Optional Practical Training (OPT) FAQs

To learn more about the OPT eligibility requirements, application process and required documents, go to http://oips.gmu.edu/opt/

1. I applied for OPT several weeks ago. Why does USCIS list my application Case Status as “received on mm/dd/yy date?"
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 “received on mm/dd/yy date” to “approved on mm/dd/yy date.”

2. How long does it take for USCIS to send the EAD Card once my case status says “approved?"
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.

3. What if I have no case status when I enter my case number on the USCIS website to track my case status?
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.

4. Can USCIS or OIPS expedite my application?
Your OPT application cannot be expedited by either USCIS or OIPS. The Texas Service Center which processes all state of Virginia OPT applications has informed us directly they do not expedite OPT applications.

5. Can I begin work if my EAD Card is approved, but I have not received my card?
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.

6. What is the first date I can legally work in the U.S.? Is it the date USCIS issues my EAD card or the date I receive 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, 2016, but you receive your card on December 1. You cannot begin work until January 1, 2016, even if you have the card.

7. Is fingerprint or biometric scanning required for my OPT application or EAD Card?
No. USCIS currently does not require fingerprint/biometric scanning.

8. How many days can I be unemployed while on OPT?                                                                                          Students on post-completion OPT may have up to 90 days of unemployment. During the period when OPT authorization begins and ends, 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 24-month extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 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.

9. What are the consequences of exceeding the 90 day unemployment limit on OPT? What should I do if I am getting close to this 90-day limit or have exceeded it?
A student who has exceeded the period of unemployment while on post-completion OPT has violated his/her status, unless she has taken one of the following actions: (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.

10. Will OIPS or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “terminate” my F-1 visa status if I exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?
No, OIPS will not terminate your record. It is your responsibility to follow federal regulations regarding unemployment limits while on OPT. See question #10 above on what to do in case you exceed the 90-day unemployment limit. DHS maintains responsibility for determining whether a student has violated his or her status or exceeded the permissible limit on authorized unemployment. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) or the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) examine SEVIS data for an individual, a selected group or all students on post-completion OPT and terminate a student’s record if it fails to show that the student maintained the proper period of employment.

11. Do unpaid or volunteer jobs/positions count as valid employment while on OPT?
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 OIPS via the OPT Employment Update Form.

12. Can I remain in the United States if my OPT ends?
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 9/2/2016 and you want to begin graduate school in the Spring 2017. If you are accepted during your grace period (9/3/2016 to 11/3/2016) 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).

13. Can I travel outside the U.S. while my OPT application is pending?
You are always free to leave the U.S.; however, OIPS 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, OIPS 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.

14. Can I travel outside of the U.S. after my EAD Card has been issued?
Yes. If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, you will need the following: (1) Travel signature on page 2 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). OIPS also recommends you travel with original copies of your academic transcripts.

15. What is my visa status while on OPT?
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.

16. Can I work in a volunteer position before I receive my EAD card?
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.

17. Do I have to pay taxes while on OPT?
Please consult a tax advisor.

18. Can I renew my driver’s license while my OPT application is pending?
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.

19. 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, 2019. Jose’s Cap-Subject company files a timely H-1B application for him on April 1, 2019 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.

20. 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.

21. Am I required to buy health insurance while on OPT?
Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. The cost of medical care for an accident or illness in the US can be more money than you earn in an entire year of OPT employment.

Health insurance in the U.S. is typically linked to your employer. If your OPT activity is not with an employer that offers insurance, or if your employer's plan does not cover medical evacuation/repatriation for people living internationally, then you should purchase additional coverage.  Click here for more information.

22. I received my OPT I-20 from OIPS, but have not sent it to USCIS and am approaching or have exceeded my 30 days since the DSO recommended OPT for me in SEVIS and printed my I-20. What should I do in this case? 

If the I-20 with the DSO Recommendation on p. 2 that you received from OIPS is approaching the 30 days from initial issue, you MUST make an appointment with a DSO to have your OPT recommendation updated in SEVIS and a new I-20 issued.  Note:  The DSO in OIPS cannot make a new recommendation after 60 days from your program completion date have passed.

23. I applied for OPT and discovered that I failed a course or that my GPA is not high enough to be awarded the degree yet. What should I do?

If you have applied for OPT and find that you will not finish the degree as planned, you must make an appointment with a DSO in OIPS as soon as possible to discuss your options.