Initial 12 Month OPT Application

INITIAL 12 MONTHS OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT) APPLICATION

If you encounter an E-Form access issue and have tried accessing the E-form in multiple web browsers, please email iss[at]umass[dot]edu

OPT is a benefit for F-1 students and provides an initial 12-months of off-campus work authorization in their field of study in the United States. International students who have been enrolled full-time for a minimum of one academic year (considered to be 9-months or two full semesters) are eligible.  

OPT Workshops: RSVP via Eventbrite for a  OPT workshop.  Please refer to our OPT presentation that is available here, along with the information below. If you have any additional questions, please email your IPO advisor. 

The IPO will create a new OPT I-20 for your OPT application once we finalize your OPT I-20 Request Process. You should NOT mail your application to USCIS or submit it in their online portal until you have completed all the OPT I-20 Request steps below.

EADs mailed to the IPO: Once the IPO actually has received your EAD and approval documents you will receive an email notification from us. Please be mindful that while tracking may say it’s delivered, that doesn’t mean the IPO has it in our possession yet. Please wait until we contact you with next steps.

ISS Critical Updates

F-1 students must meet these eligibility requirements for OPT:

  • F-1 students must have been enrolled full-time for 9-months (or two full semesters) before eligible 
  • F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12-months of OPT per educational level (BA/BS to MS/MA to PhD).  If you previously applied for OPT for a “lower” academic level, you are eligible to apply for additional OPT if you have completed a “higher” academic degree (i.e. Master’s or PhD.)
  • ​12-months or more of previous FULL-TIME Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the same academic level will eliminate any future OPT eligibility. Any previous full-time or part-time CPT under 12-months of duration will not be subtracted from Post-completion OPT.
  • OPT is automatically terminated when a student transfers their SEVIS record to another institution to begin a new degree program.
  • You must stop working on-campus or on CPT as of your completion of studies date (see your new OPT I-20’s end date). Please see When to Apply for more information about your completion of studies date.
  • You CANNOT begin to work (or volunteer) in any capacity until your OPT has been approved by USCIS and you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your hand.
  • Do not wait for a job offer to start the OPT application process; you do not need a job offer to apply.
  • Do not submit your OPT application to USCIS until you obtain a new OPT I-20 from the IPO. Review the OPT I-20 Request Process below.
  • Do not submit your application too early. If USCIS receives your application more than 90-days before your I-20 program end date/completion of studies date, or more than 60-days after the I-20 program end date/completion of studies date it will be rejected or denied.
  • THE MOST COMMON REASON FOR OPT DENIAL:  you must submit the full OPT application to USCIS within 30 days of the new OPT I-20’s creation by the IPO if you are mailing the application. If you are applying online, the new OPT I-20 must be created before you submit the online I-765 with USCIS and be submitted within 30 days of new OPT I-20 creation.
  • OPT applications to USCIS take approximately 3 to 4-months to process; there is no option to expedite your application
  • If your OPT application is returned to you or rejected, consult with an IPO Advisor immediately before resubmitting the application to determine if you need a new OPT I-20, etc.
  • Unemployment is limited to a cumulative of 90-calendar days during the initial 12-month OPT period (weekends, holidays, and vacations are included in the 90-day unemployment calculation).
  • Internships, unpaid/volunteer positions, part-time positions (20 or fewer hours a week), or self-employment in your area of study can count as employment if you report it using the OPT Reporting E-Form listed under OPT Reporting Requirements below.
  • While on OPT, you may have multiple jobs at different companies if they are related to your degree, and you report them using the OPT Reporting E-Form below.

You can file your Post-completion OPT application with USCIS no earlier than 90-days before and 60 days after your Completion of Studies.

Important note: “Completion of Studies” is not your graduation date or any date after graduation. Your completion of studies date will be the last day you can work on-campus or on CPT until you have been approved for OPT and have your EAD to confirm your OPT start date.

Remember that the IPO’s processing time is 7-10 business days so if you are applying towards the end of your grace period, you should ideally submit your OPT I-20 Request to the IPO no later than 10 days before your grace period ends.  

Completion of Studies Dates:

  • Undergraduate Students: Last day of Finals
    • If you are taking online only courses in your final term, the completion of studies date should be the term BEFORE. For example, if you are taking an online winter term course, your completion of studies date will be the last day of finals in the Fall term. This does not impact your graduation date, but you should be mindful of when to apply.
  • Graduate Students:
  • Non-Thesis track students: Last day of finals
    • If you are taking online only courses in your final term, the completion of studies date should be the term BEFORE. For example, if you are taking an online winter term course, your completion of studies date will be the last day of finals in the Fall term. This does not impact your graduation date.
  • Thesis/dissertation students: Decide with your Academic Authority (advisor or GPD) in your department. 

