REMINDER: The OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date on which the Director of International Affairs (DIA) issues an OPT I-20. If filed with USCIS after 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date, your application will be denied.
STEP 1: Decide what dates you wish to do OPT. It generally takes 90-120 days to receive your EAD card to begin employment. Also, remember, your OPT start date cannot be more than 60 days after your SEVIS program end date at Coe College.
STEP 2: To prepare the OPT application for USCIS, assemble the following documents in this order before meeting with the DIA:
STEP 3: Schedule a meeting with the Director of International Affairs. Before your meeting, double and triple-check your documents, making sure everything is completed and completed correctly. If you do not have all of your materials and have each box above checked, the DIA will ask you to return another time when you have everything in hand.
STEP 4: Meet with the DIA. The DIA will:
STEP 5: Mail your application from the downtown Cedar Rapids post office. Do not mail from the Coe College mailroom. If possible, mail 2-day and get a tracking number.
Your address should be:
c/o Peter Gerlach
1220 First Ave NE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402
The regular mailing address is:
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
The express mail and courier address is:
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Phoenix, AZ 85034
STEP 6: Read below about:
USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action) confirming receipt of your OPT application, assigning a “receipt date,” and assigning a case number. Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it is not, contact the DIA immediately.
You may use the case number on your receipt notice to check the status of your application online at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do. It is normal for your case status to say “initial review” for most of the 2-3 month processing period.
You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Authorized OPT dates will be on your EAD. Be sure to review the reporting and employment requirements you must follow after OPT approval.
If you have completed a qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and you are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree, you may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM extension of your post-completion OPT. For a STEM degree to qualify, it must appear on the STEM Designated Degree Program List. If you want to apply for a STEM extension, you must file for an extension of your EAD with USCIS before your current OPT work authorization expires. USCIS recommends that you file 90 days before the expiration of your OPT.
Travel on OPT can be tricky.
In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have your I-20 signed by the DIA within the last six months, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport and your EAD card. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has also indicated the following:
Is OPT a different visa?
No. A person with OPT authorization is still in F-1 status, holding an EAD for OPT. You still need the DIA signature on your I-20 if you want to re-enter the United States during your time on OPT. The DIA signature should be no more than six months old at the time you re-enter. Visa renewal on OPT can be more difficult, and you are strongly advised to have your OPT card and proof of employment in additional to regular documentation.
Travel during the Cap Gap Extension of OPT
Travel during the Cap Gap Extension is not advisable.
Note: If you re-enter the U.S. in another status (such as B-1 visitor for business), you will no longer be eligible for OPT.
When can I start to work under OPT?
You may only begin employment on the day that you are able to show your employer your actual EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card, assuming that the start date listed on the card has already arrived. If you receive the card but the start date is still in the future, you cannot begin working until that date arrives. Employment can only be effective as of the day you show your employer the card; you cannot begin working before this time, and email notices of OPT approval do not suffice to begin employment.
Does OPT employment need to be full time?
No, but you should be working more than 20 hours/week. You may also work for more than one employer while on OPT.
What kind of work can I do while on OPT?
You may work anywhere in the United States, but the key criteria is the work must be related to the degree you just obtained and for which the OPT is being authorized. OPT employment cannot be done based on prior degrees earned in the U.S. or abroad; the employment must relate to your current degree program. OPT can be granted ONLY for the most recent program. Students cannot qualify for OPT based on an earlier program.
Must OPT employment be in only paid positions?
Please see the section on “What about volunteering and self-employment?” below.
Must I keep information about my employment?
Homeland Security recommends you keep records of all OPT employment.
In order to prove that the work/internship/volunteer activity is related to your area of study, also keep documentation for each job/gig about the position held, the duration of the position or dates worked, job title, supervisor name/contact information, and a description of the work. Often, offer letters contain descriptions of the job duties, so keep these. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to your degree, you are advised to obtain a letter from your employer that briefly describes how your degree is related to the work you perform.
Keeping documentation is also a good idea because the DIA has learned that in H-1B applications, anyone on OPT is being asked for the specific starting and ending dates of their employment.
Can I extend my OPT right now to get an additional 24 months?
No. Only certain students are eligible to extend OPT, and this should be done 3 months before the initial period of OPT will end. To determine whether or not you might later be eligible for an extension, please ask the DIA for information about OPT STEM Extension.
Can I take classes if I have OPT?
Perhaps. If you have graduated and have OPT, regulations allow you to take classes informally and part-time, as long as you maintain your OPT employment. However, if you begin a new course of study (i.e. a new degree program), this will automatically cancel your OPT authorization.
Can I change employers if I am authorized for the 12-month OPT?
Yes. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any employer or even multiple employers at once.
How long can I stay in the United States after my OPT expires?
Sixty days, unless you have obtained a new I-20 to enter a new degree program, applied to extend your OPT to 24-month OPT STEM Extension, or applied to change to another immigration status.
Can I return to school after completing OPT?
Yes. You need to obtain an I-20 for the next program of studies, and complete Coe’s procedure for Transfer (if you go to a different school NOTE: Please see the ISA if you seek to Transfer). Please note that if you transfer to a new school you are only allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 5 months between the time your OPT ends and the new program of studies is to begin; if the time period is greater than 5 months, you will be required to leave the U.S. and can only re-enter within 30 days of the start of your new program of study.
If I have OPT for a year and return to school for another degree, can I have another year of OPT?
You will be eligible for another year of OPT if your new degree will be at a HIGHER level of study. For instance, if you obtained a Bachelor’s degree, did 12 months of OPT, then enter a Master’s or PhD program, you will be eligible for another 12 months of OPT following that Master’s or PhD program.
What If I Cannot Find a Job?
Students on OPT cannot accrue more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT. If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment, your legal F-1 status ends immediately as of the 91st day. Before the 91st day, you will need to make arrangements to leave the U.S., start a new degree program, or change to a different status. If you are still in the U.S. after 90 days of unemployment, you have no legal status.
Do they count business days or calendar days?
Calendar. In other words, Saturdays and Sundays count when you are unemployed, not just Monday-Friday.
What if I am out of the U.S.? Does this count as unemployment?
If your time away is authorized by your employer, such as on vacation/sick leave or traveling on company business, it is still counted as being employed.
What about volunteering or self-employment?
Yes, volunteering or self-employment does count as “employed” if you meet certain criteria.
The following guidelines must be met for Volunteering: