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Travel, Study, and More During OPT

You may have questions about your status during OPT.

Review the information here. If you still have questions, please contact an ISSS adviser.

General Questions

Did my F-1 status change to OPT status?

No, OPT is a benefit of your F-1 status. During OPT you are still in F-1 status at the University of Minnesota.

I got a new job and I updated my SEVP Portal account. Will ISSS automatically issue a new I-20 to me?

No. If you require a new I-20 with your updated employer information, you may request it by responding to the confirmation email you receive from an ISSS adviser.

I am planning to leave the U.S. permanently, or I have changed my visa status and I am no longer in F-1 status. What should I do?

In both of these cases, you must notify ISSS.

Study During OPT

If you have applied for post-completion OPT before you finish your final paper or thesis, you must complete all degree requirements by the OPT end date. A program extension is not possible after your OPT ends.

UMN enrollment "for administrative purposes" (Grad 999) is allowed.

Official admission to a new degree program or transfer to a new school during OPT will void any remaining time on your EAD. You cannot recapture this time.

  • F-1 regulations are clear that your OPT authorization is automatically terminated when a) your SEVIS record is transferred to another U.S. school, or b) you begin study at another educational level in the U.S. 
  • Beyond this, U.S. government guidance is limited regarding study during OPT. Therefore, the interpretation of F-1 regulations can vary from school to school. UMN's ISSS believes that if you are working full-time (at least 20 hours per week) with post-completion OPT authorization, you are eligible to attend school part-time. 
  • To be clear: this is the UMN ISSS interpretation of OPT regulations. It is possible that the U.S. government or other U.S. schools may interpret OPT regulations differently.

Travel During OPT

If you travel during OPT, the expectation is that you are returning to resume employment, or to resume your job search (if you have not exceed 90 days of unemployment).

F-1 students on OPT must be able to present five documents for reentering the United States:

  1. Valid passport
  2. Valid F-1 visa
  3. Valid OPT I-20 with travel signature less than 6 months old upon returning to the U.S.
    During OPT, the travel signature on page 2 of your OPT I-20 is valid for 6 months only. If your travel signature has expired, come to ISSS during walk-in advising hours or submit an online request for a travel I-20 in MyISSS.
  4. EAD for post-completion OPT, or Receipt Notice (Form I-797)
  5. Evidence of a job or a job offer. Evidence can include but is not limited to: 
  • Letter from your employer, on company letterhead, approving your travel and the date you are expected to return
  • Job offer letter
  • Job contract
  • Evidence of an active job search (e.g. scheduled interviews)

Under normal circumstances and in addition to 1-3, a student who has both 4) an EAD for post-completion OPT or Receipt Notice (Form I-797), and 5) a job or job offer, should not experience difficulty reentering the U.S.

  • If either of these two conditions is missing, then you are assuming increased risk of being denied entry into the U.S.

Can I reenter the U.S. if my request for OPT is pending (I have not received my EAD yet)?

Yes, you may reenter to search for or begin your employment. When you go through U.S. immigration, be prepared to show the immigration inspector your I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) or USCIS email receipt, as proof of eligibility for reentry. Additionally, if you have been offered a job, carry a copy of the job offer letter.

Caution!  If you depart the U.S. without a job offer before the EAD was issued, but attempt to reenter the U.S. after the EAD was issued, you might experience difficulty reentering the U.S. if you cannot document that you have a job offer. 

You are allowed a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during OPT, including time outside the U.S.

Can I renew my F-1 visa during OPT?

Yes, but it may be more difficult because of the inherent contradiction between the F-1 visa being a student visa, yet OPT is full-time work authorization. You should allow enough time for the visa renewal process. 

  • Be prepared to present evidence of employment (a letter from your employer is best) to the U.S. consulate. 
  • If possible, plan ahead and renew your F-1 visa before you complete your UMN degree.

For information about renewing your F-1 visa, click here.

Cap-gap

The H-1B "cap-gap" occurs when an F-1 student's status and OPT work authorization expires after April 1, and before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year that begins on October 1.  

Example 1:  James is currently on OPT and it expires June 25, 2019 (after April 1). His employer filed an H-1B petition on April 1, 2019, that requests an employment start date of October 1, 2019. James will have his duration of status and OPT employment authorization extended to October 1. This is what is called the "cap-gap".

Example 2:  Pierre is also on OPT but it expires March 20, 2019 (before April 1). His employer also files an H-1B petition on April 1, 2019, that requests an employment start date of October 1, 2019. Pierre cannot have the cap-gap because his OPT expires before his employer can file the H-1B petition. Pierre must stop working on March 20 and discuss options with his employer and an immigration attorney.

The cap-gap extension of work permission is automatic; the employer should not need further documentation. (See: Extension of Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 Status for Eligible Students under the H-1B Cap-Gap Regulations.)

However, if you need an I-20 for any other reason to prove you are in cap-gap status, you should contact ISSS: 

  • Send an e-mail to ISSS@umn.edu with the subject line "Cap-gap I-20 Request"
  • Include your UMN ID#, end date on EAD card, current mailing address, current employer name and address including the start date of that employment, and employer name and address during cap-gap dates (if it's different than your current employer).

Should the pending H-1B petition ultimately be denied, you will have a 60-day grace period from the notification date of the denial to do one of the following: 

  • Depart the United States,
  • Obtain admission to a new F-1 SEVIS-approved school, or 
  • File an application for a change of status.

24-month STEM OPT Extension

The 12-month period of post-completion OPT can be extended by 24 months for certain science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree holders. Review the STEM Designated Degree Program List to determine if your field and CIP Code are included in the list. The CIP code is the 6-digit code (00.0000) next to your Major name on your I-20.

NOTE:  ISSS does not designate your major as STEM or non-STEM. Further, the CIP code is a U.S. Department of Education code that is used for many purposes, not just STEM OPT extensions. If you feel strongly that your major's CIP code is inaccurate, you should contact your academic program. 

Can I apply for the STEM OPT extension at the same time as I apply for post-completion OPT?

No. First you apply for OPT. You may apply for the STEM OPT extension when you have 90 days remaining in your post-completion OPT period.

For more details about the 24-month STEM OPT extension, please take the ISSS STEM OPT Online Workshop.

GPS
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