Frequently Asked Questions for OPT

Listed below are some common questions many international students applying for OPT have. If you have additional questions, please contact Allyson Lindsley at alindsley@pugetsound.edu.

1. I have been offered a job after graduation and my employer has agreed to sponsor my H1-B Visa. Do I still need to file for OPT?

2. I have applied to enter graduate school in the fall. Should I still apply for OPT?

3. How long does it take for USCIS to approve my OPT application?

4. What if I move while my OPT application is pending at USCIS?

5. Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my application is pending at USCIS?

6. What happens if I don't finish my program before my OPT begins?

7. After I apply for OPT, what happens if I change my mind and either want to cancel the application or change the dates that I requested?

8. My employer wants me to start working in two weeks. I'm afraid to tell my employer that I can't start working for 3 months, as they may hire someone else. Can I do Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 3 months until my OPT is approved?

9. If I do another degree after my OPT, will I be eligible for another 12 months of OPT after that degree?

10. What visa status will I have during my OPT period?

11. What are the employment requirements while I am on OPT?

12. What constitutes employment?

13. How long can a student on post-completion OPT be unemployed?

14. What counts toward the 90 days of unemployment?

15. What are the consequences of exceeding the period of unemployment?

16. Do I need to remain in contact with the International Programs while I am on post-completion OPT?

17. Am I covered by Puget Sound’s student health insurance plan while I am on post-completion OPT?

18. What happens at the end of the OPT authorization?

 

1. I have been offered a job after graduation and my employer has agreed to sponsor my H1-B Visa. Do I still need to file for OPT?

If an employer is subject to the H-1B Cap, it may be too late for your employer to file an H-1B petition for you during that year. For example, the 2013 (FY) Cap was met in June 2012. It is therefore in your interest to first apply for OPT, and then later apply for a cap-gap extension beginning in April. Some institutions, such as universities, are exempt from the Cap. Inquire with your future or current employer for more information on H-1B’s.

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2. I have applied to enter graduate school in the fall. Should I still apply for OPT?

We recommend you obtain the OPT authorization as a back-up plan. Even if you are going to grad school, you can still work during the summer with it.

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3. How long does it take for USCIS to approve my OPT application?

Processing times can vary considerably, anywhere from 1-4 months. We recommend that you estimate 2/3 months as an average and take this into consideration when applying. As an example, a student graduating in May who wishes to commence employment immediately following graduation should apply in February. You may not begin working legally until you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession. You can check the status of your application online.

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4. What if I move while my OPT application is pending at USCIS?

The U.S. Postal Service WILL NOT forward mail from the USCIS to a new address. This means that it is extremely important that the address you put on the I-765 be valid for the next several months. If you plan on moving while the application is pending, please use the International Programs address. If the address on the I-765 becomes invalid before you receive the card, you will have to contact the International Programs so we can contact USCIS by fax. Change of address may delay the arrival of the card. PAY VERY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO THE ADDRESS YOU USE.

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5. Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my application is pending at USCIS?

Travel during the application process and/or before you have found a job can complicate matters. The regulations state that a person with approved OPT would be eligible to re-enter the U.S. to "resume authorized employment", and authorities seem to be following this rather strict, limited interpretation, which means that once your OPT has been approved, you need to be able to show that you have a job (as well as a valid F-1 visa stamp, I-20 form, and your EAD) in order to re-enter the U.S.

Travel after you have applied for OPT but before it has been approved? The staff of International Programs considers this to be risky, but the regulations are not clear! Until recently, if you applied for OPT and left the U.S. before it was approved, re-entry without your EAD would probably not be possible. The Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is now saying that it is possible to return to the U.S. to await approval of the OPT application and look for a job. Unfortunately, governmental regulations are not always clear, and how an immigration official at the airport interprets the rules may not be consistent with the government's new interpretation. All of which means that we still think that it is risky!

Once your OPT has been approved and you have a job, international travel and re-entry to the U.S. should be routine with the following: your EAD, valid passport with valid F-1 visa, valid I-20 form (with a signature from the International Student Coordinator on page 3, obtained within the last 6 months), and a letter from your employer.

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6. What happens if I don't finish my program before my OPT begins?

Since USCIS allows you to apply 3 months before your program completion, it may happen that for some reason you do not complete your program before the OPT start date. The dates of the EAD will remain the same and cannot be adjusted.

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7. After I apply for OPT, what happens if I change my mind and either want to cancel the application or change the dates that I requested?

Changes are difficult if not impossible after an application is submitted to the USCIS.

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8. My employer wants me to start working in two weeks. I'm afraid to tell my employer that I can't start working for 3 months, as they may hire someone else. Can I do Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 3 months until my OPT is approved?

