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F-1 OPT

Optional Practical Training is a benefit and extension of F-1 student status. It lets you apply what you learned in your degree program to off-campus work in your field of study.

To support services for the growing population of international students on OPT and OPT STEM, a service maintenance fee is charged: $100 to apply for OPT, and $150 to apply for OPT STEM.

Unlike Curricular Practical Training, which you can only use if you are still pursuing your degree, OPT is available to you both before and after graduation. Most students, however, use their OPT after graduation.

Can I do OPT while I’m still a student? 

You can use some or all of your 12 months of OPT during your course of study—or you can save the full 12 months for after you graduate. Here are the ways you can use OPT while you are still a student:  

  • Part-time while school is in session. Part-time OPT will be deducted at one-half the full-time rate from your total allowable OPT.
  • Full-time during summer and winter breaks. 
  • Full-time after you have completed all course requirements for your degree, but have a thesis requirement remaining.  

How much post-graduate OPT can I receive? 

You can receive at least 12 months of full-time OPT when you complete a degree program, unless you used some or all of your OPT while still a student. The amount of OPT you used as a student is deducted from the allowable 12 months of post-graduation OPT.

When can I apply for post-graduate OPT? 

Apply for OPT no more than 90 days before finishing your degree. If you are an advanced Ph.D. student, apply no more than three months before the end of your registered student status.  

If you intend to leave the United States even for a short time after graduation, remember to apply for OPT before exiting the country. If you depart without applying for OPT, you will no longer be eligible to receive it.

How do I get an OPT STEM extension? 

If you are a recent graduate with a degree in an approved science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field, you can apply for a STEM extension of your F-1 OPT. The extension will allow you to work in the United States an additional 24 months. Learn more about the F-1 OPT STEM extension.

OPT Employment Types

Your OPT employment needs to be in your degree field. While you are on OPT, your time unemployed may not exceed 90 days total. Below are the types of employment you can have during the 12-month post-graduation OPT period.

Type

Details

Paid Employment 

You must work at least 20 hours per week when on post-graduation OPT. 
Multiple Employers  You may work for more than one employer at the same time or one at a time. All employment must be related to your degree program. 
Short-term Multiple Employers  If you are a musician or other performing artist, you may work for multiple short-term employers. Maintain a list of all gigs. Include the dates of the work and the length of time. 
Employment by an Agency You may work for an employment, staffing, or consulting agency that sends you to short-term jobs. Remember to track your job hours to show you worked an average of at least 20 hours a week. 
Self-Employment  You may start a business and be self-employed. Be prepared  to prove that you have the proper business license and that the business is related to your degree program.  
Work for Hire  This is commonly called 1099 employment, independent contracting, or freelance work. Be prepared to provide evidence showing the length of each contract and the name and address of the contracting company. 
Unpaid Employment  You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, but the work must be at least 20 hours per week, and it cannot violate any labor laws.  

Got a job? Great! 

How to Apply for OPT

  1. Pick Date
  2. Pay Fee
  3. Request I-20
  4. Complete I-765
  5. Print I-94
  6. Get Photos
  7. Mail OPT
  8. Get EAD Doc

1 Choose a start date. 

You will need to choose a start date for your OPT card. This is important: you may not change this date after you apply for OPT. 

You are allowed to pick a start date anytime within 60 days of the end of your program (your graduation date or the end of exams). If you are a Ph.D. student, there is more leeway in determining your program end date. Please talk with one of our advisors. 

Important factors to weigh when choosing your start date ... 

  • Choose the earliest day that you might want to start working. You can’t begin working before the start date on the OPT card or until you receive your card. Plan for any possibility. For example, what if you get a job offer with the stipulation that you start the day after graduation?  
  • If you want the latest possible day to start your work authorization, the last day you may choose is 60 days after your graduation or your last day as a registered student—whichever is earlier.

2Pay the OPT service maintenance fee.

Pay the nonrefundable OPT service maintenance fee of $100 via the OPT I-20 request procedure in step 3.

  • Enter $100 USD which will be converted to your home country’s currency or Euro equivalent.
  • You will be given one or more choices of bank transfer, credit cards, PayPal (depending on your home country)

3 Request an updated I-20.  

Request an I-20 updated with a recommendation for OPT from the Office of Global Learning. Pay the service maintenance fee and complete the appropriate OPT I-20 request form online. To determine which form to use, please refer to your I-20 SCHOOL NAME.

  • If the SCHOOL NAME is Cornell University:Cornell University use this F-1 OPT online application form.
  • If the SCHOOL NAME is Cornell University:Cornell Tech please email them directly. 
 