Important note: “Completion of studies” is not to be confused with the date the Graduate School officially “signs off” and administratively confirms completion of all thesis or dissertation formalities (these dates are unrelated to the immigration completion of studies date). You may begin your OPT if your coursework is completed; remaining enrolled at UMass to finish your thesis/dissertation will not impact your OPT application.

Remember: You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT!

Per OPT application instructions, you must be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your application to USCIS. If you choose to travel after this, please review our OPT Travel information. 

*The IPO will create a new OPT I-20 for your OPT application. You should NOT submit your application to USCIS until you have completed all of the IPO’s OPT I-20 request steps below and received the new OPT I-20.

Step 1. Review “When to Apply” to determine your completion of studies date. Then, choose your requested OPT Start and End Dates. The IPO will review these dates in your OPT I-20 Request E-Form and will contact you if we have any questions.

Step 2. Complete the IPO’s OPT I-20 Request E-Form to request your new OPT I-20. If you encounter an E-Form access issue and have tried accessing the E-Form in multiple web browsers and have cleared your cache to no avail, please email iss[at]umass[dot]edu

  • Undergraduate Students: IPO will process the OPT I-20 Request within 7-10 business days after submission.
  • Graduate Students: You will list your academic authority in your request. If you are unsure who your academic authority is, please contact your department or GPD. Submission of your E-Form request will be forwarded to your appropriate academic authority.  Once finalized by the academic authority, the IPO will process your request within 7-10 business days.

Please review our submission instructions below for assistance on completing the I-765.

Step 3. Receive your new OPT I-20 from the IPO.

You should not apply for OPT with USCIS without the new OPT I-20 from the IPO.

OPT approval emails occasionally go into your Spam/Junk folder. Please check this folder if 7-10 business days have passed and you have not received the approval email yet.

Step 4. Submit your OPT Application to USCIS. Review the instructions below for your chosen method.

Per I-765 instructions, you must be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your application to USCIS. If you choose to travel after this, please review our OPT Travel information below. 

Step 1. Receive the new OPT I-20 from the IPO. Follow the OPT I-20 Request Process above.

Step 2. Prepare your application documents.

The documents (except for the photos) submitted to USCIS can be in black and white as long as all the information is legible. We suggest you type the information into the I-765.

  • Form I-765, A properly completed, signed, and dated I-765 form. Review which form to submit here. You should not sign the I-765 electronically or digitally. Sign with a pen if you are mailing.
    • Tips on completing your I-765 are here.
  • Two passport-style photographs (name and date of birth written on the back). Instructions on photo size can be found on the I-765 instructions.
  • New OPT I-20 attached to the “OPT I-20 is ready” email (you must sign the new OPT I-20 with a real pen to produce a “wet” signature prior to submitting to USCIS). Students are not permitted to sign I-20s digitally or electronically.
  • Previously Issued CPT I-20s. You can request these here. The IPO cannot sign old I-20s nor will this be an issue for your OPT application.
  • Copy of your biographical page from your passport (it is ok to apply with an expired passport) and copy of your F-1 visa stamp (it is ok if it is expired).
  • Copy (front and back) of your prior 12-month OPT EAD (if you have one from a previous OPT approval)
  • Print out of your current I-94 record
  • Fee (mailing): A personal check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Review current USCIS fees as they frequently change.  USCIS’ fee website can be reviewed here. Remember to send the fee with the application; do not send it in a separate package.
  • Form G-1145 is optional but highly recommended as USCIS will e-mail and/or text you with updates regarding your OPT application if you include this form.

Tips on Fee Payment

  • Personal Checks: remember to have the full amount of the fee in your account until it is cashed by DHS.
  • Add your SEVIS number to the memo line in the lower left corner
  • Date should be in the mm/dd/yyyy format (12/14/2021) or write it Month Date, Year (December 14, 2022).
  • Money Orders: there are many different types of money orders that can be purchased from convenience stores, pharmacies, and the US Postal Service. Basic tips are below:
    • If the money order asks for the recipient’s address, list the USCIS address where you are mailing the application
    • If the money order asks for the purchaser’s address, list your mailing address (#5 on the I-765)
    • Remember to keep the receipt potion of the money order as it is the only way to track your payment
    • Do not sign the back of the money order
    • In the Memo line (if there is one): include your SEVIS number

Step 3. Mail your application to USCIS

All mailed OPT applications should be sent to USCIS’ Chicago lockbox.  Please be sure to get tracking on your package to USCIS. If you mail your application to the wrong lockbox, USCIS will transfer your application to the correct location but there will likely be a delay in your receipt processing.

