Optional Practical Training (OPT) FAQ
I applied for OPT several weeks ago. Why does USCIS list my application Case Status as being under “Initial Review”?
This is very common. Unfortunately, USCIS does not regularly update cases statuses for OPT. Once the card is approved, typically the case status will skip from “Initial Review” to either “Post Decision Activity” or “Card/Document Production.” If you status is either Post Decision Activity or Card/Document Production, please allow a few days for your card to arrive at the ISSS office.
How long does it take for USCIS to send the EAD Card once the status changes to “Post Decision Activity” or “Card/Document Production?
Typically, it takes about 5-7 business days to arrive; however, USCIS states that you must “allow 30 days for your card to be mailed to you.” Please be patient. Typically your card will arrive shortly, and ISSS will contact you immediately about its arrival.
Recently, USCIS has been experiencing difficulty with their database system and sometimes the case status does not register. Don’t worry! This does not mean USCIS has not received your application and is not processing it. If you have an I-797C Receipt Notice, this means they have officially received your application and are processing it. However, if you want to confirm, you must contact USCIS directly at 1-800-375-5283. You may also want to check back on the website periodically to see if your case status is now registering.
It all depends on your situation, so please come to an Employment Workshop to learn about it.
Your OPT application cannot be expedited by either USCIS or ISSS. The Texas Service Center which processes all state of Georgia OPT applications has informed us directly they do not expedite OPT applications. If it has been more than 90 days past the RECEIPT date on your NOTICE OF ACTION FORM (I-797C) and USCIS has still not adjudicated your application, you should consult an ISSS international student advisor. Your advisor can inquire directly on your behalf to the Texas Service Center (USCIS) to process your application or provide an update on your case status.
What can I do if it is almost 90 days from the RECEIPT DATE on my I-797C Notice of Action Form for my OPT application and I still have not received my EAD Card?
If it has been more than 90 days past the RECEIPT date on your NOTICE OF ACTION FORM (I-797C) and USCIS has still not adjudicated your application, you should consult an ISSS international student advisor. Your advisor can inquire directly on your behalf to the Texas Service Center (USCIS) to request an update on your case status. Your ISSS advisor cannot inquire about the status of your case until 90 days from the receipt date notice.
No. You must wait until you have received your EAD Card and the start date on the card is valid in order to begin work.
What is the first date I can legally work in the U.S.? Is it the date USCIS issues my EAD card, the date ISSS receives my EAD Card, or the date I pick up my EAD Card?
You must wait until you have received your EAD Card and the start date on the card is valid in order to begin work. Example: Your EAD Card start date is January 1, 2012, but you receive your card on December 1. You cannot begin work until January 1, 2012, even if you have the card.
No. USCIS currently does not require fingerprint/biometric scanning.
SEVIS will automatically terminate F1 status if no employment is reported after 90 days. However, you have up to 90 days of unemployment. During the approved OPT period, each day (including weekends and holidays) that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. Thus, you need to maintain employment for at least 9 months out of the 12 total months of OPT. Students who receive a 17-month extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment for a total of 120 days over their entire post-completion OPT period. OPT authorization begins on the employment start date shown on the student’s EAD card, even if you don’t have the actual card in hand.
A student who has exceeded 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT has violated his/her status. SEVIS will automatically terminated this record if no employment is reported, unless one of the following actions is taken: (1) applied to continue his/her education by a change of education level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school (2) departed the United States or (3) Taken action to otherwise maintain legal status, i.e. filed a change of status to another visa status, etc. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may deny you a future immigration benefit for exceeding the 90-day unemployment limit while remaining in the country. For example, if you apply for Permanent Residency (Green Card), USCIS may deny your request based on the fact you failed to follow visa regulations for your F-1 status. If you are getting close to exceeding the 90-day limit, you should begin to make plans to do any of the 3 options listed above
Will ISSS or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “terminate” my F-1 visa status if I exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?
ISSS will not terminate your record. It is your responsibility to follow federal regulations regarding unemployment limits while on OPT. See question #10 about exceeding the 90-day unemployment limit. However, if no employment is reported in 90 days, SEVIS will automatically terminated the record. DHS maintains responsibility for determining whether a student has violated his or her status or exceeded the permissible limit on authorized unemployment. Additionally, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) or the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) may randomly examine SEVIS data for an individual, a selected group or all students on post-completion OPT. They can terminate a student’s record if it fails to show that the student maintained the proper period of employment. In such cases, the student will be given an opportunity to show that he or she complied with all OPT requirements, including maintaining employment.
