • USCIS will automatically generate a receipt number for your application upon submission. They will also 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 a receipt number which can be utilized to check the status of your case.

Step 13:

  • 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 14:

  • Submit a photocopy of your EAD card to the Center for International Services.
  • Scanned files, email to: international@syr.edu.

Step 5:

  • Complete Form G-1145 and print it out- this form is optional but we recommend that you complete and print the form to receive an email and/or text message notification that USCIS has received your application.

Step 6:

  • Complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization and print it out- this form is used to apply for many different types of employment authorization including OPT; some of the questions will not apply to applicants for OPT. Please do your best to compete the application and we will review it with you when you come for PT Processing.
    • Part 2-Item 5 (Your U.S. Mailing Address):
      • This is the address to which your EAD card (OPT approval) will be sent
      • If you are using another person’s address to have your EAD card sent to, you need to write that person’s name in 5.a., the box marked In care of (c/o), Street Number and Name 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 Center for International Services immediately as this may delay your receipt of the EAD card.
      • USCIS will not mail EAD cards overseas.
    • Be sure to answer Part 2-Item 6, yes or no
      • If you answer no to Part 2-Item 6, you must complete Item 7 with the address at which you live
    • Part 2- Item 12 (Have you previously filed Form I-765?)
      • CPT authorization 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 and explain in Part 6. (e.g. OPT, Severe Economic Hardship.)
      • Answer "no" if you have never applied for an employment authorization document before.
    • Part 2- Item 27 (Eligibility Category)
      • For Pre-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(A)
      • For Post-Completion OPT: (c)(3)(B)
    • Part 3- Items 7.a. and 7.b.-Applicant’s Signature
        • Sign the Form I-765 in ink
    • Part 4 (Interpreter) and Part 5 (Preparer)-you must include these pages with your application
      • You should write “Not Applicable” or “N/A” in the boxes in these items unless you used an Interpreter or someone else completed the form for you.
    • Part 6-you must include this page with your application
      • Complete your name in Items 1.a.-1.c.
      • Complete Items 3.a. through 3.d., 4.a.-4.d., 5.a.-5d., etc. IF you answered “Yes” to Item 12-previously filed Form I-765 with USCIS indicate Page 2, Part 2, Item 12 and explain:  I previously filed and was approved for OPT  from _____ (date) to ______ (date) based on my ____  (level) degree in ____ (field)
      • If you were previously approved for CPT leave the boxes blank but explain:  I was approved for part-time or full-time CPT from _____ (date) to ______ (date) based on my ____  (level) degree in ____ (field)
      • If you attended school in the U.S. on another SEVIS Number indicate:  I previously attended school in the U.S. under SEVIS Number N00__________

Step 7:

  • Come to the Center for International Services with the required documents for PT Processing and to obtain a new I-20 recommending OPT during OPT Processing Times.

Required documents:

    • Print out of the Training Data Sheet
    • Print out of the Recommendation Letter from your department
    • Check or money order for $410.00 made 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 Form G-1145, printed out
    • Completed and signed in ink Form I-765 , printed out
    • Photocopy of your documents:
      • Passport
      • Visa
      • Most recent I-94
    • If you were issued an EAD card previously, include a photocopy of the front and back of your EAD
  • Processing is done on a walk-in basis (first come, first served) on:
      • Mondays from 3 pm to 5 pm
      • Thursdays from 10 am to 12 noon

Between February and May (to accommodate the large number of May graduates) processing increases to 4 days per week:

      • Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3 pm-5 pm
      • Thursdays from 10 am-12 noon

Step 8:

Mail your completed OPT application packet to the USCIS Service Center. You must mail the application within 30 days of the date the I-20 recommending OPT was issued; it must be received 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 $410.00 made 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 Form G-1145
  • Completed and signed in ink Form I-765 (original)
  • Photocopy of your documents:
    • New I-20 (with recommended OPT dates - see p. 2 of I-20)
    • Visa
    • Passport
    • Most recent I-94
  • If you were issued an EAD card previously, include a photocopy of the front and back of your EAD

If using the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) use Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express for tracking:

USCIS PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL  60680

If using Fedex, UPS, or DHL:

USCIS Attn:  I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn-3rd Floor
Chicago, IL  60603-5517

Step 9:

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 a receipt number which can be utilized to check the status of your case.

Step 10:

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 11:

Submit a photocopy of your EAD card to the Center for International Services. Scanned files, email to: international@syr.edu.

OPT application processing times vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 2-3 months to process.

If you have your application receipt number, you are able to check the status of your OPT application online. To do so, you may click on the link provided on USCIS.gov.

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 Center for International Services 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 Center for International Services 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 after checking the normal processing times for I-765 OPT applications 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.

  • Received a notice from USCIS about your case,
  • Responded to a request for evidence from USCIS, OR
  • Received an online update to your case status from USCIS

You may submit a request to USCIS to expedite your case only if you can document one or more of the following criteria:

  • Severe financial loss to company or person;
  • Emergency situation; For example, the applicant is gravely ill.
  • Humanitarian reasons; For example, outbreak of war in the home country.
  • Nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States; For example, an organization broadcasting in regional areas to promote democratic interests.
  • Department of Defense or national interest situation; the request must come from an official U.S. government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the government.
  • USCIS error; or
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.

To make a request to expedite your application, you should 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 normal processing time and explain why you believe your case meets one of the required criteria.

USCIS reviews all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and requests are granted at the discretion of the office leadership. The burden is on the applicant or petitioner to demonstrate that one or more of the expedite criteria have been met. Approval of such requests is discretionary and USCIS reserves the right to request documentation supporting the request to expedite an application or petition.


Reporting Changes of Information

  • 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 within 10 days of the change. You may report this change of information in one of two ways:
    • Directly to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) through the SEVP Portal. After your OPT is approved and your start date of OPT has been reached, you should receive an email from SEVP instructing you on how to create an SEVP Portal Account.  You may use that account to keep the required information up to date in your immigration record.
    • To the Center for International Services through the OPT Students Info Update Form. Upon receipt of such information, we will update your SEVIS record in order for you to maintain compliance with U.S. immigration regulations.

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).
  • Any periods of unemployment while authorized for OPT.
  • Employer information (name and address) upon obtaining a job and changing jobs.

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 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 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* F-1 U.S. visa
  • I-94 Card
  • Valid passport
  • Transcript or 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.

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 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 Center for International Services Advisor.

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