Step 4. Receive I-797 Receipt Notice for Your Pending OPT Application 

Usually received within 10 business days of USCIS receiving your package. If you used the IPO’s address as your mailing address, we will email you a scanned .pdf of your receipt notice. If you used the G-1145, you should receive an email/text message as soon as the case number is assigned.

Step 5. OPT Approval

USCIS processing time is 3-4 months. You will receive a I-797 approval notice and your employment authorization document (EAD) once approved (usually 90-120 days after the case is receipted).

The hardcopy approval notice and EAD will be sent to your mailing address on your I-765.

If you used the IPO’s address: Once the IPO has received your EAD and approval documents, you will receive an email notification from us. Please be mindful that while tracking may say it’s delivered, that doesn’t mean the IPO has it in our possession yet. Please wait until we contact you with next steps.

Step 5. OPT Reporting and Life After OPT

Report your OPT employment by reviewing the OPT Reporting Requirements. Review the OPT Life after OPT information for additional information.

Per I-765 instructions, you must be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your application to USCIS. If you choose to travel after this, please review our OPT Travel information below. 

Step 1. Receive the new OPT I-20 from the IPO by following the OPT I-20 Request Process above.

Step 2. Prepare your application documents to upload to the USCIS Portal. You are completing the I-765 in the USCIS Portal—there is no separate application or need to upload a paper version of the I-765.

  • Passport-style photograph. Instructions on photo size can be found on the I-765 instructions.
  • New OPT I-20 attached to the “OPT I-20 is ready” email from the IPO (you must sign the new OPT I-20 with a real pen to produce a “wet” signature prior to submitting to USCIS). Students are not permitted to sign I-20s digitally or electronically.
  • Previously Issued CPT I-20s. You can request these here. The IPO cannot sign old I-20s nor will this be an issue for your OPT application.
  • Copy of your biographical page from your passport and copy of your F-1 visa stamp (it is ok if they are expired).
  • Copy (front and back) of your prior 12-month OPT EAD (if you have one from a previous OPT approval)
  • Print out of your current I-94 record
  • Fee: submitting your fee will be the last thing you do as part of your online OPT application. Review current USCIS fees as they frequently change.  USCIS’ fee website can be reviewed here. Once the USCIS fee is submitted online, you have applied for OPT and no changes can be made to your application. DO NOT PAY THE FEE UNTIL YOU HAVE THE NEW OPT I-20 FROM THE IPO.

Step 3. Create your USCIS account online

Step 4. Apply for OPT using USCIS’ online application

Please review the IPO’s tips for applying for OPT online using USCIS’ portal.

Any technical questions regarding the online application should be directed to USCIS.

Step 5. Receive I-797 Receipt Notice for Your Pending OPT Application 

Your receipt will be created almost automatically and uploaded to the “Documents” tab of your online account.

Step 6. OPT Approval

USCIS processing time is 3-4 months. You will receive a I-797 approval notice and your employment authorization document (EAD) once approved (usually 90-120 days after the case is receipted).

The hardcopy approval notice and EAD will be sent to your mailing address on your I-765.

If you used the IPO’s address: Once the IPO has received your EAD and approval documents, you will receive an email notification from us. Please be mindful that while tracking may say it’s delivered, that doesn’t mean the IPO has it in our possession yet. Please wait until we contact you with next steps.

Step 7. OPT Reporting and Life After OPT

Report your OPT employment by reviewing the OPT Reporting Requirements. Review the OPT Life after OPT information for additional information.

 

Students on Post-Completion OPT have specific reporting requirements to follow. Failure to submit these in a timely manner could impact your long-term immigration future in the U.S.

The IPO will extend your access to UMass Amherst systems for 1-3 years after graduation. This will permit you to access SPIRE and UMass VIP to update your address, report your employment, apply for STEM OPT, etc. If you have any issues or need to reset your NetID passport, please see the UMass IT website guides or contact OIT.

