Optional Practical Training Frequently Asked Questions

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Students may remain in the U.S. for 60 days from the actual date of completion of studies. This may be earlier than the originally projected date of completion noted in section #5 of your I-20.

OPT Application Process

Students considering applying for OPT are required to attend an OPT workshop in their last semester. There, students will learn about important deadlines, required documents and steps that are to be followed. Workshop dates are generally posted on the ISS website by the add/drop deadline of the semester. Students may register for a workshop by going to the ISS website, www.hawaii.edu/issmanoa, and clicking on the OPT Workshop link

General OPT processing time from the time USCIS receives the application to receiving the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from 1.5 to five months.

A  job or a job offer is not required to apply for OPT.

ISS issues recommendations for OPT, which are reflected in new Form I-20s.  As part of the recommendation process, ISS reviews application materials to help smooth application processing with USCIS.

For undergraduate and MS non-thesis students, the program completion date is the last day of the final semester of required enrollment. For MS thesis and PhD students, the program completion date can be the last day of the final semester of required enrollment OR the defense date. (Please note that the defense date must fall within the final semester of required enrollment; if it falls in an intersession period, the program completion date will be the last day of the final semester of enrollment). MS thesis and PhD students become eligible for post-completion OPT once all the course requirements for their degrees have been met.

An official "graduation date" is the last day of the final semester or the semester in which students complete their final graduation requirements. Participation in Commencement does not mean students have graduated if they have not fulfilled all graduation requirements.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive the OPT applications no earlier than 90 days before students’ graduation dates and no later than 60 days after graduation dates.  In addition, OPT applications must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date on which the ISS Advisor issues a new I-20 recommending OPT. Please note: ISS takes 5 to 7 working days to process all documents. Please plan ahead to ensure that all deadlines are met.

USCIS currently does not require fingerprint/biometric scanning for mailed applications. It does require these scannings for applications submitted electronically. In the past, USCIS did require these scannings for applications submitted electronically.  Currently, the new Filing Online process does not require fingerprint/biometric scanning.

Requested OPT start dates cannot be changed while applications are pending. Start dates are decided by applicants before new I-20s are issued and can be changed up until they are mailed to USCIS.

If it has been more than 90 days past the RECEIPT date on the NOTICE OF ACTION FORM (I-797C) and USCIS has still not adjudicated the application, students should consult an ISS advisor. The advisor can inquire directly to the USCIS Service Center to request an update on a case status. Note: An ISS advisor cannot inquire about the status of a case until 90 days from the receipt date notice.

OPT applications cannot be expedited by ISS. USCIS may consider an expedite is it’s  in the interests of USCIS or the U.S. government.

Applications are not processed faster if job offers are included.

Students can remain in the U.S. while their OPT requests are pending, even beyond the expiration of their grace periods. 

New USCIS guidelines state that OPT must be completed no later than 14 months after the approval date of the I-765.  This allows more time for the student to receive an approved OPT from USCIS and still have a full 12 months of OPT work authorization.

Example: If a student’s completion date is May 19 and her grace period expires July 18, and she chooses an OPT start date of July 18, if USCIS approves her OPT request on August 19, she will still have have 14 months from August 19 to complete her 12 months of OPT work authorization.

OPT applicants have to wait until they receive their EADs before they can renew their licenses. Once EADs have been received, renewal dates will be based on OPT start and end dates on EADs, typically 1 year.

Students who receive RFEs should make appointments with ISS Advisors and bring their notices with them. ISS advisors will review them and help prepare appropriate responses.

Students remain in F-1 status while waiting for EADs and throughout their OPTs.

USCIS generally does not deny OPT applications if students meet all eligibility criteria and their applications are received prior to the deadlines. If applications are rejected/denied, however, students should contact their ISS advisors to discuss options, which may include reapplying for OPT.

As of 12/7/2020, students must be physically present in the US to apply for OPT during the COVID 19 pandemic 

As long as you’re in F-1 status while studying abroad, you can accumulate credits toward eligibility for OPT.

While on OPT

Technically, students can start on approved OPT start dates; however, employers should see EADs before actually hiring OPT students. Note: No training, orientation or paid/unpaid work is allowed before the OPT start date.  

All work must be directly related to students’ majors.

Work can be paid or unpaid under OPT regulations.

Students can continue to work on campus until their program end dates as listed on their OPT I-20s.

OPT is not a “working visa.”  OPT is a benefit for students in F-1 status and is NOT a visa.

Students on OPT are in F-1 status and, as such, must abide in by all F-1 regulations.

