Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ of OPT and STEM OPT

OPT Application

When is the ideal time to submit my application, and what’s the typical processing duration?

You’re eligible to initiate your OPT application 90 days prior to your intended employment start date for pre-completion OPT, or 90 days before your program’s end date for post-completion OPT. Begin by requesting your OPT I-20 from OGS, which may take up to two weeks to process. OGS diligently processes all OPT I-20s for your school's DSO and will notify you if it’s ready before the two-week mark. After submitting your EAD application to the US government, the expected processing time is around 3.5 months. Always verify the current processing times on the US government’s website, selecting “I-765” as the form type and typically, the Potomac Service Center for the Field Office or Service Center.

For those graduating in December, aim to apply by mid-September; for May graduates, by mid-February. Applying promptly minimizes the risk of an OPT denial after your grace period expires and does not extend your permissible stay in the US. For expedited processing, students may opt for premium processing as per USCIS guidelines.

Is it permissible to be abroad while my OPT is under review? Are there any critical details I should be aware of?

It’s possible to be abroad while your OPT application is being processed by USCIS, though it comes with certain risks. It’s advisable to arrange for a reliable contact within the US to keep an eye on your mail during your travels. Being informed about any USCIS correspondence, especially if it’s a request for additional information or evidence (known as an “RFE”), is crucial. Timely responses to RFEs are essential to avoid application denial. If your application is denied while you’re outside the US, you won’t be able to reapply for OPT unless you re-enter the US with F-1 status. Moreover, lacking the necessary travel documents for OPT can complicate re-entry to the US after completing your program. Given the unpredictability of international travel and restrictions, even well-laid plans to return to the US before your program concludes may be thwarted.

Can the review of my OPT application be expedited?

USCIS consistently updates their processing times. To ascertain the current timeline, you can navigate to their website, select “I-765 for Employment Authorization” under the Form section, “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [©(3)]” for the Form Category, and “Potomac Service Center” for the processing location.

Advance planning and early application are advisable as the US government seldom accelerates processing without additional charges for premium service (refer to USCIS expedite criteria).

Be aware that premium processing entails a substantial fee, over and above the standard OPT application charge. Comprehensive instructions for requesting expedited service are available on the USCIS site, specifically on the page for Form I-907, necessary for premium processing requests.

Comparing the standard processing times with the expedited option is beneficial to evaluate if the premium processing fee justifies the cost for a faster response when applying for OPT.

Which date would be optimal for commencing my OPT?

When determining your OPT dates, precision is key, as these cannot be altered post-application. For pre-completion OPT, pinpoint the date you aim to commence employment, but remember processing could take up to three months. For post-completion OPT, choose a start date within one to sixty days following your program’s end.

For instance, if your program ends on May 20, your OPT could begin as early as May 21 or as late as July 18. If job prospects seem uncertain, opting for a later start date might preserve your OPT duration. Yet, bear in mind that employment cannot begin until you physically possess the EAD card and your OPT period is active.

If I haven’t yet dispatched my OPT application domestically, is it possible to do so from overseas?
No, you must be physically present in the US at the time you submit your OPT application.
What are my options if my application faces rejection or denial?
If you encounter a rejection or denial of your OPT application, it’s crucial to immediately reach out to your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) or schedule an advising session with them. Bring your rejection or denial notice to the meeting, so they can assist you in assessing whether you have the option to resubmit your application or request a reconsideration of the decision.
What steps should I take if I’m relocating and haven’t received my OPT card?

In the event of a move before receiving your OPT card, updating your address with the US government is essential. If your current address on the OPT application has a reliable roommate or family member who can promptly inform you of any mail, it’s advisable to maintain that address. Otherwise, contact the National Service Customer line for address updates; the number is provided on your receipt notice.

Alternatively, you can update your address online on the USCIS Case Status page by selecting “Change of Address” and following the provided steps. When using another person’s address, remember to complete the “In Care of for Mailing, C/O” field.

For added security, consider enrolling in USPS Informed Delivery to keep track of your mail, which can be particularly useful for monitoring deliveries from USCIS.

What should be done if there’s a mistake on my EAD issued by USCIS?