Reporting Employment 

Students are required to report changes in their OPT employment within 10 days using the OPT Reporting E-Form. This includes reporting the information listed below but is not limited to this. Students can have multiple jobs while on OPT as long as each one is related to your major and is reported to the IPO. We do not require your job offer letter. You will report the information directly in the reporting form.

  • Employer Name
  • Address, phone number, job title, EIN (not required), etc.
  • Change in work locations
  • Start and end date changes
  • If there is a change in position (job title, part/full-time)
  • Multiple employers are possible if related to your degree and reported

Cap Gap

If you were selected in the H-1B lottery, are eligible for, and have received cap gap to extend your work authorization to September 30, please submit the I-20 Reprint E-Form so we can verify this and provide you with an updated I-20. More information on eligibility for the cap gap extension can be found in the Life After OPT section and on the Study in the States website.

Change of Status

If you are changing your status from an F-1 to an H-1b, Permanent Resident, etc. please submit this information using the Change of Status E-Form.

**If you are no longer a student at UMass and you are on OPT, AT, etc. when you change your status, your NENS access to UMass systems (access to UMass email, UMass VIP, etc.) will be deactivated 30 days after your new change of status begins. Please plan accordingly.

Personal Information

Any change in personal information (address, email, phone, name) should be updated in SPIRE within 10 days of the change.

The Department of Homeland Security has indicated that failure to provide any of the reporting requirements mentioned above can result in the automatic termination of your SEVIS immigration record and corresponding F-1 immigration status. The IPO will not take responsibility for a student’s failure to update information accordingly and to adhere to these considerable OPT reporting requirements.

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

The U.S. Postal Service WILL NOT forward mail from USCIS!  It is extremely important that the address you put on your I-765 application form is valid for 3-5 months after you submit your OPT application. You can consider using a friend or relative’s address if your name is on their mailbox. You can also consider using the IPO address: see your chosen USCIS Submission section for the correct address format on the I-765.

If you need to change your mailing address while your application is pending you must do so directly with USCIS. Be careful when doing this—if you change your address close to your approval time, USCIS will not know where to send your approval documents. If you are unsure where you will be, you should use the IPO’s address on the I-765.

You should also update your address in SPIRE.

I used the IPO as my mailing address with USCIS. How do I get my EAD and approval document?

Once the IPO actually has acquired your EAD and approval documents you will receive an email notification from us. Please be mindful that while tracking may say it’s delivered, that doesn’t mean the IPO has it in our possession yet. Please wait until we contact you with next steps.

I lost my EAD, can I continue to work?

You may continue to work as your employment authorization is not impacted until the expiration of the lost/stolen EAD. You may need to apply for a replacement EAD as soon as possible.  A replacement EAD takes 3-4 months and requires the USCIS fee. You must file a replacement application, with a new I-765 (request a replacement in 1b), filing fee, the OPT I-20, and a copy of the I-797 approval notice (you do not need to do the IPO’s OPT I-20 request process again) but you should contact your IPO advisor for advice.

If you need to change employers while waiting for a replacement, you will need to show different documentation during your I-9 process since you don’t have your EAD. Work directly with your employer’s Human Resources as there are documents they can temporarily accept in lieu of an EAD.

My EAD never arrived in the mail, can I work when my start date arrives with my receipt notice?

You may NOT commence working until you have the physical EAD in hand, even if the start date has passed. In rare cases, a card can be lost in the mail. Note that USCIS does not make a duplicate of your EAD card so the one mailed to you is the only copy. If your card shows as delivered but you do not have it, check with your local post office, your landlord, roommates, neighbors, etc., to make sure the card is really lost and not delivered to the wrong person or returned to the post office. Open a case with USPS and submit a lost card notice to USCIS and they will determine if it was returned to them already and sent to their Undeliverable Mail Office.

If the card was not returned to USCIS or found by the local post office, etc. the only way to get another EAD is to file a replacement application, with a new I-765 (request a replacement in 1b), filing fee, OPT I-20 and copy of the I-797 approval notice (you do not need to do the IPO’s OPT I-20 Request Process again). While waiting for a replacement, you will need to show different documentation during your I-9 process since you don’t have your EAD. Work directly with your employer’s Human Resources as there are documents they can temporarily accept in lieu of an EAD.

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

3-months to 4 months is average so please take this into consideration when applying.  For example, a student completing studies in May who wishes to commence employment immediately following graduation should apply as early as possible (90-days from completing studies).  You may not begin working legally until you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession. Check the status of your application on the USCIS website. USCIS will not expedite your OPT application.

