International Student and Scholar Services

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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.

Key Aspects

  • There are three kinds of OPT:
    1. Post-Completion (most common) – up to one year of work authorization granted after a student completes all course requirements
    2. STEM-Extension - up to 2 years of additional Post-Completion OPT for students with STEM degree
    3. 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.
  • Make sure that your passport has at least 6 months into the future


  • 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
  • You are eligible for 12 months OPT per education level. For example, if you are completing a second Master's degree and you have already used OPT at the Master's level, you are not eligible for 12 additional months of OPT after completing the second Master's degree. 
  • 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 $470.
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Submit the following documents via the OPT Request Form:
  4. A DSO will review your request. If eligible, the DSO will enter the OPT request in SEVIS and create a new OPT requested I-20. 
    • The OPT request information will be found on page 2 of the I-20
  5. You will receive your new OPT requested I-20 and further instructions by e-mail/through the submission form
  6. Submit your application packet to USCIS.
    • You are responsible for submitting your application to USCIS within 30 days of the date the DSO requests Post-Completion OPT in SEVIS.
    • To file online (recommended): Please read our Guidance for Applying for Post-Completion OPT online. Gather all of the application materials that USCIS requires -- see "Complete List of Application Materials to USCIS (Online Filing)" below. You will need to create a USCIS online account.
    • To file by mail: Please read our instructions for mailing your application to USCIS. There is a different list of materials that must be sent to USCIS by mail, including the official I-765 PDF form (NOT the CIS Draft I-765). 

Complete List of Application Materials to USCIS (Online Filing)

  • Digital Passport-style Photo of You (2x2 photo)
    • Must be recent (within the last 30 days), in color, and meet US passport photo standards.
    • Photos can be obtained at Walgreens, Walmart, or a local photography shop. You may also take your own, but the photo file must meet USCIS’s photo requirements.
  • Valid passport identification page
  • I-94 record
  • Previous EAD card(s), if applicable (front & back)
  • I-20s showing past CPT or OPT authorizations (if applicable)
    • If you don't have these I-20s, the CIS front desk can send you the scanned copies we have on f ile for you. Please e-mail to request your previous copies and include your St. Cloud State ID#. 
  • Most recent I-20 with OPT requested on page 2
    • The I-20 must have been endorsed by the DSO within 30 days of submitting Form I-765. After that time, your application may be denied.
    • You must print the I-20, sign & date on page 1, and scan the signed copy to upload.
  • $470, 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. Please visit our OPT Reporting Requirements webpage for more information. Here are some of the basics:

  • While on Post-Completion OPT, you will use an SEVP portal to report any changes to personal contact information (including address) or employment within 10 days. SEVP will automatically email you instructions for setting up your portal account on your approved OPT start date.
  • Employment must be related to your degree. It can be paid or unpaid. You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • 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 updates only when your employment is reported in SEVIS. If SEVIS determines that you have accrued over 90 days of unemployment after your OPT start date, your SEVIS record will automatically terminate.
  • Request your travel signature in advance of any travel outside the US. Travel signatures are valid for 6 months while on OPT, or until your OPT period ends, whichever comes first.

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