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. All F-1 students are eligible for one year of OPT at each degree level. There are two types of OPT, pre-completion and post-completion. Most students will use Curricular Practical Training for practical experiences they want to do during their degree program and will use Optional Practical Training after they have completed their degree.

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 will instead use CPT for these experiences because opportunities for internships, practicums and field experiences are plentiful at Syracuse University.

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

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

A master’s or doctoral student who has completed all course work requirements and only has a thesis, dissertation or equivalent left to finish may apply for either pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Below is a comparison of pre- and post-completion OPT benefits when a student only has their thesis or dissertation to complete.

Pre-Completion OPTPost-Completion OPT
Part-time employment while school is in session; full-time during approved school breaks.Full-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 not met.Cannot extend program end date; must complete dissertation/thesis by end of OPT authorization.
Cannot apply for STEM extensionEligible 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 contact us.


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 it would subtract 1 month from the 12 months total available to 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.

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.


Eligibility Requirements

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

  • Be in valid F-1 status.
  • 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 completion date,* you will not be eligible for OPT.

  • 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 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 your requested work start date.
  • 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 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 document is May 3, you may apply for your OPT as early as February 2).
  • If you are 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.
  • 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

The OPT application process first requires you to obtain an OPT recommendation I-20 from the Center for International Services and then submit an application to 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 return the letter to you because you will need to upload it to your request for your OPT recommendation I-20.

All students applying for OPT must request a specific date for their OPT to begin. Students will put this selected end date on their request for an OPT Recommendation I-20.

  • Student’s applying for pre-completion OPT may select day after they have completed their first two semesters as a full-time student as their requested pre-completion OPT start date.
  • Student’s applying for post-completion OPT must select an OPT start date that is any date after the program completion date indicated on their advisor’s recommendation letter up to 60 days after the program completion date indicated in the letter.

Student’s will also need to enter their requested end date.

  • Student’s applying for pre-completion OPT should selected the specific date they would like the pre-completion OPT to end.
  • Student’s 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 some 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 advice on selecting an OPT start date please visit the Center for International Services to speak with an advisor.

  • Log in to the International Student and Scholar (ISSS) Portal through MySlice. If you do not have access to the portal please email international@syr.edu 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 11am to 3pm).
  • Go to the Student Request Center.
  • Find the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request.
  • Complete the Questionnaire.
  • Upload the Required Documents:
    • Advisor’s Letter
    • Most recent I-94
  • Read the Next Steps and Confirm.
  • Submit Request.

Within 3-5 business days you should receive an email that your OPT Recommendation I-20 has been processed and is available in the ISSS Portal. You must complete and submit your I-765 within 30 days of when your new I-20 is issued.

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

  • Go to: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/ to create a USCIS Online Account and log in.
  • 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.
  • Complete instructions for filing the online I-765 can be found online here.
  • Upload your documents to the application:
    • 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
    • Form I-20 – Your SIGNED OPT Recommendation 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 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 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 can apply for a replacement card through a local SSA office.
    • 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.

  • If you would like an advisor to review your application please come to the Center for International Services during Advisor on Call hours with either your laptop or the printed draft of your I-765 for review.
  • Advisor on Call Hours:
    • Monday – Friday from 11:00 am to 3:00 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 review, log back in to your USCIS account and your saved I-765 application.
  • Complete a final review of your application.
  • Sign and submit the application.
  • You will be redirected to pay.gov to pay the $410 application fee. It can be paid by credit or debit card.

After Submitting Your OPT Application

Within a few minutes of 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 which can be utilized 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 2-3 months to process. You may check USCIS Official Processing Times online.

Your 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 you need to update USCIS with your new mailing address as soon as possible. You can inform them of your new mailing address through your USCIS account or by completing their change of address form.

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 to begin working you must have your EAD 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, 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.

The criteria and processes for requesting an expedited case can be found online here. Requests to expedite are considered on a case by case basis, but it is unlikely an OPT application would be considered.

Post-completion OPT is based on your having completed your degree (undergraduate students), or at least your coursework (graduate students). If you learn that you must take an additional course 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.


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. In order 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.
  • 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 Address or Employment Update Forms in the ISSS Portal. Once we receive your submitted form 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 reenter the U.S. with the following immigration travel 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
  • Most recent I-94
  • Transcript or Letter of Registration
  • Additional photo ID (e.g., SUID)
  • 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.

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
  • 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
  • Valid passport
  • Valid* F-1 U.S. visa
  • Most recent I-94

*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 reenter 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.