General Questions

Practical training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your program of study to off-campus positions in your major field. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The authorization process takes an average of 3 months. The maximum amount of time granted to work in F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level plus a possible H-1B cap-gap extension OR a 24-Month extension for those who qualify (see questions on the 24-Month STEM Extension below).

F-1 Students may use some or all of the available 12 months of practical training during the course of study or save the full twelve months to use after graduation. Students may apply for Post-completion (post-graduation) OPT up to 90 days before completion of studies and up to 60 days after.

USCIS must receive the application no later than 60 days after graduation or 60 days beyond the Form I-20 end date (whichever is earlier). Doctoral students may submit no later than 60 days from the last day of the month in which they submit their dissertation to the Graduate School.

Your application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the IS Advisor signature on the Form I-20.

To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must: (1) have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, (2) be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and (3) have not used OPT at the same degree level previously.

Yes, but only at a higher degree level.

Before completion of studies, OPT may be used for short periods of time referred to as Pre-Completion OPT. After completion of studies, it may only be used as a single block of time (minus the difference of any previously-used OPT periods).

No. Once you apply for Post-Completion OPT, the OPT eligibility for that degree ends. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.

OPT is not a different immigration status. A person with OPT authorization is still an F-1 Student holding an EAD for OPT.

You may only start your position: (1) after you receive the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by the USCIS, and (2) the effective start date listed on the EAD has been reached.

Application Process

Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and processing takes an average of 3 months. Therefore, it is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working. You may apply up to 90 days before completion of studies and no later than 60 days after. If you are a doctoral student, apply no later than 60 days beyond the last day of the month in which you submit the dissertation. Your application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the IS Advisor signature on the Form I-20.

No.

Your start date must be within the 60 day grace period after the program end date on your Form I-20 (May to July for Spring graduates and December to February for Fall graduates). You cannot choose a date before this period starts or after this period ends. Thus, if you have a job that starts more than 60 days after your program end date, you cannot select your job's start date as your OPT start date; the latest OPT start date you could select is the 60th day after the program end date on your Form I-20. For example, if your job starts September 1st and you graduate May 19, you cannot put September 1st on the OPT Request form, the latest OPT start date you could select is July 18th.

Students must take into account their personal situation when selecting a start date. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Date you submit your OPT request form (The later you submit the form, the more likely you'll need to select a later OPT start date)
  • Travel plans after graduation (Please go to the Travel section below to learn more about traveling abroad while your OPT application is still pending)
  • Whether or not you have a job offer and the start date of that job

If you have already submitted your application to USCIS, you cannot change the start dates of your OPT recommendation. If you have not sent your OPT materials, then you may ask your advisor to cancel the previous OPT recommendation. You will then have to email your IS Advisor with new dates so they may recommend OPT again.

Guidance provided by Georgetown University's Office of Global Services (OGS) and International Student & Scholar Services.

*Note: Form I-765 must always be retrieved from the USCIS website to ensure use of the most current version.

General guidelines:

  • Read the instructions carefully and keep them by your side as you complete the Form I-765. Some application requirements are only listed in the instructions and are not listed on the Form I-765 itself. Find the instructions on the USCIS website.
  • Use the OGS Sample Form I-765 (PDF) as a general guide. Answer all questions as they pertain to your specific situation.
  • Submit all pages of the form – even if some pages do not pertain to you.
  • Type your responses and print the form.
  • Sign the Form I-765 in black ink. A typed or stamped name is not acceptable.
  • If a question does not apply to you, leave it blank while you complete the form and then write either N/A (short for “not applicable”) or None in black after printing. See the OGS Sample Form I-765 (PDF).
  • Make several copies of the Part 6 page in case you must provide additional information
  • Use Part 6 Additional Information if you need more space for a response to a specific question. If you provide any information on this page, write your name at the top and sign and date each page.
  • See the OGS Sample Form I-765 (PDF) for difficulty with any questions, especially the additional information required in Part 6.
  • Do the application documents have to be in any specific order?
    • Follow the order listed in the Form I-765 filing instructions.
  • Should I put my name on the back of the photos?
    • Yes, use a felt tip pen or print lightly in pencil. You should not be able to see any markings on the front of the photos. You may also want to write your SEVIS ID Number on the back as well.
  • Starting in late 2019, EADs will be mailed using the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery, which requires identification to sign for the document upon delivery. You will have the options to arrange for pick up at a post office or designate a person to sign for delivery on your behalf, including agents at a hotel, apartment or other rental.
  • If the mailing address you indicated on the I-765 application changes after you submitted the application, follow the instructions on the USCIS Change of Address Information website. You should also file an online change of address with the postal service on the USPS website.

After 90 days, OGS can contact the appropriate USCIS Service Center to request information about your case. Email a request to your dedicated IS Advisor.

Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn. Email your IS Advisor as soon as possible if you need to withdraw the OPT application. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be withdrawn.

While on OPT

Yes. During the entire Post-Completion OPT period, students must submit employment information to the SEVP Portal. STEM OPT recipients must submit employment information to their dedicated STEM Advisor.

Be sure to maintain copies of all OPT materials, including job descriptions, for your personal records.