If you receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that contains an error, follow these steps to correct it:

  1. Write a Letter of Explanation: Clearly explain the error on the EAD and the necessary correction. Be concise and specific in your letter.

  2. Photocopy Your Supporting Documentation: Gather copies of documents that support your request for correction. These may include your passport, visa, or other relevant paperwork.

  3. Send Your Correction Request to USCIS: Mail the letter of explanation along with photocopies of supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS address. Make sure to follow the correct procedure for submitting corrections.

  4. Report to OGS Once You Receive Your Corrected EAD: Once you receive the corrected EAD, notify your employer’s Office of Global Services (OGS) or relevant department to update their records.

Remember to keep copies of all correspondence and documents for your records. Addressing errors promptly will help avoid any future complications related to your employment authorization.

If my application is experiencing delays, is there a way to expedite the process?

If your application with the USCIS has been pending for over five months, it’s advisable to take proactive steps to address the delay. Here’s a concise guide on what actions you can take:

  1. Check Application Status: Visit the USCIS website to monitor your application’s progress.
  2. Submit a Case Inquiry: If your case exceeds normal processing times, inform USCIS through a case inquiry.
  3. Contact Customer Service: Call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 and provide your receipt number for a status update.
  4. Email your school's DSO: If actions 1-3 are complete, email your school's DSO after 15 days of your case inquiry. Include dates of your USCIS website check, case inquiry submission, and customer service call, along with your receipt notice.

Remember, DSO can only conduct a courtesy inquiry with USCIS 15 days post your last contact, and while it may help, it’s not guaranteed to expedite processing.

For those considering premium processing, USCIS offers this for certain applications via Form I-907. This service can significantly reduce waiting times, but it comes with an additional fee. Assess the current processing times and weigh the cost against the potential benefits of expedited processing.

It’s important to stay proactive and keep detailed records of all communications with USCIS to ensure the best chance of a timely resolution.

What actions should I take if I haven’t received the receipt notice via mail?

To ensure that the USCIS has your accurate mailing address on file, you can either fill out the inquiry form on the USCIS website or contact their National Customer Service Center. Remember to have your receipt number handy when you reach out for assistance.

What should I do if my OPT card hasn’t arrived and I suspect it’s lost?

If you’re experiencing problems with your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) being misplaced or not delivered correctly, you might want to fill out the USCIS case assistance request form. Should you wish to authorize an advisor from the DSO to discuss your case with USCIS on your behalf, please provide a signed authorization letter granting DSO personnel permission to communicate with USCIS regarding your situation.

In the event that your card has been lost and USCIS is unable to reissue it to you directly, you will be required to submit an application for a replacement card. Please familiarize yourself with the procedure for obtaining a replacement for a lost or stolen EAD should you need to request a new one.

How should I respond if USCIS requests further details?

Upon receipt of the correspondence from USCIS, please visit the school's ISSS during our designated in-person advising hours. Together, your school's ISSS will examine the contents of the letter to understand its purpose and assist you in assembling the necessary documentation as requested by USCIS.

What’s the procedure for changing my mailing address?
To check your USCIS Case Status Online, visit the official website of the US government. Once you’re on the site, select the “Change of Address” option and adhere to the provided guidelines. If you’re entering an address that belongs to someone else, remember to complete the section marked “In Care of for Mailing, C/O” to ensure proper handling of your mail.

STEM OPT Application

For the STEM OPT application, are digital signatures acceptable on the I-765 and I-983 forms, or must they be signed by hand?

No, both electronic and hand-written signatures are accepted.

During STEM OPT, if I’m placed on furlough, does this period contribute to the total allowed days of unemployment?

As of now, USCIS hasn’t issued specific instructions regarding furlough periods. It’s possible that such periods could be counted as days of unemployment. To mitigate this risk, it’s advisable for students to find additional employment that entails a minimum of 20 hours per week in their field of study. This can help avoid accumulating days that might be considered unemployment. It’s important to note that any supplementary employment must be remunerated and with an employer who participates in the E-Verify program. Moreover, the work should be relevant to your STEM field and commensurate with your educational level.