Can I change the application or dates requested after I submit the application to USCIS?

Changes to OPT dates are not possible after an application is submitted to the USCIS.  However, withdrawal of OPT is possible if you do not plan to work.  No USCIS application fees will be refunded. 

If you have NOT submitted your application to USCIS, the IPO may be able to change your requested OPT dates but it might not be beneficial to do so.

Speak to your IPO advisor immediately in these instances.

What visa status will I have during OPT?

You will continue to have your F-1 student immigration status at UMass while on OPT.  Your F-1 immigration status while on OPT is contingent upon you maintaining employment related to your field of study and appropriate to your level of education. You will need to possess a valid F-1 visa in your passport to return to the U.S. as well as an I-20 with a travel signature no older than 6-months. See FAQs OPT Travel for more travel information.  

Am I allowed to stay in the U.S. after my grace period ends and before my OPT is approved?

Yes. If you have submitted your application to USCIS before your grace period ends (by day 60 after your completion of studies date), you can remain in the U.S. since your OPT application is pending and has extended your F-1 status.

What is Cap Gap? Am I eligible? How do I get an updated I-20?

Cap gap is the period between the end of OPT/STEM OPT and the start of your H-1B on 10.1. This extension permits some students to work after your EAD expiration date and until your H-1B starts on October 1. 

Not all students are eligible for and need cap gap if their H-1B is scheduled to begin on 10.1. Please review the Study in the States website for more information.

Should you believe you are eligible and want an updated I-20, please submit the I-20 reprint E-Form so we can verify this and provide an updated I-20.

To ensure your change of status to H-1B is applied correctly to your F-1 record on 10.1, please submit our Change of Status E-Form (found under OPT Reporting Requirements) in early October so the IPO can confirm everything is correct.

** If you are no longer a student at UMass after changing your status, your NENS access to UMass systems (access to UMass email, UMass VIP, etc.) will be deactivated 30 days after your new change of status begins. Please plan accordingly.

I have a pending/approved H-1B and cap gap applied to my OPT. What is my immigration status?

You are an F-1 student until September 30 when your cap gap ends. On October 1, you will change to an H-1b immigration status. Please submit the Change of Status E-Form in the OPT Reporting Requirements section in late September/October so that we can ensure your F-1 record ended correctly.

I have a pending/approved H-1b and will do consular processing. What is my immigration status?

Assuming your OPT has not expired, you are still on your F-1 immigration status. After you leave the U.S., get your H-1B visa stamp, and return on the H-1B visa stamp, your immigration status will change to H-1B. Please submit the Change of Status E-Form in the OPT Reporting Requirements section after you return to the U.S. on your H-1B visa stamp.

Can I have Curricular Practical Training (CPT) until my OPT is approved?

No.  CPT is not an option once you have completed your studies as CPT is based on your academic curriculum.

Can I continue working on campus or maintaining my graduate assistantship once I have applied for OPT?

No. You will no longer have legal work authorization beyond your completion of studies date (see your program end date on your new OPT I-20).  If you intend to remain employed in any capacity at UMass, you can only do so if your OPT has been approved and you have the EAD from USCIS in your possession.

You will need to update your I-9 paperwork and Glacier Tax Prep with UMass Human Resources.

Please note: even if your UMass employment is exactly the same as it was during your studies you cannot continue to be employed without OPT approval.  Please keep this in mind when selecting your completion of studies date and OPT start date.

I will end my employment at UMass when I complete my studies. What do I need to do for my tax obligations with Human Resources’ Glacier Tax Prep?

Once you have determined your completion of studies date and no longer plan to work at UMass, please log in to Glacier Tax Prep (GTP) to update your information. UMass HR will ensure they have the correct information on file so your W-2 and other tax documents will be updated accordingly. Please contact HR if you have any questions regarding this as the IPO does not oversee GTP.

Can I have multiple jobs with different companies while on OPT?

Yes. ALL jobs must be related to your UMass degree and must be reported through the OPT Reporting Form. Jobs that are not related to your degree may cause issues if you apply for future immigration benefits.

Can I work as a volunteer/an unpaid intern/part-time while on OPT?

Yes, current F-1 OPT regulations allow for such employment, but the work must be related to your degree.  More than 20 hours/week is recommended but less than 20 hours/week is allowed.

