Optional Practical Training: Pre & Post-Completion Application Tips

This page contains suggestions for students who have already applied to ISS for their OPT I-20. For information on OPT eligibility requirements, the different types of OPT, when to apply, and what to submit to ISS to request an OPT I-20, please visit our website.

What to Send to the USCIS

Updates on Filing OPT Online

We are optimistic that the new OPT online filing system will eventually be an improvement over the paper based filing process. However, there are still many unknowns and we are waiting for additional detail and a better understanding of how USCIS will process applications filed online. Until we have sufficient clarity, we will continue to recommend paper filing. We encourage you to create a USCIS online account and link your paper filed application to your account so you can enjoy many of the benefits of online filing, without the uncertainty.

We expect to continue to recommend paper filing for June 1 and August 31, 2021 graduates. At this time we hope to move forward with recommending online filing for February 1, 2022 graduates and STEM applications filed in early fall. 

If you do choose to file online be aware that:

  • An I-20 recommending OPT/STEM OPT is REQUIRED. You must apply for this first through UB Global.
  • All required documentation (including the I-20 with OPT recommendation) must be uploaded BEFORE the application is submitted.
  • Once your application has been submitted it is no longer editable.

The USCIS must receive the following documents within 30 days of:  1) the issuance of your I-20 with OPT recommendation, AND 2) the signature on your Form I-765.  Be sure to photocopy your entire OPT application for your personal records. It is extremely important to prepare your application carefully. Mistakes can result in a USCIS denial!

  • Original Form I-765. Don’t forget to sign and carefully review all instructions!
  • Form G-1145
  • USCIS Application fee of $410. This should be a check (from a U.S. bank) or a U.S. money order payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”. Write the 11-digit number from your I-94 on your check or money order. Don’t forget to sign and date the check. (See example of a properly written check.)
  • Photocopy of pages 1 and 2 of your new I-20 with OPT Recommendation. Don’t forget to sign and date the Student Attestation section of your I-20. If you forget, USCIS will return your OPT application to you.
  • Photocopies of all previous I-20's. Do not send originals!
  • Photocopy of your current, valid passport (biographic and photo pages) and U.S. visa stamp in your passport. If your passport has expired, please contact ISS for advice. Note:  Canadian citizens do not have visa stamps.
  • Photocopy of the front and back of your newest I-94 Card OR print-out of your electronic I-94.
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD Card, if you were issued one in the past.
  • Two (2) identical natural color photographs of yourself, taken within 30 days of your application and not previously used for another purpose. Photo specification can be found here. If your photos do not meet USCIS requirements exactly, your EAD card will not be issued and your OPT could be denied.
    • In pencil, write your name and I-94 number lightly on the back of each photo.
    • Photos can be taken at most drug stores (Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid).

USCIS Mailing Addresses

Visit the USCIS I-765 Direct Filing Address for the current lockbox mailing address. Be sure to click on "Foreign Students".

You should use a reliable, express delivery service (e.g. UPS, FedEx) to mail your application so you can track your application and its delivery. Please save your receipt.

ISS recommends that you use a mailing address on your Form I-765 where you can receive mail for 3-5 months after applying for OPT. However, if your mailing address changes after you submit your OPT application to USCIS, you must notify the USCIS, the Post Office and ISS of your change in address within 10 days of the change. Failure to notify USCIS and the Post Office in a timely manner could result in delays in receiving your EAD. To notify the USCIS, use their online Change of Address Form. If you move to a new address, you should also notify the US Postal Service (USPS) using their online form

USCIS Processing Times

Historically, processing time at the USCIS was estimated to be approximately 12 weeks. However, processing times vary widely, depending on the time of year and workload at the Service Center to which you send your application. We encourage you to regularly review the processing times found on the USCIS website.

You cannot begin employment until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS and the “start date” printed on the EAD card is effective.

Maintaining F-1 Status While on OPT

To maintain your F-1 status while on Post-Completion OPT, you must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • Find a job and report your employment to ISS.
  • Work at least 20 hours per week in (a) job(s) directly related to your field of study.
  • Not exceed the allotted 90 days of unemployment time.
  • Report your employment information and U.S. address (within 10 days of change) to ISS.  Refer to the section titled “Reporting Employment and Contact Information” for instructions.  
  • Notify ISS if your immigration status changes (e.g. change to H-1B).

