Optional Practical Training is work authorization for F-1 students to gain experience in their field of study. It is either completed before graduation (pre-completion OPT) or, most commonly, after graduation (post-completion OPT).
Note: The information on this page is primarily directed at students engaging in Standard 12-month OPT. If you complete a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), you are eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT work authorization. Read more about STEM OPT.
OPT work authorization allows for up to 12 months of employment. If you plan to engage in post-completion OPT, you should apply 90 days before graduation, as processing times can vary from 30-120 days. USCIS reviews OPT applications, and upon approval, will mail an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to you before you begin work.
A job offer is not required to apply for OPT, and you may change employers while on OPT. However, only 90 days of employment is allowed throughout the authorized period of OPT.
OPT is NOT a change of status. It is considered a benefit of F-1 status, and you must still maintain your F-1 status throughout the duration of their OPT. However, full-time enrollment in classes is not required.
You have responsibilities while on OPT, including maintaining a valid I-20, remembering the limit on unemployment, and reporting changes in your contact or employer information to your DSO at Saint Rose. Failure to do so may result in termination of your F-1 status. See more information on this page concerning your responsibilities while on OPT.
One 12-month period of OPT is allowed per educational level. For example, you could complete OPT after receiving a Bachelor’s degree, then be eligible for another period of OPT after completing a Master’s degree. However, if you begin a new program of study or transfer to another university during your OPT authorization period, you will forfeit the remainder of the OPT period.
The Office of Global Affairs conducts frequent OPT Seminars to provide students with more information on applying to OPT. See below for the OPT Seminars scheduled for the Spring 2020 semester:
Wednesday, January 29th, 2-4pm
How to Apply for OPT
- Attend an OPT Seminar or review the Online OPT Seminar provided by the Center for Global Affairs
- Complete the online Student Request for OPT Appointment.
- Get signatures on the Program End Date Verification (emailed to you after receiving the Student Request for OPT Appointment)
- Complete I-765 and G-1145. Read the online instructions to ensure you complete these forms accurately.
- Purchase a money order for $410, and get two U.S-size passport photos
- Make copies of your immigration documents (passport & visa, I-20, I-94)
- Conduct OPT Appointment with Chloe Hammett, Assistant Director of International Student Services/DSO, at email@example.com. Ms. Hammett will contact you to schedule the appointment after receiving your Student Request for OPT Appointment submission. At this appointment, Ms. Hammett will review your application packet, and provide you with an updated I-20 recommending you for OPT. A copy of this new I-20 should be mailed with your application packet.
- Mail application packet to USCIS
Responsibilities While on OPT
Use of Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card serves as proof of legal work authorization throughout the United States. Once you receive your EAD and it is on or past your OPT start date (as listed on your EAD), you may work in your field of study for the duration of your employment authorization.
Reporting Requirements While on OPT
While you are on OPT, you must notify The Center for Global Affairs within 10 days of any of the following changes by submitting an OPT Update:
- New employment (Received EAD card, Name of Employer, Address of Employer, EIN of Employer, Start or End Date of Employment, Supervisor Name, Supervisor Contact Information, Pay Status of Employment)
- Change of address (Mailing Address, Physical Address, Phone Number, Email)
- Leaving employment position (Date of ending OPT and leaving the U.S. or beginning a new program of study)
Graduates on Standard OPT are authorized 90 days of unemployment beginning on the OPT start date listed on the EAD. You may use all or part of these 90 days at any time during your OPT. Failure to find a position within the allotted time of authorized unemployment result in your needing to leave the United States or receive admission to another educational program. If employment is unavailable, you may be able to use a “volunteer” or unpaid position to remain in the US.
If finding a paid job offer proves difficult, you may choose to volunteer in an unpaid position to gain experience. Report this employment to the Center for Global Affairs the same way you would a paid position. Request a job offer letter from your employer, and maintain detailed records of the hours you worked and have these records signed by a supervisor. Undocumented time during OPT can lead to additional scrutiny by USCIS when applying for future immigration benefits.
Studying While on OPT
Studying while on OPT is generally prohibited. Enrolling full-time, taking classes at a higher educational level, or taking courses at another institution will terminate your employment authorization, even if the dates on your EAD are still valid. In limited circumstances, you may enroll part-time in courses at or below your most recent program level. You must notify The Center for Global Affairs of any enrollment at least 2 weeks before classes begin. We will verify that this enrollment will not result in the termination of your OPT and update this on your SEVIS record.
Driving While on OPT
Once you have received your EAD for OPT, you may apply for or renew your drivers license. If you are waiting for your EAD to arrive and your program end date on your I-20 is approaching or past, you will not be able to renew your drivers license until your EAD is received. Once you receive your EAD, be sure you take the card with you to the DMV, as your EAD contains the number they should use to verify your eligibility for a drivers license.
Traveling While on OPT
If your visa is still valid, you may travel in and out of the United States. Travel with a letter from your employer stating that you are currently employed and will continue to work upon your return. You will also send your I-20 to International Student Services for a travel signature if it has been a year since your last travel signature. Take caution if your visa has expired. Generally, OPT does not qualify as a circumstance warranting a renewed visa.
Checklist for Traveling on OPT:
- Unexpired F-1 visa
- Unexpired EAD
- Letter of employment
- I-20 signed for travel
Termination of Standard OPT
Understand that your work authorization ends when any of the following events occur:
- You reach the end of the dates on your OPT
- You transfer your I-20 to a new school
- You begin a new education level
- You reach 90 days of unemployment
If any of these events occur, your work authorization is terminated and you no longer have OPT, even if the dates on your I-20 or EAD are still valid
Cap Gap Extension for H-1B Petitions
If your employer plans to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, they will generally apply for your visa on April 1. Students approved for H-1B will begin their new immigration status on October 1. If your OPT expires between April 1 and October 1, you may be eligible for the Cap Gap extension. Cap Gap grants you an extension of your F-1 OPT from your OPT expiration date until your H-1B begins on October 1. If you are approved for Cap Gap, you may request an updated I-20 to reflect this extension.
Please note that if you are on the Cap Gap but have not yet received official H-1B approval, you may not be eligible for drivers license renewal.