As my STEM OPT nears its end, I’m worried I might not exit the U.S. before the 60-day grace period expires. What are my alternatives?

F-1 students who haven’t reached 150 days of unemployment during their post-completion OPT and STEM OPT period are entitled to a 60-day grace period following the conclusion of their STEM OPT. This grace period allows you to legally stay in the U.S. after your employment authorization ends. For those looking to extend their stay, the Cap Gap Extension is a potential avenue. This extension applies if you’re on STEM OPT and have an employer willing to sponsor your H-1B visa. If you’re eligible, the Cap Gap Extension can bridge the gap between the end of your OPT and the start of your H-1B status.

Should the Cap Gap Extension not be an option, it’s recommended to explore other visa statuses that might allow you to remain in the U.S. longer. An online advising session could help you understand the possibilities of transitioning from F-1 to another visa status based on your individual circumstances.

Travel

Can I travel while the OPT application is pending? Can I travel while on OPT?

Travel during the OPT application process is permitted, but it is generally not recommended due to certain risks. If you must travel, it’s crucial to have someone in the U.S. monitor your mail for any communications from USCIS. If your OPT application is denied while you are outside the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter or reapply for F-1 status. Once your OPT is approved and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you may travel outside the U.S. and re-enter to resume employment. You should carry your valid passport, F-1 visa, signed I-20, EAD card, and proof of employment or a job offer.

Can I travel while the STEM OPT application is pending?

There are 3 conditions:

1. Travel while STEM OPT application is pending, but before the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires

Traveling while your STEM OPT application is pending, but before your Post-Completion OPT EAD expires, is generally allowed. You can travel on your approved OPT as usual during this time. Here are some important considerations:

  • Valid Passport: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your date of re-entry to the U.S.
  • Valid F-1 Visa: If you plan to return to the U.S., you should have a valid F-1 visa. If your visa has expired, you’ll need to obtain a new one before returning.
  • Form I-20: Carry a current Form I-20, endorsed for reentry by your DSO within the last six months.
  • USCIS Receipt Notice: Have the USCIS receipt notice for your STEM OPT extension application, which serves as proof of your extended work authorization.
  • Employment Verification: If possible, carry a letter from your employer verifying your employment.

It’s important to note that while travel is allowed, it is not without risk. If your OPT application is denied while you are outside the U.S., you may not be able to re-enter or reapply for OPT. Always consult with your DSO or an immigration attorney before making travel plans to ensure you have the most current information and all necessary documents.

2. Travel while STEM OPT application is pending, after the Post-Completion OPT EAD expires

When traveling while your STEM OPT application is pending, and after your Post-Completion OPT EAD has expired, there are specific documents you must carry to reenter the U.S. safely:

  • Expired Post-Completion OPT EAD Card: Bring your expired EAD card as proof of your previous employment authorization under the OPT program.

  • USCIS-Issued Receipt Notice: You must have the original receipt notice for your STEM OPT application issued by USCIS. Email or text confirmations, or a printout of your online case status, will not suffice.

  • Valid Form I-20: This form must be signed on page 2 by an HIO advisor. Ensure the signature is not more than six months old at the time of your reentry to the U.S. This is crucial as it signifies that your educational institution verifies your status and enrollment.

  • Unexpired Passport: Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your reentry to the U.S.

  • Unexpired F-1 Visa: Unless you are a Canadian citizen, ensure that your F-1 visa is unexpired. If your F-1 visa has expired, you must obtain a new F-1 visa to reenter the U.S. Check with the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for the renewal process specific to your location.

  • Evidence of Employment: Carry evidence of a job offer or proof that you will resume employment upon returning to the U.S. This demonstrates that you are returning to continue or seek employment under STEM OPT conditions.

These requirements also apply to your F-2 dependents if they will be traveling with you or reentering the U.S. during this time. Proper documentation is crucial for smooth entry into the U.S. under these circumstances, especially during the sensitive period while your STEM OPT application is pending.