No.

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9. If I do another degree after my OPT, will I be eligible for another 12 months of OPT after that degree?

Yes, but only if the degree is for completion of a higher educational level. Completion of a second degree within the same educational level does not entitle you to OPT, unless you were granted less than 12 months after the first degree (assuming you never had pre-completion OPT). For example, if you applied for/were granted only 4 months of OPT upon completion of your first Master's, you would have 8 months remaining for use after completion of the second Master’s.

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10. What visa status will I have during my OPT period?

You will maintain your F-1 student visa status throughout the duration of your OPT. Once the EAD expires, you have 60 days to leave the U.S. or apply for a change of visa status (you may not work during this 60-day grace period). If your company is considering changing your visa status to H-1B, it is strongly recommended that you begin this process at the beginning of your OPT period, as this process can take many months.

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11. What are the employment requirements while I am on OPT?

Pre-Completion OPT:

You must be employed in a position that is directly related to your field of study. The number of hours of work per week may not exceed 20 hours unless it is OPT during a break period or you are a graduate student who has completed all coursework except the thesis or dissertation.

Post-Completion OPT:

You must be employed during your OPT authorization, working at least 20 hours per week in a job that is directly related to your field of study.

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12. What constitutes employment?

a) Paid employment: Must work for at least 20 hours per week.

b) Short-term employment (performing artist): Must maintain a list of all gigs, including dates, duration, client, address.

c) Work-for-hire employment (consultant): In this case, services are based on a contractual basis rather than an employer relationship. Student must maintain a list of all contracts, including dates, duration, client, and address.

d) Self-employed: Must have proof of a proper business license and work full-time. In addition, the student must show that s/he is actively engaged in business directly related to his/ her degree program.

e) Employment through an agency: Student must provide evidence of an average workload of 20 hours per week.

f) Unpaid employment: Must work at least 20 hours per week. Student’s employer must provide evidence that s/he works at least 20 hours per week directly related to his/her degree program.

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13. How long can a student on post-completion OPT be unemployed?

Students on post-completion OPT may be unemployed for a cumulative maximum of 90 calendar days during the 12 months of authorization.

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14. What counts toward the 90 days of unemployment?

Every day you are without a job counts towards the 90 days with one exception. If you are moving from one job to another and the gap is 10 days or shorter, then this period will not be calculated towards the time spent unemployed.

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15. What are the consequences of exceeding the period of unemployment?

If you have not found employment while on post-completion OPT you will be considered to be out of status, unless you have taken one of the following actions:

a) Applied for a new program of study to continue your education in the U.S. by a change of level or transferring to another school

b) Departed the U.S.

c) Taken action to change to a new authorized status in the U.S. (e.g. H1 or Permanent Resident)

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16. Do I need to remain in contact with the International Programs while I am on post-completion OPT?

Yes! During the OPT authorization period, you are still in F-1 status. You must report the following to our office within 10 days of a change:

a) Change in your physical address or your email address

b) Change in your employment status or your employer

c) Change of immigration status (e.g. change to H1 or to permanent residency)

d) Early termination of OPT and departure from the U.S.

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17. Am I covered by Puget Sound’s student health insurance plan while I am on post-completion OPT?

No, you will not be covered by Puget Sound's student health insurance plan after you graduate. You should make arrangements with a private insurance company for insurance coverage during practical training. As a graduating student, you can apply directly to the LewerMark insurance company (not through the school) for one additional semester of coverage. If you graduate in May, you can apply and pay for coverage only for the summer. If you graduate in December, you can apply and pay for coverage for the next semester, through early May. The International Programs can help you with recommendations for insurance companies/policies.

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18. What happens at the end of the OPT authorization?

Upon completion of your OPT authorization, you have 60 days to do one of the followings:

a) Move to a new degree level at Puget Sound

b) Transfer to a new institution to pursue an additional degree

c) Change to a new status in the U.S.

d) Depart the U.S. to return home

Your record will automatically complete 60 days after the last date of your OPT authorization. If you have not made any of these changes, you will be considered out of status and in the U.S. without proper authorization.

Important: Students whose area of study is in the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) fields are eligible to extend their 12 months of OPT for an additional 17 months for a total of 29 months of Employment. Contact the International Student Advisor for more information.

If you wish to continue working in the U.S. beyond the year of OPT and you do not qualify for the 17 month STEM extension, consult your employer, or an immigration lawyer for other options to stay/work legally.

Students become eligible for a second 12-month OPT authorization if they move on to a higher educational level (i.e., go to graduate school).

Students cannot add unused OPT time to any future OPT periods.

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