Optional Practical Training General Information and FAQ

General Information

Optional Practical Training, or OPT, offers F-1 students an opportunity for off- campus work experience in their field of study. OPT is defined as paid or volunteer employment directly related to your major area of study. It is first recommended by the ISSS Office but final authorization must be given by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In order to be eligible, students must have already completed one academic year.

For detailed instructions on how to apply, please select the appropriate application (undergraduate or graduate) on the menu to the right.

Students on OPT MUST notify the ISSS Office at RPI of their employer’s name, address, dates of employment, unemployment, or any other changes to employment status.

How long does it take to apply?

It can take 90 days or more for USCIS to approve your application for OPT. In addition, you should allow the ISSS Office up to two weeks to process an initial OPT recommendation.

When can I apply?

You can submit your application to USCIS no earlier than 90 days before your program end date (i.e. graduation) and no later than 60 days after your program end date. Our office recommends applying as soon as possible to allow time for processing and potential delays.

When can I start working?

Your requested start date must be within 60 days of your program completion date. You cannot start working until you have both a) reached your approved start date and b) physically received your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card.

What types of OPT are there?

The most common form of OPT at RPI is post-completion OPT, or OPT that commences after you graduate.

Students may also apply for pre-completion OPT, or work authorization before you graduate. This is most frequently utilized by undergraduate students participating in a summer internship who are otherwise ineligible for CO-OP/CPT. Please consult the ISSS Office if you have questions regarding pre-completion OPT.

How long can I work?

Students are allow one year full-time OPT, cumulative. Any pre-completion OPT time used would deduct from post-completion OPT time. If a student were to do part-time OPT, the time would accumulate at half the rate (i.e. 2 months part-time OPT would be equivalent to 1 month full-time OPT used).

Students in a qualifying STEM major are eligible to apply for a 17 month STEM extension, resulting in 29 months OPT total. Please see the section on STEM extensions for more information.

Can I travel outside the U.S.?

Our office does not recommend travelling outside the U.S. while your OPT application is pending with USCIS. If you must travel while your application is pending, please consult the ISSS Office. You must have a receipt notice (I-797c) from USCIS before considering any travel overseas.

For students whose OPT has been approved, you can travel outside the U.S. provided you have the following: valid I-20 signed for travel within the past 6 months; valid passport; valid F-1 visa; EAD card; proof of employment upon re-entering the U.S. (e.g. offer letter, contract, etc…)

What happens if I don’t have a job?

Students are allowed up to 90 days unemployment time, including weekends, while on OPT. You cannot exceed this 90 days.

I am a graduate student and already did OPT once. Can I do OPT again?

You are allowed 12 months optional practical training for every degree level completed (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate). If you have already completed one Master’s program and applied for OPT, you cannot apply for OPT again in a second Master’s program.

Can I volunteer while on OPT?

Yes, volunteering is an activity that counts as employment while on OPT. "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."

Last modified: Jul 21, 2015
International Services for Students and Scholars, Phone: (518) 276-4966, Fax: (518) 276-4839