Student are considered to be in lawful F-1 status as long as they meet the following requirements: have employment for at least 20 hours per week in their fields of study; have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during their 12-months of OPT; and have reported any changes in their employment situation, as well as residential addresses, in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of occurrence. Student are also required to inform ISS on any changes in their  immigration status or if they changed their legal names

University Health Services can only be used by enrolled students.  Students on OPT who are not enrolled cannot use the University Health Services.

Go to the following website: http://www.honolulu.gov/csd/dllicense.html for more information.

In addition to the required documents stated on the website above, the EAD should be taken as well to confirm the end date of OPT.  

OPT can be extended for students on OPT who have Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) majors.  A separate STEM OPT application with required documents must be received by USCIS not earlier than 90 days before (and not after) the OPT end date. In addition, OPT students sponsored for the H1-B may have their OPT end date extended to 9/30 if the H1-B application was received by Immigration before their OPT end dates.

There’s a 60 day grace period to stay in the U.S. following the end date of OPT.

Students can enroll part-time while on OPT.   Those who choose to enroll full-time forfeit the rest of their OPT work authorization period.

State and federal income taxes must be paid while on OPT

A copy of the approval notice of the new immigration status should be sent to ISS via UH FileDrop to: issmanoa@hawaii.edu so that the F-1 immigration record can be closed appropriately

Students must inform ISS of their departure date from the U.S. so that the F-1 record can be closed out accordingly.  They must also put their employment end dates into their SEVP Portal Accounts.  In addition, they must inform their employers of their last day of work.  If there are no unemployment days left in their OPT work authorization period, they must depart the U.S. immediately on or before their last day of employment.

Under current OPT regulations as of 12/7/2020, students can work remotely while on OPT; this includes working abroad.

Under current OPT regulations, students can work part-time (under 20 hours per week) and still meet the full-time requirement for Post-Completion OPT (as of 12/9/2020).

Travel while on OPT:

If departing the U.S, travel signatures, good for only 6 months, on I-20s are important as they help to allow a smooth re-entry to the U.S. 

 

Although Immigration regulations allow the use of OPT I-797 Receipt Notices instead of the EADs to re-enter the U.S. while OPT requests are pending, it is not recommended as Custom and Border Protection (CBP) may overrule this regulation.  In addition, if an EAD has been issued, the EAD will be required for re-entry.

Yes, but ISS highly recommends that students on OPT have proof of employment to re-enter the U.S. If not employed, evidence of prospective interviews and/or jobs can be important. Students should also understand how much unemployment time is left in their work authorization periods.. Note: Those students who have accumulated 90 days of unemployment will not be able to re-enter the US in F-1 status.

  1. Passport that’s valid for at least 6 months into the future at the time of re-entry
  2. Valid F-1 
  3. Valid EAD 
  4. Valid I-20 with a travel signature not more than 6 months old at the time of re-entry

Note: In addition to the above, OPT employment that’s reported into SEVP Portal Account as well as proof of employment, such as pay stubs, job offer letter and employment verification letter.

Under current OPT regulations as of 12/7/2020, students can work remotely while on OPT; this includes working abroad.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. You currently hold F-1 status;
  2. You are participating in standard post-completion OPT;
  3. You have a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a designated STEM field conferred by an accredited, SEVP-approved US college or university;
  4. Your STEM OPT employer is registered in E-Verify and agrees to the USCIS STEM OPT employer reporting requirements; and,
  5. Your STEM OPT job will be a full-time (21 or more hours per week), paid position related to your STEM degree and you will be reporting to an on-site local supervisor in the U.S. 
  6. You can apply for an additional STEM OPT extension for a higher degree, provided you have not already used STEM OPT at a higher level than your previously earned STEM degree.
  7. You may also apply for STEM OPT based on a previously earned STEM degree conferred by an SEVP-approved, accredited U.S. college or university within the past 10 years.  You may have earned the previous STEM degree while in a status other than F-1 such as H-4, L-2, etc.

 

A STEM major is identified by a Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code next to the student’s major in the Program of Study section of the I-20; this code must be listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf

E-Verify is an internet based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA) that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees. An employer's participation in E-Verify is voluntary and is currently free to employers. USCIS has created an online E-Verify Employer Search Tool.

To apply for STEM OPT extensions, students must have job offers from employers in the E-verify program. USCIS keeps a database of E-Verify employers on its website; students can check for employers on this list.  Students can also ask the HR offices of companies they may work for if they are in the E-verify program and what their E-verify numbers are. 

STEM OPT Application Process:

Students need to have job offers from employers in the E-verify program in order to apply for the STEM OPT Extension.