Yes. As long as the employment is over 20 hours a week, it is valid employment. You can also have a combination of jobs that total 20 hours or more in order to comply with OPT employment regulations. Example: You can have a paid internship for 10 hours a week and an unpaid internship for 15 hours a week (total 25 hours) and these count as valid employment. Of course, you need to report your OPT employment to ISSS via the OPT employment report: http://www.gsu.edu/isss/reportopt.html
From the end date of your EAD Card, you have a 60-day grace period in which you must (a) file for a change of visa status (b) transfer to another school or get admitted into and receive a new I-20 for a new program at GSU or other SEVIS-approved school in the U.S. (c) or leave the U.S. If you wish to pursue another degree (Option B), you must be issued a new I-20 at a SEVIS approved school for a degree seeking program within the 60-day Grace Period and begin study within 5 months of ending OPT. Example: Your OPT ends 9/2/2012 and you want to begin graduate school in the Spring 2013. If you are accepted during your grace period (9/3/2012 to 11/3/2012) and issued an I-20, you may remain in the U.S. to begin your new degree in the Spring because it’s less than 5 months. If it’s more than 5 months from the end of your OPT until the program begins, you will have to leave and re-enter the country with a new I-20 (at the earliest 30 days prior to the beginning of your new I-20 start date).
You are always free to leave the U.S.; however, ISSS strongly encourages you to not travel while your application is pending. Exiting the U.S. while your application is pending could result in USCIS denying your application. By exiting the U.S., USCIS may view your exit as an abandonment of your application. If an emergency situation occurs that may require you leaving the U.S while the application is pending, ISSS strongly encourages you to seek advice from your international student advisor. Please be aware that your application could be denied. However, cases have occurred where the student left the country while his/her OPT was pending and their OPT was approved.
Yes. If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, you will need the following: (1) Travel signature on page 3 of I-20 (2) EAD Card (3) Original employment letter showing you have valid employment (4) Valid Passport and (5) Valid Visa. If you try to re-enter the U.S. without proof of valid employment, you may be denied entrance by Customs and Border Patrol (CPB). ISSS also recommends you travel with original copies of your academic transcripts. Click here for more information regarding travel.
Your visa status (F-1) does not change while on OPT. You still considered to be in F-1 status while on OPT and must abide by all F-1 regulations
No. If the position you are "volunteering" for will be the same position for which you will be paid for once your employment authorization begins (when you have the EAD card with a valid start date), then ISSS does not recommend you work in an unpaid capacity. Your employer may be violating U.S. federal labor laws by permitting you to work in an unpaid capacity in a position which is normally compensated for similar workers.
No, you are not required, but it is strongly advised that you do. You can continue your insurance with Georgia State University’s provider Pearce & Pearce; however, you will have to pay the individual rate which may be higher than what you are currently paying. You need to renew your coverage no later than your existing coverage expires. Most students on OPT elect to be insured through their employer. If you are not employed, you may need to explore other private company’s insurance plans to find one suitable for your needs
State and federal taxes will be deducted from your paycheck. Feel free to attend one of our Tax Workshops to learn how to file your State taxes. In addition, for your convenience, CINTAX (Georgia State’s tax software), will still be available to you, so you can file your federal taxes. Please keep in mind that you must file your federal taxes before you attend a state tax workshop.
Unfortunately, you will have to wait until you receive your EAD card before you can renew your license. Once you have your new EAD card, your renewal dates will be based on your EAD card, typically 1 year
My employer has decided to file for an H-1B Visa on my behalf; however, my OPT employment authorization date ends before the H-1B is scheduled to begin on October 1. Can I continue to work after my EAD Card expires in this case?
Yes, this is called the “Cap-Gap Extension.” Example: Jose’s OPT (EAD) end date is June 30, 2012. Jose’s Cap-Subject company files a timely H-1B application for him on April 1, 2012 that is then receipted by USCIS prior to June 30. USCIS will then automatically extend his F-1 employment until October 1 via the “Cap-Gap Extension.” As a result, he can stay and work until the H-1B becomes effective on October 1st. If his H-1B is not approved by October 1, Jose will have to stop work on October 1.
If I applied for OPT and I have a I-797C Receipt Notice from USCIS, can I leave the country and re-enter at the border point-of-entry with this receipt instead of the EAD card?
If you travel while the application is pending and try to re-enter with an I-797C receipt, USCIS may deny you entry into the United States and require you to return home immediately. Please see FAQ question #14 for more details about traveling while an application is pending.