Table of Contents
What Do I Need to Know Before I Apply for the OPT Extension?
Who is Eligible for an OPT Extension?
The extension is available only to F-1 students currently authorized for and actively participating in an initial period of 12-month OPT who meet very specific criteria:
- Student must be participating in OPT based on a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate earned (i.e. must have graduated) in one of the following STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) areas. Only the most recent degree earned, for which the initial OPT was issued, is eligible for consideration. Prior degrees cannot be considered. Please note your degree must match the specific CIP Code listed in the DHS STEM OPT Designated Degree List 2012 If your CIP Code does not match OR if the CIP Code ends in the two digits “99” then you are not eligible for an OPT extension. This STEM Designated Degree Program List is issued and updated by the federal Department of Homeland Security; there is no flexibility to grant an OPT extension for a major that does not meet the CIP Code guidelines. ISSS will make the final determination of your CIP Code match when you apply for the extension.
- Student must be employed with an employer who is enrolled in the E-Verify program.
- Student has never received a 17-month OPT extension.
- Student has accrued fewer than 90 days of unemployment during current period of OPT
When Should I Apply for the OPT Extension?
Apply for your OPT extension 90 days before your current OPT ends. Your complete OPT extension application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of your initial 12 months of OPT.
You will be eligible for one 17-month extension. The 17 months are automatic; ISSS has no way to shorten or lengthen the amount. Nor can you “save” any to use for future OPT’s.
What is E-Verify?
E-Verify is a free and simple to use Web-based system that electronically verifies the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify is a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the program.
E-Verify works by allowing participating employers to electronically compare employee information taken from the Form I-9 (the paper-based employee eligibility verification form used for all new hires) against more than 425 million records in SSA's database and more than 60 million records in DHS immigration databases. Results are returned in seconds.
How Can My Employer Sign Up?
Your employer should go to http://www.uscis.gov/e-verify
An employer's participation in E-Verify is voluntary and is currently free to employers. To participate, an employer must register online and accept the electronic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the responsibilities of SSA, DHS, and the employer.
Can I Still Get an Extension if My Employer Does Not Sign Up for E-Verify?
No. USCIS will not approve any extension applications where the employer is not participating in E-Verify.
What Other Responsibilities Does My Employer Have?
Federal law at 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(4) requires employers to report the termination or departure of an OPT employee to the Designated School Official (DSO) at the school which helped the employee obtain OPT authorization. Such reporting must be made within 48 hours of the event. An employer shall consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left the employment OR if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the consent of the employer, whichever occurs earlier.
Note to University of Iowa employees on OPT who hold an appropriate degree in a DHS-approved STEM fields. Please seek e-verify information from your office’s or department’s Human Resources representative. The ISSS cannot provide this number.
How do I apply for the OPT Extension?
- Complete form I-765 (a sample form is provided for reference). Make sure you use the ISSS address as indicated on the form I-765 instructions.
- Login to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Go to "F-1 Practical Training" and complete the e-form request "Optional Practical Training (OPT) 17 Month Request"
- ISSS will receive your e-form request and create an updated I-20 to reflect your extension request. We will mail two copies of the I-20 to you at the address you provide in the e-form request unless you have indicated you would prefer to pick up the document in person. We will also return the copy of the I-765 with any indications for corrections or edits that you need to make on your original form. Allow at least two weeks for the creation and mailing of the extension I-20. Once you receive the I-20 and complete any required revisions to the I-765 form, mail your application to USCIS following the instructions below
Mailing your Application to USCIS
Send the following documentation to USCIS to apply for OPT extension, arranged in the order listed below:
- Application Fee - The cost is $380. Personal checks or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to "United States Department of Homeland Security." Personal checks are preferable to money orders, because they can more easily be traced in case of problems.
- Two identical "natural color" passport photos – These are U.S.-style passport photos – that must have been taken within the last 30 days. Passport photos taken in your home country will not be acceptable. Lightly print your name and your SEVIS number on the back of each photograph with a pencil to prevent problems should your photographs become separated from your I-765 application. Local businesses that typically take passport photographs include drugstores, copy centers, and the post office. The ISSS does not encourage you to attempt to take these photos yourself. Go here for more details on the photograph specifications.
- Form I-765 (See sample I-765 with instructions).
- Copy of new OPT extension I-20 that you will receive from an ISSS adviser.
- Official transcript – it must indicate the degree level and title of major/degree program and copy of your degree, if available.
- Letter from your employer – can be brief, just needs to detail how the work you are doing relates to the area in which you received your degree and for which the OPT is authorized.
- A copy of your most recent Form I-94, front and back (make sure the immigration stamp is visible on the copy).
- A copy of your passport photo/information page showing the passport expiration date AND your most recent U.S. visa.
- A copy of all previous EAD cards.
Where to Mail:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
- Your OPT extension application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the creation of your I-20 reflecting your OPT extension request.
- In the event that there is a delay in the processing of your application, ISSS may not be able to help you if you do not have a photocopy of your application and proof that you mailed your application in a timely manner.
- If you change your mind and do not mail your OPT application, you must notify ISSS.
What Happens After I Mail My OPT 17 Month Application?
About 3-4 weeks after you mail your application, you should get a special receipt letter from the USCIS called a "Notice of Action." This letter will actually be mailed to ISSS, and we will email you to notify you when it arrives. Remember to keep this letter, since it will contain a special number beginning with the letters “LIN...” that refers to your specific application. If you do not receive the Notice of Action after 5 weeks, please notify ISSS.
The Notice of Action also has a phone number that you can call to check on the status of your application. This number is generally busy during the day, so you may have more success getting through late at night. You now also have the option of checking online. To do so you must have the LIN number from your Notice of Action.
Decision on Your Application:
The average processing time for OPT is currently 3 months; it could happen faster or could take longer in individual cases, so apply well in advance. If your application is approved, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card will be mailed to ISSS and we will notify you by email that it has arrived. In the very unlikely event that your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial. Likewise, if USCIS wants you to send additional or supporting documentation before they will proceed with your application, they will send a letter to ISSS and we will notify you by email.
Will I be eligible for another 17-month extension if I go back to school and get another degree?
No. The 17-month extension is available once per person, regardless of whether or not you go on to obtain a higher degree level and do another 12-month period of OPT.
Can I Change Employers Once I Apply for an Extension?
If the extension is still pending, you may do so if the new employer participates in E-Verify. You must contact ISSS for assistance in making the change of employer. Once the extension is approved, you may change and work for another employer who is also enrolled in E-Verify. You must also notify ISSS when this occurs.
What Kind of Job Can I Take?
OPT employment must be related to the area in which you just obtained your most recent degree, i.e. in the area for which the OPT was authorized. Prior degrees in different areas, whether earned in the U.S. or abroad, cannot be used as the basis for OPT employment.
Can I Keep Working While Waiting for My OPT Extension Decision?
Students who file an application for the 17-month OPT extension in a timely manner (we recommend 90 days) before their existing OPT expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until a final decision is made on the I-765 OR for 180 days, whichever comes first.
Travel and OPT Extensions
What if I want to travel outside the U.S. while my OPT card is still valid but my OPT extension is pending?
Guidance is unclear. In similar situations, when an immigration application is pending, traveling outside the U.S. may be considered as abandoning the application. Because we are uncertain at this time, we do not recommend you travel outside the U.S. until your OPT extension has been approved.
What if I want to travel outside the U.S. and my OPT card has expired and my OPT extension request is still pending?
If your OPT employment authorization has expired and your 17 month extension request is still pending, SEVP has issued guidance that you must wait to receive your new employment authorization document prior to traveling outside the U.S.
What if I need to travel outside the U.S. after my OPT is approved?
In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have your I-20 signed by an ISSS advisor within the last six months, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport and your EAD card. You should also carry a letter from your e-verified employer confirming you are or will be employed there under Optional Practical Training. For more information, visit Travel on OPT.
Reporting Information to ISSS While on Extended OPT
While on OPT you are still legally required to report certain information to ISSS. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event. To report, use our OPT Report e-form.
- Changes in name or residential/mailing address
- Report your employer name, address, and supervisor’s email within 10 days of any changes or new employment
- Report changes to another immigration status
- If you will leave your OPT employment before your OPT end date
- Notify ISSS if your email address changes
Validation Reports to ISSS Every 6 Months
Every six months, starting from the date your extension begins (i.e. the day after your current 12-month OPT ends) you are required by federal law to “check in” with ISSS. These check-ins will be done via iHawk through the submission of the OPT Report e-form, at which time you will provide your legal name, current residential address, current email, your employer’s name, employer’s address, and whether or not you are still currently employed there. When your OPT extension I-20 is sent to you, you will be provided with a time table instructing you when your six-month check-ins must be done. YOu will also be sent an automated reminder to the e-mail address which you have provided ISSS.
The six-month check-ins are in addition to reporting within 10 days any changes that occur, as detailed in the previous section. The six-month check-in must be done even if there are no changes to your situation.
Please be aware that Homeland Security indicates students on extended OPT who fail to submit information within the 6-month check-in period will be viewed as violating status and F-1 status will be terminated. It is your responsibility to remember to do so at the proper time every 6 months.
Unemployment and OPT
During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. A student authorized for a 17-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP. Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial 12-month post-completion OPT authorization. Students granted a 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month OPT period. If you are unemployed for more than the permitted lengths of time you must consider your OPT to be automatically cancelled and your F-1 status ended.
Please note that volunteer positions do NOT qualify for the extension.