Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to graduating BA, BFA, MA, MFA, and Post-Baccalaureate international students who have been in a valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters and who would like to gain authorization to work off campus in relation to their degree program. Although the Global Programs Office must first recommend a student for OPT, the final approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). On average, processing time for OPT is three months, so it is important to plan ahead.
The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your graduation date. The latest date the USCIS will accept your application is 60 days after your graduation date. In addition, OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of receiving your OPT I-20 from the Global Programs Office.
Example: For students graduating May 10, the first day you may apply for OPT is February 12. The last day is July 7.
- One year of OPT is available for each higher-level degree attained. Therefore, if you completed a BFA in the U.S. and then applied for one year of OPT, you may also apply for OPT after completion of an MFA.
- You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT. However, once you find a qualifying job, you must notify the Global Programs Office within 10 days. This is required for any new job you find throughout the duration of your OPT.
- “Employment” while on OPT is flexible. You can be considered “employed” in positions that are paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time, permanent or short-term. You may have more than one position at any given time, as long as the total employment equals or exceeds 20 hours of work each week.
- Artist in Residence constitutes employment.
- You may not reach 90 or more days cumulative unemployment during the one-year OPT period.
- You may work anywhere in the U.S.
- No special permission is required to change employers or end your employment. However, every time you change jobs, you must notify the Global Programs Office within 10 days.
- During OPT you will continue in an F-1 student status.
- It can take USCIS anywhere from three to five months to issue the required Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to work legally on OPT. However, most students will receive approval within about three months. There is no way to expedite an application.
- Once you graduate, you cannot work on campus or off campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your chosen OPT start date has arrived.
- Once the OPT application is submitted to USCIS, it is very difficult to change or cancel the application.
- OPT is available both before and after completing the degree program.
Health Insurance Requirements
Once you graduate from SFAI, you are no longer eligible to purchase the SFAI Student Health Insurance Plan. You will be required to purchase an alternative health plan either through your employer or through a private carrier.
- Attend a required OPT Workshop. Email email@example.com for workshop schedule and more information.
- Prepare the OPT application materials required.
- Schedule an OPT application appointment with the Global Programs Office to review your final application. This is to ensure that your application has met the strict instructions and guidelines before you send it to USCIS.
- Mail your application to USCIS (see the instructions in the OPT Information Packet).
- Once you receive your EAD card, review it carefully to confirm that all information is correct. Submit a scanned copy of your card to the Global Programs Office.