OPT Frequently Asked Questions
Have a question about OPT? You're not alone. Read on for answers to our most frequently asked questions.
I'm in my last semester and have applied for OPT. Can I be outside the US while it's pending? Is there anything else I should know?
Yes, you can be outside of the US while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, but there are always risks associated with this. First, we recommend that you have someone you know and trust monitor your mail in the US if you choose to travel. If you receive any correspondence from USCIS while your OPT application is pending, you need to know what they have sent you. On occasion students receive requests for further information/evidence (also known as an “RFE”) from USCIS regarding their application. You must reply to USCIS within a specified period of time if you receive an RFE. If you do not reply to them by their specified deadline, your application would then be at risk for being denied. If the denial occurs when you are outside of the US, then you would be unable to reapply for OPT until and unless you enter back into the US in F-1 status.
Additionally, if you are outside of the US after you complete your program but do not have all of the required travel documents for while you are on OPT, you may face difficulties in reentering the US. Because international travel and restrictions are unpredictable during this time, even if you plan to travel back to the US before your program ends, you may not be able to do so.
I'm in my last semester and haven't yet sent my OPT application to the government. Can I send it from outside of the US?
You must be physically present in the US at the time you submit your OPT application. Current guidance from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement provides no confirmation that applying from outside the United States is permissible despite the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t yet applied for OPT but plan to do so, we strongly recommend that you apply as soon as possible. Please also know that once you receive your new OPT I-20 from NYU, USCIS must receive your complete OPT application within 30 days of when your OPT I-20 was issued and within 60 days of your completion date as listed on your I-20. Please note that US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement will continue to develop guidance on issues such as this at ICE.gov/Coronavirus.
I’m trying to complete my OPT application. Do I still need handwritten signature on my I-765 form or can it be a digital signature?
You still need to have a handwritten signature with a pen--not a digital or electronic signature.
I am on post-completion OPT and have been put on furlough. Is furlough considered unemployment that will then count towards my maximum unemployment days?
USCIS has not provided any guidance on this till now. They could potentially interpret any days the employee is on furlough as contributing to days of unemployment, therefore we believe it safest for students to try to secure some other volunteer work consisting of at least 20 hours per week in their field of study to prevent the accrual of further potential unemployment days.
I am now working fewer than 20 hours per week due to the COVID-19 situation. How does this impact my OPT?
US government guidance indicates that for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working on OPT fewer than 20 hours per week are still engaging in OPT and are NOT accumulating any days of unemployment. They have not specified a minimum number of hours that must be worked.
If I am coming close to reaching my unemployment limit while on OPT, will I get additional time due to the current situation? What happens if I reach my unemployment limit and I can’t go home because of travel restrictions?
USCIS has not provided any guidance on this till now. Therefore, we recommend you continue to adhere to the current rules on maximum days of unemployment. If you are unable to leave the US due to travel restrictions, please schedule an online advising appointment so that we can discuss your options.
Will time spent working remotely outside the United States count towards my unemployment limit?
During the current COVID-19 crisis, the US government has indicated that remote employment may be counted for OPT purposes as long as a student’s employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. See this guidance from the US government for further details.
I will be completing my post-completion OPT soon. I am concerned that I will not be able to leave the United States before my 60 day grace period ends. What options exist for me?
US government guidance has indicated that there is not currently any flexibility on extending the grace period for F-1 students. All students in F-1 status who have not yet accrued ninety days of unemployment during the post-completion OPT time period have up to sixty days after their OPT end date to remain legally in the United States. This sixty days is also referred to as your “grace period.” If, however, you wish to see if you can extend your time in the United States even further, one option would be STEM OPT, which may be a possibility for students who are currently on post-completion OPT, and who completed their degree at NYU (or a previous degree from another college or university within the United States) in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) field. You can find further details, including eligibility requirements on our STEM OPT extension page. If you are currently on post-completion OPT and you have an employer interested in sponsoring you for an H-1B work visa, you may also be eligible to apply for a Cap Gap Extension. If, however, neither of these options are possible for you, we encourage you to schedule an online advising appointment to discuss whether changing from F-1 to another status in the United States may be a viable option for you.
When should I apply? How long does the application take?
You can start applying for your OPT 90 days before either your proposed employment start date if you are applying for pre-completion OPT or 90 days before your program completion date if you are applying for post-completion OPT. You will first need to apply for your OPT I-20 with OGS which can take up to two weeks. OGS handles all NYU OPT applications and works as fast as possible to issue OPT I-20s. If your I-20 is ready before the 2 weeks processing time, we will let you know. Once you apply for the EAD with the US government it can take 3-5 months for them to reply. Check the US government processing times. [You must select "I-765" for form type. For Field Office or Service Center, most of our students' applications go to the Potomac Service Center.]
It is best to plan ahead and apply as early as possible because the US government only rarely expedites applications (see USCIS expedite criteria). For December graduates, that means you should apply by mid September; for May graduates, by mid February. By applying early, you can avoid the risks that come from an OPT request being denied after the grace period has ended. In addition, delaying your application will not allow you to stay longer in the US.
Which date should I select for the start date?
It is important to carefully select the dates you request for your OPT because you will not be able to change these dates after you apply. If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, you should select the date that is your desired start date of employment. Keep in mind that it can take up to 3 months before you will be able to start working. If you are applying for post-completion OPT, your start date should be one to sixty days after your completion date.
For example, if your completion date is May 20, your OPT can start anywhere from May 21 at the earliest and July 18 at the latest. However, if you think it will be challenging to find a job, you should select a later start date to ensure you do not waste your OPT time. Keep in mind if you find a job before this date, you won’t be able to start working until you have the EAD card in hand and the OPT period has begun.
I plan to move and I haven't received my "OPT card" yet. What do I do?
If you will be moving but haven’t received your card yet you will most likely need to change your address with the US government. If you have a trusted roommate or family member at the address listed on your OPT application and that person will be able to check your mail and will contact you immediately if anything arrives, ensure that you can still receive mail there and if so keep that address. However, if not, you should call the National Service Customer line to ask for your address to be updated. You can find this phone number on your receipt notice. They will be give you details on how to change your address.
What if USCIS makes an error on my EAD (OPT card)?
If you receive an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from USCIS that has an error on it, you must correct the error to avoid having any problems in the future. To correct the error, follow these instructions.
My application is taking a long time. Can I do anything to speed up the process?
The US government has specific criteria for expediting an application.
If your application has been pending for more than 5 months from the day the US government received your application, we suggest you take the following actions:
- Check the status of your application on the USCIS website.
- Let USCIS know that your case is outside normal processing time by submitting a case inquiry with them.
- You can also call the USCIS Customer Service Center for the status of your application at 1-800-375-5283. You will have to submit your receipt number to them when you call.
If you have taken all of the above actions, 15 days after submitting a case inquiry, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. When you email us, be sure to tell us when you last checked the USCIS website for your case status, when you submitted a case inquiry with USCIS, and when you called their Customer Service Center. Please also include a copy of your receipt notice from the USCIS on your OPT application.
Please note, the soonest we can check with USCIS on your behalf is 15 days after the date you last contacted them. We can only request a courtesy inquiry and there is no guarantee that they will consider our request. That said, we have earlier seen USCIS reduce processing time for some applications when we have submitted courtesy inquiries.
I never received a receipt notice by mail from USCIS. What do I do to get it?
I didn't receive my "OPT card" by mail. What do I do if I think it's lost?
Create an inquiry with USCIS.
If you are having issues with your EAD being lost or misdirected, consider completing this USCIS case assistance request form. If you would like to provide consent for an advisor at OGS to speak with USCIS about your issues, please upload a signed statement indicating your consent for OGS staff to speak with USCIS.
If the card is lost, and USCIS cannot simply resend it to you, then you will have to apply for a replacement card. Review the process to replace a lost or stolen EAD if you need to apply to replace your card.