Reporting Employment and Contact Information

To report employment or U.S. Address and contact information, login to the UB Global using your UBIT name and password.  Enter your current residential address on the “Update OPT Student Contact Information” E-Form.  Enter your employment information on the “Add or Update OPT Employment” E-Form.

If you previously reported employment to ISS and are no longer working for that employer, you must report your end date of employment. First enter your previous employer’s information on the “Add or Update OPT Employment” E-Form.  Then, on the same E-Form, enter your new employment details. 

Unemployment Limits

Students on Post-Completion OPT may not exceed 90 days of unemployment during their 12 months of OPT. Therefore, you must report employment as soon as you start working and before you exceed 90 days of unemployment.

If you exceed 90 days of unemployment, the Department of Homeland Security could automatically terminate your SEVIS record in the future. This means that your F-1 status and employment authorization will no longer be valid and you will have to leave the U.S. immediately. Possible consequences to remaining in the U.S. after the 90-day deadline without a job include denial of future immigration benefits, accrual of unlawful presence, detention, deportation, etc.

Acceptable Types of Employment

There are various types of employment you may accept while on Pre-or Post-Completion OPT. Any employment you choose must be directly related to your program of study. You must also work at least 20 hours per week. When you report employment to ISS, you will be required to explain how your employment is directly related to your field of study.

  • Regular paid employment. There is no defined maximum number of hours one may work while on Post-Completion OPT. Limits for students on Pre-Completion OPT must be followed.
  • Multiple employers. All work must be related to your field of study.
  • Payment by multiple short-term employers. Ex. Musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, including dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. This is commonly referred to as “1099 employment”, which refers to an individual performing a service based on a contract. You should keep a record of the length of each contract as well as the name and contact information for each contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. You may start a business/be self-employed. Must have proper business licenses.
  • Employment by an agency.
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns. You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern provided that you are not violating any labor laws. Please speak with ISS before deciding to accept volunteer or unpaid employment as sometimes it is difficult to determine if the work you will be doing is legal.

Some of these employment options are not acceptable for students approved for the OPT STEM Extension. Therefore, we encourage you to also review our OPT STEM information to ensure that your employment choices will be appropriate into the future.

Documents to Prove Employment

We recommend that all students keep documentation to prove that they were employed while on OPT. You can find a list of common documents used to prove employment for both paid and unpaid positions on our Maintaining Status While on OPT page. You will not be required to submit this proof of employment to UB, but it may be requested by USCIS if you are applying for future immigration benefits.

Health Insurance While on OPT

If you do not have employment yet or do not have health insurance coverage through your employer, you may be eligible to purchase the SUNY health insurance from the Student Medical Insurance Office. In order to enroll during OPT, there can be no interruption in your health insurance coverage. Application deadlines do apply. Contact the Student Medical Insurance Office for more information.

Travel While on OPT

There are many factors to consider before deciding to travel while on OPT. Before making any travel plans, we recommend that you review our Travel While on OPT information.  You should also check the Travel Endorsement Signature on page 2 of your OPT I-20. This signature is valid only for 6 months. It is only necessary to request a new signature if you are traveling outside the U.S. and your current signature is expiring. To request an updated I-20, log in to UB Global using your UBIT name and password, and click "Students Currently Approved for OPT", then "OPT Travel Validation Endorsement Request". Please submit your request at least 10 business days before you plan to leave the U.S.

Additional Reminders

  • Once authorized for OPT, you may accept employment anywhere in the U.S.
  • When you are on OPT, you are still in F-1 status.
  • ISS will not authorize CPT after recommending Post-Completion OPT in SEVIS. Therefore, if there is a possibility of CPT in your final semester, you must submit your CPT application before applying for OPT.
  • If you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level, your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated. If you are accepted to begin another degree program at UB, your OPT will terminate on the first day of classes for your new degree program. If you are issued an I-20 to start a new degree program at UB and you decide instead to continue on OPT, you must notify ISS immediately. Failure to do so will result in the deactivation of your SEVIS record.
  • If you later decide not to mail your OPT application to USCIS, you must notify ISS immediately so that we can cancel your OPT recommendation in SEVIS.
  • There is 60-day grace period after the EAD expires.  You are permitted to remain inside the U.S. during those 60 days to prepare for your departure, apply to change your status (if eligible), or begin a new degree program. During the 60-day grace period, you may not work.