For the first 12 month period of Post-Completion OPT, the employment does not have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment reporting as long as they work in the unpaid position for an average of 20 hours per week. Students should keep documentation for all unpaid employment positions.

For the 24-Month STEM Extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.

No! Working before receiving the EAD card, or before the authorized start date on your EAD card has been reached constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the United States.

No! Once you complete your degree, you cannot work on campus or off campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your selected start date has arrived. Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the United States.

Once you receive the EAD card and reach the documented EAD start date, you may begin OPT employment and apply for a Social Security Number (if you do not already have one). Keep your EAD in a safe place and email a scanned copy (front and back) to your dedicated IS Advisor.

Yes! Immigration regulations require that while on Post-Completion OPT (after graduation), you must report required employment and address information to the U.S. government. You will also need to request a travel signature every six months if you plan to travel outside the United States and return in F-1 status and must report to OGS is you choose to end your OPT period early for any reason.

USCIS offers an avenue for inquiry into non-delivery of the card. However, the most likely outcome of this ‘e-request’ is that USCIS will not take responsibility for the non-delivery, and will instead instruct you to apply for a replacement card.

You may consider it more time-effective to simply proceed with the replacement card application:

1. Prepare the following materials to include with your replacement application:

  • A cover page (we recommend using brightly colored paper) indicating the reason for your application (i.e. ‘Never Received Card’)
  • A brief letter to USCIS explaining the circumstances for your application and the hardship you have suffered.
  • A copy of the Form I-797 Approval Notice that you received in the mail.
  • A new Form I-20 from OGS indicating your authorization approval on Page 2.

2. Adding the above materials, prepare and send an application* following the instructions in Step 3 on the relevant Post-Completion OPT webpage and the STEM OPT Extension webpage.

Please make the following indications on the Form I-765:

  • Check item 1.b. instead of item 1.a.
  • In item 12, answer yes.

If you are not already enrolled, we strongly recommend signing up for USPS Informed Delivery, as it will hopefully increase the likelihood that your next card reaches you successfully.

3. Within a few weeks of submitting your application for replacement, you will receive a new Form I-797 Receipt Notice, which can be used to temporarily meet the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification requirements. The USCIS Employee Rights website hay help you navigate the challenges you face without an EAD card.

Despite the severe inconvenience you face, you must begin engaging in at least 20 hours/week of activities related to your degree before you received your replacement card in order to avoid exceeding the 90 days of ‘unemployment’ allowed during OPT. You should continue to uphold the other reporting requirements relevant to your authorization.

The Receipt Notice may also be valid for re-entry to the United States in place of the EAD, but we recommend contacting an immigration attorney for guidance in such complex circumstances.

An employee may present a receipt for the application for the replacement of any List A, List B, or List C document for I-9 purposes. This receipt is valid for 90 days from the date of hire (meaning, first day of work for pay) or in the case of re-verification, 90 days from the date employment authorization expired. Within 90- days, the employee must show you the replacement document for which the receipt was given.

 

Additional resources:

 

F-1 OPT students are permitted a maximum of 90 unemployment days between the start and end date on their EAD card. The SEVIS database automatically calculates unemployment days based on the information students submit in their SEVP Portal account. Students may use unemployment days before, between, or after OPT activities in increments of any size.

Students who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit begin to accrue unlawful presence, which may jeopardize access to future U.S. immigration benefits, including readmission to the United States. OGS recommends that students depart the United States and contact their IS Advisor to close their F-1 record in order to avoid accruing unlawful presence.

Students who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit may not transfer their F-1 status to begin a new academic program and do not have an F-1 grace period. Students should consult an experienced immigration attorney for further guidance on the implications of unlawful presence in the United States.

If you had intended to graduate, but have not yet completed the dissertation, you can continue to register until you finish the dissertation requirement. In this case, you would still remain subject to the three-month (90-day) unemployment rule.

Beginning a new course of study will automatically end your OPT authorization. Transferring to a new institution or changing your educational level at Georgetown will automatically end the OPT authorization. OGS does not recommend taking a class or classes (even part-time) that may later be used to satisfy new program degree requirements.

Yes. As long as the employment is directly related to your field of study, you can work for any and all employers you would like. You must report the new employment to the SEVP OPT Portal. Please visit the After Post-Completion OPT is Approved website for more information.

If you still live in the DC area, you will need to wait until the start date on your EAD is current before you can renew your driver's license.

There are two types of extensions available after completion of the initial OPT period: (1) a 24-Month extension for those in certain STEM fields (2) an “H-1B Cap-Gap Extension” which extends work authorization through to the start of your cap-subject H-1B visa. If your OPT ends after your employer has applied for an H-1B but before the H1-B starts on October 1, a cap gap extension is available. Email yourIS Advisor.

There is a 60-day grace period following the end of the OPT period. The grace period is only applicable for those who have not exceeded the 90 days of unemployment during the OPT period or the 150 days of unemployment during OPT and the STEM OPT extension.

The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension

The STEM Extension allows F-1 students who have received a degree in specific fields in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, to apply for an extension of their regular OPT period (maximum: two STEM OPT periods per lifetime).