I received a notice from USCIS that I need to send them more information. What do I do?
As soon as you receive the letter from USCIS, come to the OGS during our walk-in advising hours. We will review the reason for the letter together and help you prepare the requested document(s).
I need to change my mailing address. How do I do that?
Go to the US government's website to check your USCIS CASE Status Online: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do. Once there, click "Change of Address" and follow the instructions. If you are using someone else's address, be sure to fill out "In Care of for Mailing, C/O" section.
Can I travel while the OPT application is pending?
If you want to travel while your OPT application is pending and you haven’t yet reached your completion date, then you are fine to travel. In other words, if you still haven’t finished your degree at NYU, as indicated on your I-20, then travel is the same as it has been; you’ll need to bring with you the same documents we normally recommend you have with you when you travel: your most recent I-20 signed on page 3 for travel (on page 2 for I-20s issued 6/29/15 and later), your passport, and a valid F-1 visa. For more information on this, see here.
If, however, you want to travel after the end date as listed on page 1 of your I-20, you need to have your OPT approved and have the EAD card with you, along with proof that you have a job, in addition to your passport, valid F-1 visa and I-20 signed for travel in order to successfully get back into the US. We don’t recommend you travel outside of the US after you finish your degree unless you have your OPT approved, the EAD card, and a job offer letter. If you will need to renew the F-1 visa in your passport while you travel, please review this information.
Can I travel while the STEM OPT application is pending?
If you want to travel while your STEM OPT application is pending and you will return from the US before your post-completion OPT end date, then you are fine to travel as long as you have all alumni travel documents.
If, however, you want to travel after the end date of your post-completion OPT EAD, you need to have your STEM OPT approved and have the STEM EAD card with you, along with proof that you have a job, in addition to your passport, valid F-1 visa and I-20 signed for travel in order to successfully get back into the US. We don’t recommend you travel outside of the US after you finish your post-completion OPT unless you have your STEM OPT approved, the EAD card, and a job offer letter. If you will need to renew the F-1 visa in your passport while you travel, please review our visa renewal information.
What if I can't find a job?
Once your OPT begins--see the start date as listed on your EAD, the card you’ll receive once your OPT is approved--you have a total of 90 days of unemployment during your OPT. If you cannot find a job within 90 days of the start of your OPT, then you must make plans to depart the US immediately or change to some other status in the US. Keep in mind that the 90 days of unemployment is for the entire OPT period. This means that if you use up 60 days of unemployment time looking for a job in the beginning, you only have 30 days of unemployment time for the remainder of your OPT period. You can also review the government's policy guidance on OPT.
What kind of job can I take on OPT?
Your job should be directly related to your NYU major. In other words, you must be able to make a strong connection between your job and what you studied at NYU. If you can’t make that connection, then you should not be working at that job for OPT.
Often a job posting or advertisement will include the kinds of degrees the employer believes will be well suited to the advertised position. Having a copy of that job ad is helpful for your documentation that the job is connected to what you studied. You can also get a letter from your job supervisor indicating how your degree is essential for your position. It helps to keep copies of these documents so that if the US government ever wanted to see proof of how you were keeping your status legal while on OPT, you would have easy and ready proof to provide to them. You can also review the government's policy guidance on OPT.
Please also see our information on post-completion OPT employment types.
Can I have more than one employer while on OPT?
Remember, your OPT is not linked to one employer; this means that you can have more than one employer while on OPT as long as every job you have is directly related to your major. You can also review the government's policy guidance on OPT.
Can I work at NYU while on OPT?
You can work at NYU while on OPT as long as your job is considered professional level and is not a student job. If you’re not sure if your NYU job is considered professional level, ask your hiring department.
Can I start a new degree program in the US while I am working on OPT?
US government regulations state that optional practical training employment is automatically terminated when a student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level. Only recreational or avocational classes are permissible while on OPT.
How long can I remain in the US once my post-completion OPT is finished?
As long as you worked and did not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT, you can stay in the US for up to 60 days after completing your OPT.