Students can work for Startups as long as the employer meets the following: To be eligible for a STEM OPT extension, the employer offering the job that serves as the basis for the STEM OPT extension must:

  • Be "enrolled in E-Verify, as evidenced by either a valid E-Verify Company Identification number or, if the employer is using an employer agent to create its E-Verify cases, a valid E-Verify Client Company Identification number"
  • Remain "a participant in good standing with E-Verify, as determined by USCIS" and
  • "[H]ave an employer identification number (EIN) used for tax purposes"

 

Students can work past their OPT end dates while their STEM OPT is pending for up to 180 days as long as their employers are enrolled in the E-verify program.

USCIS has clarified that “STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. DHS will review on a case-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.”

Positions that may not provide students with a bona fide employer-employee relationship include but are not limited to:

  • sole proprietorships
  • employment through “temp” agencies
  • employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire

 

Under STEM OPT regulations, all work must be paid.

Students may have multiple employers as long as employers meet STEM OPT criteria and have completed the Form I-983 Training Plan.

Employers can be changed as long as they meet STEM OPT criteria and have completed the Form I-983 Training Plan

STEM OPT along with F-1 status is terminated and students would have to depart the U.S.

Travel On OPT STEM

USCIS advises against travel while students are waiting for the approval of the STEM extension.

Travel endorsements should be obtained if students will not return to the U.S. within six months of the travel endorsement.

OPT SEVP Portal FAQ

Yes. The SEVP Portal allows you to report OPT information directly to your F-1 record without having to go through the ISS Office. Update any of the following in the SEVIS Portal:

  • Profile Information, including
    • Mailing Address;
    • Physical Address;
    • Phone Number
  • Employer Information, including
    • Adding or deleting employers;
    • Employer Name;
    • Employer Address;
    • Job Title;
    • Full or Part-Time;
    • Start and End Dates;
    • Relation of Employment to Field of Study

Reminder: If you finish at one employer, enter the end date of employment. Do not delete employer.

Yes, with exceptions. STEM OPT updates through the SEVP Portal are still limited. ISS recommends that you only use the SEVP Portal to update:

  •  Profile Information, including:
    • Mailing Address;
    • Physical Address;
    • Phone Number

Note: Remember to put the above in your MyUH account as well.

For any updates to employer, ISS still requires you to use ISS OPT Report and Validation form. You must still report or submit directly to ISS:

  • Validation of information every 6 months:
    • Legal name
    • Residential or mailing address
    • Employer name and address
    • Status of current employment
  • Annual Self-Evaluation
  • Adding, changing employers
  • Termination of employment
  • Employer non-compliance with form I-983
  • Any material changes or deviations in employment require you to submit to ISS an updated form I-983. Material changes or deviations may include, but are not limited to:
    • Any change of the employer’s Employer Identification Number, (i.e., the company’s Federal Tax ID number) resulting from a change in the employer’s ownership or structure;
    • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked;
    • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity;
    • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.

If you are currently on post-completion OPT or STEM OPT, SEVP will send a message to your UH email address.

  • The email will be sent from: Do-No-Reply.SEVP@dhs.ice.gov
  • The email subject line will have: Optional Practical Training Approval – the next step. Create an SEVP Portal account

The email will have:

  • A unique link to access the account set-up.
  • Instructions to set up your account.

Remember:

  • You will need your SEVIS ID number in order to set up the account.
  • This link can only be used once and is unique to your email.
  • The link cannot be shared.
  • You must set up your portal account within 14 days of receiving the email or the link will expire.
  • If you fail to set up your portal account within 14 days, you must contact ISS for help to have a new email sent to you.

ISS requires you to keep your UH email account active if you are going to be on OPT. You may do this by enrolling in the UH 'Ohana Online Services. If you have not graduated yet, you may pre-enroll. If you graduated but forgot to enroll, you have a 180 day grace period in which you may enroll. Read the 'Ohana Online Services policies. Once you sign up, your UH email will remain active up to one year. You will need to renew annually, and will receive alerts to do so. If you fail to sign up or renew your UH email account in time, your account will be closed and all associated emails and stored content will be wiped.

Yes. If your account expired for whatever reason, you may still request to re-activate it. Follow these instructions to reactivate UH email account. You may lose data related to that account depending on how long the account was inactive.

If you have been locked out because you forgot your password, or your account was automatically deactivated, you may contact ISS to help reactivate your account. If you need to submit a report immediately and cannot wait for the account reset, you may report directly to ISS.