If you are working unpaid in a position that is normally paid, this is a violation of Department of Labor regulations. You should be mindful of this if taking an unpaid position.

Can I be self-employed while on OPT?

Yes. However, there are additional considerations to keep in mind. While you are self-employed, there will be no W-2s or other tax documents proving employment. You need to ensure that you can demonstrate that you had a legitimate business through a client list, contact hours, billable hours, invoices, a website, registering with your local chamber of commerce/town requirements, etc.

Please keep in mind that you cannot be self-employed while on STEM OPT.

What if I am unemployed for part of my authorized OPT?

Current OPT regulations allow for a cumulative 90-day unemployment duration within the 12-months of OPT.  If you are unemployed or between jobs for less than 90 days your OPT and F-1 immigration status are not negatively affected. 

Whether traveling within the U.S. or outside, there are certain considerations you need to keep in mind. While you can make plans to depart at any time, you need to make certain that you have the appropriate documentation to return to the U.S.

Inside the U.S.

NOTE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the right to check all documents of any person within 100 miles of the U.S. border. You should carry originals of your documents if you are within these zones.

Beginning in May 2023, you will need to use your passport to fly within the U.S. unless you have a REAL ID from Massachusetts.

Outside the U.S. while on OPT

If you plan to leave the U.S. to visit another country, all F-1 students on OPT and their dependents must have certain documentation to return to the US. If the F-2 dependent is traveling without the F-1 student, the dependent should also carry copies of the F-1 student's documents mentioned below.

F-1 Students on OPT should keep the information below in mind while planning their travels. Any student who wishes to enter the U.S. must have the following documents:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (unless you are Canadian) (for other exceptions read Automatic Visa Revalidation)
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2 (signed within the last 6 months)
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if on approved OPT (this is technically not a travel document)
  • Job offer letter or job confirmation letter

There are numerous scenarios for students pending OPT and on approved OPT with regards to travel. Please read below to determine which scenario fits you best.

Remember: You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature. Failure to acquire a travel signature prior to departing the U.S. is NOT an emergency. Do NOT call UMPD. Request a reprint of your document and we can email it to you wherever you are.

  • Travel while OPT is pending but before your program end date: 
    Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. You must ensure your documents (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature signed in the last 12 months) are in order and you return to the U.S. before the final program end date listed on your OPT I-20. Prior to your program end date on your I-20, you are still considered a student. After the program end date, you are either on pending OPT or approved OPT when traveling.
  • Travel while your OPT is pending and after your program end date:
    Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. If you travel, be sure all your documents are in order (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature signed in the last 6 months). Some ports of entry may request your I-797 notice indicating your OPT is pending, and confirmation of employment but these documents are not technically required for travel.
  • Travel once your OPT has been approved and you have a job:
    Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. International travel for personal and professional reasons while employed on OPT should be routine as long as you have the documents noted above. Working remotely outside the U.S. is permitted as long as your employer has approved it.
     
  • Travel while on OPT (pending or approved) and needing to renew your visa:

Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. Renewing your visa can be quick or can take months if you need administrative processing. If you need to leave the U.S. while on OPT and renew your visa to return, please advise your employer about the potentiality that you might be outside the U.S. for longer than anticipated so alternative work arrangements can be made. As long as you are still employed, you may work outside the U.S. remotely and not accrue unemployment. Please see below for information about renewing your visa.

  • Cap-gap and applying for an H-1B: You should confirm with your immigration attorney that you can leave the U.S. while your H-1B (or other immigration status) is pending. Leaving the U.S. is often considered an abandonment of your application so you will need to make alternative arrangements.

Requesting a New Travel Signature

While on OPT, travel signatures are valid for 6 months and must be renewed if it will expire before re-entry to the U.S. Check the travel signature date on page 2 of your most recently issued I-20. You may leave the U.S. without an updated travel signature.

You may request a reprint of your I-20 through the I-20 Reprint E-Form for an emailed I-20 that you will need to print. The approval emails occasionally go into your Spam/Junk folder. Please check this folder if 10-12 business days have passed and you have not received the approval email yet.

Renewing Your Visa Stamp

If your F-1 visa in your passport has expired or will expire prior to your next re-entry to the U.S., you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad before you can re-enter the U.S.  There is no option to renew a U.S. visa while inside the U.S. Visit this website for updated visa renewal information and procedures at your nearest U.S. consulate in your home country.

