What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary off-campus employment for practical training directly related to an F-1 student’s major. Unlike Curricular Practical Training (CPT), OPT does not need to contribute to a student’s degree plan (e.g. internship credit)—and is most often used after graduation.
- There are three kinds of OPT:
- Post-Completion (most common) – up to one year of work authorization granted after a student completes all course requirements
- STEM-Extension - up to 2 years of additional Post-Completion OPT for students with STEM degree
- Pre-Completion (uncommon) – up to one year of work authorization granted before a student completes all course requirements
- CIS requests that any students interested in Pre-Completion OPT contact a CIS advisor—and consider CPT instead.
- Students need to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for OPT authorization with the help of a Designated School Official (DSO) from CIS.
- Employment can begin when the student receives an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card from USCIS.
- Student has been in F-1 status for at least one full academic year
- Student is not enrolled in an intensive English-language or certificate program.
- Student has not exceeded 12 months of full-time CPT
- For Post-Completion OPT: student will be completing all course requirements for their major by the end of the semester—or is in their 60-day grace period after completing all course requirements.
- At SCSU, graduate students can apply for and engage in Post-Completion OPT while they work on their thesis, capstone paper, or comprehensive examination.
Things to Know before Applying
- The earliest a student can apply for Post-Completion OPT is 90 days before their program end date.
- The latest a student can apply for Post-Completion OPT is 60 days after their program end date (USCIS must receive the application by this time).
- After CIS processes an OPT request, students can apply for OPT through USCIS either by mail or through the USCIS online portal.
- The USCIS application fee is $410.
- USCIS usually takes about 3 months to process OPT applications.
- When granted, authorization is usually valid for one year.
- Post-Completion OPT Authorization Dates: The earliest start date a student may request is the day after the program end date (last day of courses). The latest start date a student may request is the last day of the 60-day grace period following the program end date.
Steps for Applying
To apply, students will need to submit application materials to USCIS with the help of a Designated School Official (DSO) from CIS. These are the steps:
- Review the Eligibility requirements and Things to Know before Applying above to determine if you are eligible. If you are unsure, you can contact CIS for guidance.
- Pay the $100 OPT Administrative Processing Fee.
- While you are working in the U.S. on OPT, CIS is federally required to maintain, update, and report on your SEVIS record until all employment authorization has concluded. This fee offsets the expenses of all SEVP-mandated employment reporting.
- To pay, send an email requesting the processing fee to be added to your account.
- Pay the processing fee in one of the following ways:
- Online – through e-Services; Mastercard, Visa, Discover, or E-Check accepted
- Phone – call the Cashier’s Office at (320)308-4012; 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM, Monday – Friday
- In-person – Administrative Service Building, Room 123; 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM, Monday – Friday
- Contact CIS for assistance with your OPT application, submitting the following documents via email to the CIS Front Desk (email@example.com):
- DSO will review your completed documents, request your OPT work authorization in SEVIS, and create an updated I-20 with the OPT request. (The request will be found on page 2 of the I-20.)
- When the processing is finished, CIS will email you with your new I-20, your application materials with the DSO’s comments, and instructions for both online filing and filing via mail/courier.
- Gather all of the application materials that USCIS requires. See "Complete List of Application Materials to USCIS (Online Filing)" below.
- Save copies of all application materials for your records.
- Create an account with the USCIS online portal.
- Submit your application packet to USCIS online. Instructions can be found here.
- If you would rather file your application to USCIS via mail/courier, complete instructions and list of application materials can be found here.
Complete List of Application Materials to USCIS (Online Filing)
- 2 x 2 photo
- Be sure to review the guidelines for taking and uploading a photo. Selfies are not acceptable, and the picture must be taken on a plain white or off-white background.
- You can upload your photo to the Photo Tool on the Department of State's Passport Photos page to create an acceptable passport-style photo. You can also have one professionally taken at Walgreens, CVS, or Walmart.
- Valid passport photo page
- Most recent I-20 with OPT requested status on page 2
- I-20s of current degree level showing CPT authorization (if applicable)
- If you don't have these I-20s, the CIS front desk can you send you any scanned copies we may have on file for you. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and include your SCSU ID#.
- Previous EAD cards (if applicable)
- $410, payable by debit/credit card
Acceptable File Formats
Photos: JPG, JPEG, PNG
Documents: JPG JPEG, PDF, TIF, TIFF (.doc or .bmp files are not allowed)
Maximum size: 6MB per file
- USCIS usually takes 2-3 months to process OPT Applications.
- Once your application and payment are submitted, you can use your online account for the following:
- Access your receipt notice
- Access biometrics notices (if applicable)
- Review Requests for Evidence (RFEs), if applicable
- View your case status (via the Case Status tab)
- See a PDF of the completed Form I-765
- Access your Decision Letter
- If your application is returned with a Request for Further Evidence (RFE), you should contact a DSO for assistance. We will likely need to create a new I-20 for you.
- When your application is approved, USCIS will send the EAD card to the mailing address you provided in you application.
- You should begin working—paid or unpaid—only after you have received the EAD card.
- You should submit a copy of your EAD to your employer.
- If your application is denied, USCIS will notify you.
Reporting Your OPT Employment
While on OPT, it is your responsibility to follow OPT reporting requirements. Here are some of the basics. Please visit our OPT Reporting Requirements webpage for more information.
You have a total of 90 unemployment days available during your year of Post-Completion OPT. The unemployment count starts on your OPT start date and ends only when your employment is reported in SEVIS.
You can report your OPT employment through your SEVP Portal or the CIS OPT/STEM Extension Employment Reporting page.