90 days prior to the expiration of the first OPT period students may file an application for the STEM OPT extension.

 

  • The employer must be enrolled in E-Verify and sign and agree to all the employer requirements on Form I-983.
  • The student's current degree must be in one of the STEM fields, or their prior degree is in one of the STEM fields at a U.S. institution (within the last 10 years).
  • The student must have maintained F-1 status while on OPT.
  • The student must apply within 90 days of the current OPT end date.
  • The employment must be full-time (at least 20 hours), traditional, paid employment.
  • There must be a bona fide employer-employee relationship.

 

STEM OPT reporting requirements are very different than the Post-Completion OPT reporting requirements. Please review the STEM OPT reporting requirements carefully. 

Students graduating with degrees in the STEM fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT.  Within 90 days of the end of that first OPT period, if all criteria are met, students can apply through OGS for the extension of OPT by completing all the steps on this page.

Start-up positions are accepted for the STEM extensions as long as all of the regulatory requirements are met and there is a bona fide employer-employee relationship.  OGS will require confirmation from students of a bona fide employer-employee relationship. 

The employer must also:

a) adhere to the training plan requirements

b) remain in good standing with E-Verify

c) provide compensation to the STEM OPT student commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers

d) have the resources to comply with the proposed training plan.

Yes, you can work after your first OPT period ends and while your STEM OPT application is pending up to 180 days provided USCIS receives your STEM OPT application by the expiration of the first OPT period. Please refer to the I-9 Handbook

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

No.  All employment must be paid and payment should be commensurate with that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.  

Yes. However, each employer must employ the student for at least 20 hours per week, register with E-Verify, and sign and agree to all the reporting requirements on Form I-983.  

View the full list of the STEM-designated fields.  The CIP code on page 1 of your Form I-20 must be on this list for you to qualify.

E-Verify is a system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. 

It is not recommended as it complicates and may delay the adjudication process. 

Yes. However, the STEM OPT Extension automatically takes effect the day after your current Post-Completion OPT EAD expires, and the STEM OPT Extension nullifies (invalidates) the cap-gap extension. This means that any work you engage in after the current EAD expiration date must meet the STEM OPT Extension requirements.

F-1 OPT students are permitted a maximum of 150 unemployment days between the start and end date on their EAD card.

Students who exceed the 150-day unemployment limit begin to accrue unlawful presence, which may jeopardize access to future U.S. immigration benefits, including readmission to the United States. OGS recommends that students depart the United States and contact their IS Advisor to close their F-1 record in order to avoid accruing unlawful presence.

Students who exceed the 150-day unemployment limit may not transfer their F-1 status to begin a new academic program and do not have an F-1 grace period. Students should consult an experienced immigration attorney for further guidance on the implications of unlawful presence in the United States.

Travel

Before you graduate: Yes, there are no additional travel requirements.

After you graduate: No, in order to reenter the United States you must have the following: EAD authorizing OPT, valid passport, a current F-1 visa stamp, I-20 updated with employment information and a travel signature signed within the last six months, and a job offer letter or proof of employment that inlcudes salary information. If the position is unpaid, carry alternative proof of funding such as bank information.

NO!! If you intend to continue working with OPT, NEVER enter in any other immigration status except F-1. If you leave the United States and re-enter in B status, you may be considered to have abandoned your F-1 status and your OPT will end!

  • Form I-20 with employment information and travel signature signed within the last 6 months
  • EAD authorizing OPT
  • valid passport
  • a current F-1 visa stamp
  • job offer letter or proof of employment, including salary
  • proof of financial support (if position is unpaid)

No, USCIS advises against travel while you are waiting for the approval of the STEM extension.

If you are going to Canada or Mexico, and staying for less than 30 days, you may re-enter the United States with your expired F-1 visa stamp, your I-94 card, a valid passport, your EAD card, an I-20 that has been signed by OGS within the last 6 months, and your job offer letter or proof of employment as long as: 1) you do not apply for a visa while in Canada or Mexico and 2) you are not a national of Iran, Syria or Sudan.

However, if you are traveling elsewhere, you will need to go to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad and request an F-1 visa renewal. It is impossible to renew an F-1 visa inside the United States.

The risk of denial of an application for a renewed visa stamp for OPT is somewhat higher than while you are in your active student program. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant show intent to return to the home country at the end of the program, and if the embassy official is not convinced of your intention to return home, the visa application could be denied. However, the majority of Georgetown students do not have problems with the visa renewal process during the OPT period.

Research the visa application requirements on the website for the U.S. Embassy abroad where you intend to apply. In addition to any listed requirements, we encourage students to take a valid passport, the EAD, the most recent I-20 created by OGS and the job offer letter or proof of employment with salary information. You should also be prepared to discuss how the experience will apply to the job market in your home country.

Yes! During the initial OPT and STEM periods, students must have the travel line signed every six months. If students are not located in the D.C. area, they should mail the original I-20 to OGS for endorsement, leaving plenty of time for mailing delays both ways. If you would like OGS to send the signed document back to you via FedEx, please register and arrange payment with eShip Global.