Note: If you are currently in the U.S. and your U.S. visa has expired, or will expire, please remember that you do not need to renew your U.S. visa if you do not have actual travel plans.  Your U.S. immigration status remains valid as long as you are maintaining proper F-1 status at UMass. While on OPT, this means you have remained employed, reported personal information changes in SPIRE, and not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment.  A U.S. visa is only necessary for travel and re-entry to the U.S. but is not necessary if you do not have immediate travel plans.

Passports: Anyone planning to depart from the U.S. and return after a temporary absence must have a valid passport in order to exit the U.S. The passport must also be valid for a minimum of six months into the future at the time of re-entry to the U.S. Some countries have an agreement with the U.S. that automatically extends passport validity for 6 months, for U.S. entry purposes only.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

For a visit of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (except Cuba), you are allowed to re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa. This process is known as Automatic Visa Revalidation.

You will need your:

  • Valid Passport
  • Most recent Visa Stamp
  • Current I-20 with a valid travel signature

Please note if you apply for an F-1 visa in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and are denied, you will not be able to return to the U.S. using Automatic Revalidation.

Nationals of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa.

Non-U.S. Visas/Immigration

Note: This is for informational purposes only. The IPO cannot advise on non-U.S. visas, immigration statuses, or paperwork.

Schengen Visas

A Schengen visa is a short-term visa that permits travel within specific EU nation states for up to 90 days. More information can be found at the EU’s Schengen Visa.

Canadian Visas

If you plan to visit Canada, a visa may or may not be required depending on your citizenship. Review your Canadian visa requirements here.

What happens if I do not finish my program before my OPT begins?

There are a few scenarios where this might happen:

  1. You are an undergraduate or a non-thesis Masters student who needs to take an online course in the summer or winter term. Students cannot be online only in their final term so we must set your completion of studies date to the term BEFORE. Please see When to Apply for more details.
  2. You are an undergraduate or a non-thesis Masters student who applied for OPT: If you did not finish as planned (received an Incomplete, failed a course, need to take an online summer/winter session course, etc.), you may still keep your OPT application active. You cannot work more than 20 hours/week on OPT until you have finished your degree. Your OPT dates cannot be amended or “paused” and withdrawing your OPT application may not be advisable.  Contact your IPO advisor if you are in this situation.
  3. You are a thesis Masters student or a PhD student who applied for OPT:  This is not entirely uncommon.  Students in this scenario can begin OPT as long as their degree coursework is completed. You can begin your OPT and remain enrolled in Continuous Enrollment or Dissertation/Thesis Credits while on OPT (this has no impact on your OPT) until you actually graduate. Your OPT dates cannot be amended or “paused” once you submit your application to USCIS. Once the EAD card start date arrives, the OPT “unemployment clock” starts to count so you will need to report employment under OPT Reporting Requirements.

Can I have health insurance while on OPT?

There is no F-1 regulatory requirement that students on OPT have health insurance. However, it is very expense to get sick/hurt in the U.S., so we recommend everyone have health insurance coverage. Contact the representatives of UMass’ Student Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) to determine how long you have access to this coverage (the phone number is usually on the back of your insurance card). Once you are no longer on the SHBP, you may consider alternative arrangements (for example your new employer’s health coverage). This page provides a few options but please note that it is specifically for J-1 Exchange Visitors not F-1 students, but it may guide you in your search. There are also numerous companies that specialize in health insurance for students transitioning to OPT that you can find through an online search.

If I earn a degree after my OPT, will I be eligible for another 12-months of OPT after that degree?

It depends.  If your new degree is at a higher educational level (i.e., Master’s or Ph.D.), then it is theoretically possible.  As long as you meet all eligibility requirements you could potentially have three different OPT authorizations for three different degree programs while in the U.S. (Bachelor, Master’s, PhD.). 

Completion of a second degree within the same educational level (i.e., a BS degree, usage of OPT, followed by another BS degree) does not permit a second round of BS level OPT.

Students have several options for Life After OPT. Please review these below:

  • Apply for STEM OPT if eligible. 90 days prior to OPT expiration (you cannot apply for STEM OPT after your OPT expires).
  • Leave the U.S. within 60 days of OPT expiration. Note: the 60-day grace period also applies to F-2 dependents.
  • Transfer to a new institution or start a new degree program at UMass within 60 days of OPT expiration. Students starting a new degree at UMass will be sent an email with instructions a few weeks after you have accepted the offer to attend.
  • Change your Immigration Status within 60 days of OPT expiration. Please use the Change of Status E-Form under the OPT Reporting Requirements to report any changes.

