What visa status will I have during my OPT period?
You will continue to maintain your F-1 student immigration status while on OPT. You will need to possess a valid F-1 visa in your passport for travel* during OPT, as well as an I-20 with an IPO travel signature no older than 6-months. Your F-1 OPT immigration status while on OPT is contingent upon you maintaining full-time employment (20 hours or more) related to your field of study and appropriate to your level of education.
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. Click here to check the status of your application on the USCIS website. It is not possible to expedite your OPT application once it has been received by USCIS.
What if I move while my OPT is pending at USCIS?
The U.S. Postal Service WILL NOT forward mail from the USCIS! It is extremely important that the address you put on the I-765 application form be valid for the next several months. 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: C/O IPO, UMass Amherst, 70 Butterfield Terrace, Amherst, MA 01003 (please note that IPO is not responsible for postage errors that are not the fault of the IPO).
If you need to change your address while your application is pending you must do so directly with USCIS by clicking here. You should also update your address in SPIRE.
Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my application is pending at USCIS?
Travel while your application is pending but before your program end date? This is generally fine as long as your documents (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 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.
Travel while your OPT is pending and after your program end date? Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. Your EAD is NOT a travel document so you should technically not need it. If you travel, be sure all your documents are in order (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature—on OPT these are valid for 6-months only). Some ports of entry may request your EAD card, your approval notice, or confirmation of employment—lack of these documents may cause issues but are not technically required for travel.
Travel after you have applied for OPT, you have a job, but before OPT has been approved? Yes, however as with all international travel there is risk. Your EAD is NOT a travel document so you should technically not need it. If you travel, be sure all your documents are in order (valid passport, valid visa, I-20 with travel signature—on OPT these are valid for 6 months only). Some ports of entry may request your EAD card, your approval notice, or confirmation of employment—lack of these documents may cause issues but are not technically required for travel.
Travel once your OPT has been approved and you have a job? International travel for personal and professional reasons while employed on OPT should be routine with the following:
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 visa
- Valid I-20 form with travel signature obtained within the past 6 months
- Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is not required but highly advisable to have with you in case it is requested
- Evidence of appropriate OPT employment such as a letter from your employer and/or pay statement/stub is not required but good to have with you in case asked for it
What happens if I do not finish my program before my OPT begins?
This is not entirely uncommon, especially for graduate students. An example of this is when your thesis defense date is unexpectedly rescheduled or some minor revisions in thesis research are necessary. Should this occur, you will still able to finalize your UMass degree requirements during your OPT period. As long as you are no longer enrolled in coursework and making progress on completing your degree requirements as soon as possible and within a reasonable amount of time, your OPT will not be affected. However, your OPT dates cannot be amended or “paused.” Once the EAD card start date arrives, the OPT “unemployment clock” starts to “tick.”
Can I continue working on campus or maintaining my graduate assistantship once I have applied for OPT?
Very important, especially for graduate students: You will no longer have legal work authorization beyond your date of completion of studies (see your program end date on your new OPT I-20 form). 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 received the work authorization document from USCIS. 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 consider this when selecting your OPT starting date.
Can I change the application or dates requested after I submit the application to USCIS?
Changes to OPT dates are almost impossible and not recommended after an application is submitted to the USCIS. However, cancellation or withdrawal of OPT is possible if you do not plan to work. No USCIS application fees will be refunded. Speak to your IPO advisor immediately in these instances.
Can I do Curricular Practical Training (CPT) until my OPT is approved?
No. CPT is not an option once you have completed your studies as you are no longer a student.
If I do another 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 does not entitle you to additional OPT, unless you were granted less than 12-months after the first degree. For example, if you applied for/were granted only 4-months of OPT upon completion of your previous degree at the same academic level; you would still have 8-months of remaining eligibility for use after completion of your subsequent degree at the same level. But this is only if you initial OPT application was approved for less than 12-months.
Can I work as a volunteer/an unpaid intern/part-time while on OPT?
Yes, current F-1 OPT regulations do allow for such employment, but the work must be at least 20-hours per week and not violate any existing Federal labor laws. Students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that they worked at least the 20-hour minimum.
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.
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 is not negatively affected. However, any unused OPT time not utilized while unemployed is not credited back to you.
I lost my EAD (after receipt of initial EAD), can I continue to work?
You may continue to have employment authorization until the expiration of the lost/stolen EAD. You must apply for a new EAD as soon as possible. Please contact the IPO.
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. You must wait until the replacement EAD has arrived. Please contact the IPO.