Yes. If you created an SEVP account on one OPT, you may use it on successive OPT at higher levels of study as long as your SEVIS ID number is the same. This includes STEM OPT. Your portal account will deactivate if you start a new program after your first OPT. Please contact ISS to help re-activate your existing SEVP Portal account if you plan to apply for another OPT.

OPT During COVID-19

Yes.

Yes, the federal government has allowed Designated School Officials (your ISS Advisor) to transmit electronic I-20 forms and digital signatures on I-20 forms on a temporary basis

You must be physically present in the U.S. at the time you submit your Optional Practical Training (OPT) application. It is generally permissible to depart the country after the application has been submitted and successfully received by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The ISS will continue to process OPT applications as soon as we receive your submitted request and will communicate with you about how to pick up and mail your application to USCIS. If you have not applied for OPT yet, but plan to do so, we strongly encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible.

USCIS temporarily closed its domestic field offices and has suspended routine in-person services until at least May 3. However, USCIS still continues to perform duties that do not involve in-person services. OPT applications are adjudicated at the USCIS Service Centers (specifically, at the Potomac Service Center) and not at the field offices. In addition, OPT adjudications do not involve any in-person contact. For these reasons, we do not anticipate your OPT application to be affected by closure of USCIS field offices.

It is unclear how the COVID-19 situation may impact USCIS processing times. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, processing times averaged 3-5 months. If you plan to apply for OPT, please do so as soon as possible in anticipation of any additional delays. Sign up online to attend our virtual OPT workshop.

Unfortunately, you cannot use an international address to receive your EAD. Please find another friend’s address within the U.S and update your mailing address with USCIS. Go to the US government's website to check your USCIS CASE Status Online.  Once there, click "Change of Address" and follow the instructions. Be sure to complete the "In Care of for Mailing, C/O" section.

Yes, you may. Be reminded to have all the required documents when reentering the U.S. after program completion/graduation: your I-20 with a valid signature, active F-1 visa and your Receipt Notice from USCIS that shows you have applied for OPT. If your OPT is approved while you’re abroad, you should have your EAD card with you on your return.

Please be reminded of the risks involved if you are not in the U.S while your OPT is pending. If your OPT application is denied while you are outside of the U.S. and your program completion date has passed, you should not re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. It may be possible to re-enter the US in another visa category (for example, ESTA or tourist visa) to prepare for departure, but you would no longer be eligible for OPT. USCIS may also mail you a request for evidence (RFE), if additional information is needed for your OPT application. You would need to respond to USCIS’ RFE by their specified deadline or risk OPT denial. Lastly, please be reminded in time of COVID-19, international travels and visa restrictions are unpredictable and may impede your ability to return to the U.S.

OPT Remote Employment

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recognizes that the spread of COVID-19 may affect students engaging in OPT/OPT STEM. In accordance with SEVP guidance, we would encourage you to work with your employer to seek alternative ways to maintain employment, such as teleworking or other arrangements. Please be reminded to document the decisions and details on these arrangements as part of your immigration records in case it is requested.

Due to COVID-19 remote work is permissible. According to SEVP guidance you do NOT need to update your employer address information in SEVIS nor on the I-983 form for remote work. However, please continue to report any OPT/OPT STEM changes in your physical address, new employment status, or unemployment.

For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT and are NOT accumulating any days of unemployment. SEVP has not specified a minimum number of hours that must be worked.

OPT Unemployment

Currently there has been no new guidance from SEVP/U.S. government to waive the 90-day for OPT and 120-day for OPT STEM unemployment limit. Universities and immigration attorneys have advocated for temporary relief to this limit however, there has been no update.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance. For questions regarding SSNs, SEVP recommends reaching out to the Social Security Administration.

No. The employer address information does not need to be updated in SEVIS for OPT nor on the Form I-983 for STEM OPT students working remotely.

Students who are unemployed due to COVID-19 should contact their local or state employment agency for more information.

No, F students who work without wages, taxable compensation or other remuneration are considered volunteers and are not required to obtain an employment authorization document.

Note: A volunteer position that is not directly related to an F-1 student's course of study should not be listed as OPT employment on a student's SEVIS record..

OPT Grace Period

OPT / STEM OPT participants who do not exceed the limits of unemployment receive a 60 day grace period. During this grace period, students can prepare to leave the United States, prepare to start a new academic program at Pitt or a different school (must start classes within 5 months of OPT end date), or submit a Change of Status application to the federal government.

ISS strongly recommends that you depart the U.S. as close to the end of your 60 day grace period as possible. Some students may choose to submit a Change of Status application to the federal government if they cannot return home for months.