3. Travel after STEM OPT approval

To ensure a smooth travel and reentry experience into the U.S. while on an approved period of STEM OPT, you must carry the following documents:

  • STEM OPT EAD Card Issued by USCIS: This Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will have the statement "Not valid for reentry" printed on it. It is important to understand that this statement means the EAD alone does not suffice for reentry into the U.S.

  • Valid Form I-20: This form must be signed on page 2 by an HIO advisor. The signature on your I-20 should not be more than six months old at the time of your reentry to ensure it reflects your current student status and OPT authorization.

  • Unexpired Passport: Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to reenter the U.S. This is a standard requirement for entry into the U.S.

  • Unexpired F-1 Visa: Unless you are a Canadian citizen, your F-1 visa must be valid at the time of reentry. If your visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa before you can return to the U.S. Check with the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for detailed instructions on renewing your visa.

  • Evidence of Employment: Carry proof of a job offer or an employment resumption letter from your employer. This document should clearly state your employment status and confirm that you are returning to the U.S. to continue or start employment under STEM OPT.

Remember, reentering the U.S. in a status other than F-1 STEM OPT will invalidate your STEM OPT work authorization. Make sure to review your documents thoroughly before your travel to avoid complications at the border or port of entry.

Employment

What should I do if I am unable to secure employment?

Once your OPT starts—as indicated by the start date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which you will receive once your OPT application is approved—you are allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment throughout your OPT period. If you are unable to secure employment within the first 90 days after your OPT begins, you must either make plans to leave the U.S. immediately or switch to another legal status within the country. It's important to remember that the 90-day unemployment allowance is cumulative for the entire duration of your OPT. For instance, if you spend 60 days unemployed at the start of your OPT, you would only have 30 days left for any future periods of unemployment during the rest of your OPT term.

You can also consider working as an unpaid volunteer, your school's TA or part-time employee.

What types of jobs are permissible under OPT?

1. OPT

Your employment during OPT must be directly related to your field of study. If you are unable to establish this connection, you should not be working in that position under the terms of OPT. Job postings often specify which degrees are appropriate for the roles they advertise. Keeping a copy of such job advertisements can be useful for documenting the relevance of your job to your academic studies. Additionally, obtaining a letter from your job supervisor that explains how your degree is crucial to your role can be very helpful. It is wise to keep copies of these documents readily available. This way, if the USCIS ever requires proof that you are maintaining your legal status while on OPT, you can provide this evidence quickly and efficiently. For more details, consider reviewing the USCIS's policy guidance on OPT.

2. STEM OPT

You should only consider a paid job and your company should be a E-verify company.

Am I allowed to have multiple employers while on OPT?
Your OPT authorization is not tied to a single employer, which means you can work for multiple employers while on OPT. However, it is crucial that each job you undertake is directly related to your field of study. This flexibility allows you to gain varied professional experiences that can enrich your practical knowledge in your major. For comprehensive understanding and further details, you may also want to review the government’s policy guidance on OPT.
Is there a restriction on the number of hours I can work while on OPT?
No, there is no limitation of how many hours you can work.
Can I perform my job remotely while on OPT?
Yes, students participating in OPT are allowed to work remotely, provided they continue to comply with the F-1 requirements governing OPT. This flexibility ensures that students can maintain their employment even if they are not physically present at the job location, as long as their work activities remain related to their field of study.
If I am on post-completion OPT and have been furloughed, does this count as unemployment towards the limit of allowed unemployment days?
As of now, USCIS has not issued specific guidance regarding how furlough periods are treated with respect to the unemployment days allowed during OPT. Given this uncertainty, there is a potential risk that days spent on furlough could be counted as days of unemployment. To mitigate this risk and ensure compliance with OPT requirements, it is advisable for students to secure volunteer work or an unpaid internship in their field of study that involves at least 20 hours per week. Engaging in such activities can help prevent the accumulation of unemployment days under the terms of their OPT.
Can I enroll in a new degree program in the U.S. while working under OPT?
U.S. government regulations specify that Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment is automatically terminated when a student either transfers to another school or begins studying at a different educational level. Students are allowed to engage in recreational or avocational classes while on OPT, but enrolling in a new degree program or switching educational institutions will end their OPT status and the associated employment authorization.
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