Basic Info about an H-1B and Changing your Status:

The H-1B is a specialty occupation work visa sponsored by an U.S. company or other institution on behalf of an international person. You will work with your employer or immigration attorney on this process.

H-1Bs can be filed requesting either Change of Status or Consular Processing. This is at the discretion of the employer filing the H-1B and both have specific implications for your F-1 status.

Questions about traveling after being selected in the H-1B lottery of if you have a pending H-1B should be addressed with your immigration attorney. This website might be helpful in your planning.

What is Cap Gap? Am I eligible? How do I get an updated I-20?

If you were selected in the H-1B Lottery, your OPT authorization may be automatically extended to September 30. Cap Gap is the period between your OPT expiration date listed on your EAD and the start of your H-1B on October 1. This extension permits some students to work after the EAD expiration and until your H-1B starts. 

Not all students are eligible for or need cap gap if their H1B is scheduled to begin on October 1. Please review the Study in the States website for more information.

Should you believe you are eligible and want an updated I-20, please submit the I-20 Reprint E-Form so we can verify this and provide an updated I-20. You must provide an I-797 receipt showing a pending H-1B. We cannot provide a cap gap I-20 with just a lottery registration receipt.

To ensure your change of status to H-1B is applied correctly to your F-1 record on October 1, please submit our Change of Status E-Form under OPT Reporting Requirements in late September/early October so the IPO can confirm everything is correct.

Change of Status – The H-1B approval notice will contain an I-94 card, which will forcibly change your status from F-1 to H-1B on October 1. Depending on your situation, possible benefits include Cap Gap and you may not need to file for your STEM OPT extension. If you believe you are eligible for the Cap Gap, request an I-20 reprint above so the IPO can review it.

Students with a change of status effective October 1, should submit the Change of Status E-form under OPT Reporting Requirements to the IPO around October 1 so we can verify your F-1 ended correctly.

Consular Processing – The H-1B approval notice will contain a consular notification that you can use to leave the U.S. and apply for an H-1B visa stamp in your passport when you are ready to take on H-1B status. H-1B cases filed under Consular Processing cannot benefit from Cap Gap.

Students with Consular Processing, should submit the Change of Status E-form under OPT Reporting Requirements AFTER you have left the U.S., received your H-1B visa stamp, and returned to the U.S. as an H-1B.

** If you are no longer a student at UMass after changing your immigration status, your NENS access to UMass systems (access to UMass email, UMass VIP, etc.) will be deactivated 30 days after your new change of status begins. Please plan accordingly.

Use the OPT Reprint E-Form to request a reprint of your I-20. If you need to report updated employment information, use the OPT Reporting E-Form and request an I-20 there.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) launched a new SEVP Portal to assist F-1 students on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT.

  1. The SEVP Portal is optional. If you choose to open a SEVP Portal account, you still need to comply with the IPO’s Reporting Requirements for OPT and STEM OPT.
    1. Update personal information changes in SPIRE.
    2. Use the IPO’s OPT or STEM OPT Reporting E-Forms to report updates to your employment information.
    3. STEM OPT has additional reporting requirements that cannot be met with the portal and you must use the IPO’s STEM OPT E-Forms under STEM OPT Reporting Requirements.
  2. Once approved and your EAD start date is current, SEVP will send an email to your UMass email account listed in your SEVIS record. SEVP Portal emails are sent from: do-not-reply.SEVP[at]ice.dhs[dot]gov.
    1. Refer to information about creating a SEVP Portal account below.
      1. The IPO will not reset your SEVP Portal access or unlock your account.
  3. If the SEVIS ID is entered incorrectly more than three times, the account will be locked. The IPO does not reset your SEVP Portal access or unlock your account.
  4. Please make certain that you are only responding to emails and opening links from this trusted email address.
    1. Be careful of email scammers or “phishing” attempts. See further information about avoiding immigration scams, about common scams targeting international students, as well as information from UMass about fighting phishing.
  5. If you need an I-20 printed, please use the OPT/STEM OPT I-20 reprint form.

If you have any questions about the SEVP Portal or need assistance, call the SEVP Response Center at 703-603-3400 or email SEVP[at]ice.dhs[dot]gov. The IPO does not oversee the SEVP Portal and cannot advise students about it.

For more detailed about the new SEVP Portal information see: