As an F-1 visa holder, an international student has a few options upon the completion of his or her studies in the U.S. The student must either (1) depart the U.S. and return to his or her home country, (2) obtain a new I-20 and immediately enroll in a new course of study, (3) change status to a different visa status, or (4) participate in Post Completion OPT. While the first three options are fairly straight forward, the fourth option often creates some confusion. Therefore, this article breaks down the rules, regulations, and timeline for Post Completion OPT.
In order to apply for Post Completion OPT, the first thing you need to do is obtain an I-20 with a recommendation from your Designated School Official (DSO). Once you receive the I-20, you must file your I-765 application for Post Completion OPT within 30 days of the signature on the I-20. If you file the I-765 application with an I-20 signed more than 30 days beforehand, your application will be returned. This is important because if your application is returned, you may have limited time to refile or, even worse, find yourself ineligible to reapply. This is because in addition to the 30 day rule for the I-20 signature, there is also a 60 day rule you must follow. All F-1 students have 60 days to apply for Post Completion OPT after the program end date. Failure to apply for Post Completion OPT within 60 days renders an F-1 student ineligible for OPT, meaning the student must either depart the U.S., change status, or enroll in another academic program immediately. For these reasons, it is critical that the I-765 is properly and timely filed, with a properly executed I-20, as soon as possible.
In order to avoid complications with the 60 day rule, an F-1 student may apply for Post Completion OPT up to 90 days before the program end date.
The timeline for Post Completion OPT is illustrated below:
Because USCIS gives a 150 day window to apply for OPT, USCIS is rigorous about enforcing these deadlines and failure to comply will result in a denial, from which there will be few options. While you can file an I-290B Motion to Reopen/Reconsider on a denied I-765 application for Post Completion OPT, unless the failure to file a properly executed application on time was caused by an extraordinary circumstance, the chances of overcoming the denial will be very low.
In addition to the filing timeline and requirements, Post Completion OPT also requires that the work you will perform is directly related to your major area of study. Further, Post Completion OPT must be for at least 20 hours per week. The authorized Post Completion OPT period will be for a cumulative maximum of 12 months, with a one-time extension of 17 months for certain STEM degree recipients (for a total of 29 months). Please note that a new STEM OPT extension rule will go into effect by May 2016, which is set to amend the STEM extension period from 17 months to 24 months (for a total of 34 months). ImmiTips will post an update with information about the new rule when it goes into effect. Finally, Post Completion OPT does not require a student to find a job before applying, you can apply for Post Completion OPT before securing a job.
For any questions about the Post Completion OPT process and requirements, we recommend consulting an attorney.