Why do I need an updated I-20 form? 

Your new I-20 will include an Office of Global Learning advisor recommendation for your OPT. You will sign this new 1-20, and send it with your application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  

When should I request my updated I-20?  

Request your updated 1-20 form no earlier than three months before the end of your program or your registered student status, if you are an advanced Ph.D. student, and no later than the last day of your grace period.

How long will it take to get my new I-20?  

We process these requests and create the form in five business days. 

How do I get an 1-20 with a STEM recommendation? 

To get your new 1-20 with a STEM extension, go to the F-1 OPT STEM extension page, and follow the directions. 

4 Download and complete an I-765 form

Get the I-765 form from the USCIS website.

Follow these instructions for filling out the form.   

Choose a mailing address for question 5.a that you know can safely receive mail. Do not choose the Office of Global Learning or a Cornell department.

Keep a copy of your completed I-765 for your records. If you want to receive electronic notifications about your application, also fill out the G-1145 form.

5 Print your I-94.  

Print your I-94 arrival record created when you entered the United States most recently. You will need your passport in front of you to retrieve your record. Go to the “get most recent I-94” tab, and print the page it generates after entering your passport information. 

6 Get new photos. 

You will need two brand-new passport-type photographs. These must be taken within the last 30 days. Photos that you have previously used for a visa or passport are not permitted. (Don't cut the photos! USCIS will trim the photos to their preferred dimensions.)

Print your name and your U.S. admission record number (from your I-94 arrival record) lightly in pencil on the back of each photo. Put the photos in an envelope and attach it to the front of your I-765.  

7 Mail your OPT application to USCIS.  

What documents do I need to include?

  • Form I-765 Choose a mailing address for question 5.a that you know can safely receive mail. Do not choose the Office of Global Learning or a Cornell department.

  • Two new passport-type photographs. Put the photos in an envelope, and attach the envelope to the front of your I-765.

  • Form G-1145, if you want to receive electronic notifications.

  • Copy of pages 1 and 2 of your new I-20, with your signature on page 1 and the OPT recommendation on page 2.

  • Copies of all previous I-20s.

  • A printout of your I-94 U. S. Admission Record (not your travel history) from the United States Customs and Border Protection website, or a copy of your I-94 card.

  • Copy of the photo identification page of your passport with your passport’s expiration date.

  • Copy of the F-1 visa page of your passport, even if expired. (If you are a Canadian, you won't have this.) 

  • Photocopy of your previous OPT card or EAD, if you have one.

  • A U.S. check or money order for the $410 fee. Make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Cash is not accepted. Attach the fee to the front of your application materials.

    Send all documents by certified mail with a return receipt, so that you have a tracking number and proof that USCIS received your application. You can also use a courier service like FedEx or UPS. 

    If your return address on the I-765 is in New York State, send all documents to the following address:

    For U.S. Postal Service

    USCIS
    PO Box 660867 
    Dallas, TX 75266 

    For Express Mail and Courier (FedEx, UPS, etc.) 

    USCIS 
    Attn: NFB AOS 
    2501 S. State Hwy. 121 
    Business Suite 400 
    Lewisville, TX 75067  

    What if my return address on the I-765 is not in New York State? 

    If your return address on the I-765 is not in New York State, you may need to send your I-76 to a different address. Find out more.

    Email the Office of Global Learning if you’re not sure where to send your application. 

    What is the USCIS deadline to receive my application? 

    Make sure your OPT application reaches USCIS no more than 60 days after your graduation date and no more than 30 days after the date on which the Office of Global Learning created your 1-20 with the OPT recommendation. 

    What if I miss the USCIS deadline for submitting my application? 

    USCIS will deny your OPT application if you miss this deadline.  

    8 Wait to get your EAD document. 

    It can take up to five months for USCIS to process your OPT application and issue an OPT card. This card is also called an employment authorization document (EAD). Do not begin working until you receive your card. If you do, you could jeopardize your immigration status. 

    Once your case is under way, USCIS will send you a notice of receipt (I-797) in the mail. Please read the notice carefully as it contains a lot of important information. When you have the receipt notice, you can begin to track your case status online.

    Is it OK for me to travel before I get my EAD?

    If you want to travel before graduation, you should be able to reenter the United States without the EAD card, as long as the date of your graduation is at least one month away.  Read more about travel while on OPT.

    Can I travel while on F-1 OPT? 

    Yes, you can travel while on OPT after graduation. Learn more about travel on OPT.

     

    Next Up: OPT STEM Extension