What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is temporary employment authorization granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to F-1 students. F-1 students may use OPT to participate in employment directly related to their degree following graduation. The initial period of OPT authorization can a maximum of 12 months. 

Can I use pre-completion OPT?

While pre-completion OPT is always an option, applying for (and being granted) this form of OPT will impact your post-completion OPT. 

Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is USCIS employment authorization granted before the completion of a student’s program of study. USCIS authorization can take several months to secure and this type of OPT authorization will be deducted from post-completion OPT authorization.

Mines students may be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization for off-campus training opportunities offered while they are still enrolled in coursework and completing a degree program. CPT authorization is reviewed and authorized by the ISSS. 

How are CPT and OPT different?

F-1 students can apply for different types of work authorization depending on their progress in their degree-program.

If you are still enrolled in coursework and working towards the completion of your academic program, you may be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which permits part-time and full-time employment for opportunities directly related to your degree. You must have a formal job offer to apply for CPT. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available to students after the completion of their degree program. OPT is a two-part authorization process with the ISSS and USCIS. You do not need to have a job offer to apply for OPT authorization. 

Who is eligible for OPT?

Students who have maintained their F-1 status in an academic, degree-seeking program, who have been enrolled in full-time coursework for at least one full academic year are eligible for OPT, and who have completed their academic program requirements in order to be eligible for graduation.

You do not need to have a formal job offer in order to apply for OPT authorization. 

When can I apply for OPT?

You may apply for OPT no sooner than 90 days before graduation/completion of your program, and within the 60 days following graduation/program completion. You can calculate this window using the Program End Date listed on your I-20. You application must be “receipted” no later than the 60th calendar day following the end date on your I-20. 

ISSS strongly encourages you to apply as early as possible within the 90-days before your program completion in order to accommodate for the long USCIS processing times. Please review USCIS processing times online to help you plan your application.

It takes a minimum of 3 months for OPT to be adjudicated by USCIS, sometimes longer. Applying late may result in the loss of time in the 12-months permissible for your original OPT period.

Graduate Thesis/Dissertation Students and Early Check-Out

F-1 Graduate students who are either pursuing a Master’s or Doctoral degree and will complete a thesis or dissertation, have a special regulatory provision providing additional flexibility in selecting their I-20 end date and OPT eligibility window. All Master’s or Doctoral degree candidates who are completing a thesis or dissertation, and who have otherwise completed all core course requirements with only research credits remaining, can choose to end their I-20 earlier and apply for OPT.  This regulation does not apply to non-thesis Master’s students.

Master’s thesis and Doctoral dissertation students have the following two options in relation to their OPT application: 

  1. Complete the Thesis or Dissertation, then work on OPT // Use CPT if necessary to complete off-campus work required for the thesis or dissertation // Complete Standard Check-Out
  2. Shorten the end date of your I-20 to align with the submission of your materials OR defense date // Begin OPT while finishing your thesis or dissertation // Complete Early Check-Out

Option 1: Complete the Thesis or Dissertation, then work on OPT // Use CPT if necessary to complete off-campus work required for the thesis or dissertation // Complete Standard Check-Out

If you wish to focus on the completion of your thesis or dissertation, be certain you continue to work closely with the Registrar to maintain appropriate Reduced Registration enrollment. You will complete the Standard Check-Out process and your I-20 end date will correlate with a standard semester end date. You may be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) until the end of your program. 

If your graduation and I-20 end date will be August, you are require to maintain full-time enrollment during the Summer term. To note, you cannot be fully online during the Summer term. If you cannot enroll full-time, you may also be eligible for the immigration reduced course load which will permit you to enroll in anything from 1-8 credits depending on your academic and personal needs.

Option 2: Shorten the end date of your I-20 to align with the submission of your materials OR defense date // Begin OPT while finishing your thesis or dissertation // Complete Early Check-Out

If you wish to apply for OPT sooner, and finish your thesis or dissertation while OPT is pending a decision from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you may qualify for Early Check-Out (confirm with the Registrar) and the “All But Dissertation” immigration provision for OPT. If you complete Early Check-Out, your I-20 end date will be amended to correlate with your material submission OR your thesis defense date (as long as it is before Census Day of the following semester). 

In this instance, your OPT 90-day eligibility window will be moved up. You will likely be kept on as an Active student for Mines, but your immigration record and academic record will diverge slightly to permit you to apply for OPT. This is a good option if you have already used the maximum amount of full-time CPT available to you (no more than 364 days). 

If you choose this option, please note you MUST finish your thesis or dissertation before your STEM OPT eligibility period begins (90 days before the end of your original OPT authorization).

How do I select my OPT start date?

Your OPT requested/recommended start date must be within the 60 days following the Program End Date listed on your I-20. In general, the earlier you apply for OPT, the more likely you are to be granted an OPT EAD start date close to when you graduate.

If you are applying for OPT later during your period of eligibility, you will want to push to your requested start date back in the 60-day window, keeping in mind the USCIS processing times. Applying late may result in the loss of time in the 12-months permissible for your original OPT period.

USCIS processing times range 3-5 months on average, but could take more or less time depending on USCIS abilities. You can review current processing times on the USCIS Processing Times website for the Form I-765.  

ISSS is available to talk through the possibilities of your OPT start date request and how different dates may or may not affect you based on your unique situation.

How do I apply for OPT?

To submit a complete application through the ISSS portal, you will need the following:

  • Copies of your current and valid passport, your most recent visa (even if expired), and your most recent I-94 entry record
  • All previous copies of I-20s from your most recent academic level, even from other schools if you transferred to Mines
  • A complete USCIS Form I-765. Prior to completing the form, please review the instructions specific to your visa status and filing status (F-1; post-completion). Your filing category is (c)(3)(B).
    • Note about mailing address: If you will not be residing in your “U.S. Physical Address” for the duration of the USCIS processing time, please complete the “Your U.S. Address” field with a family member or friend’s address (and their name in the “In Care Of” section) who may accept mail on your behalf. If you change addresses while your OPT application is Pending, please ensure you update your OPT application through the Change of Address form.
    • Note about the signature: You must submit an application with a wet-ink signature in black ink. Your signature must fit fully inside the box with no parts going outside.
  • Complete Form G-1145: E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance if you wish to take advantage of receiving email and/or text messages when your application has been received by USCIS. Completion and submission of this form for email and/or text message notification is an option for you and not a required form, but if you include this form, please put it as the FIRST PAGE of your application.
    • USCIS will mail the paper I-797, Notice of Receipt to the address entered in your I-765 form.
  • Obtain authorization from your academic advisor verifying that you will graduate or complete all degree requirements by the date specified on request – this is sent electronically through the ISSS portal “Authorizations” section

Additionally, you should complete and/or obtain the following:

  • Application Fees –
    • Mines ISSS – Post-completion OPT applicants are assessed a $75.00 fee for continued maintenance of their F-1 SEVIS record while on OPT.
    • USCIS: Please review the USCIS website for the most up-to-date fee information. If using a personal check, only personal checks drawn on a U.S. bank can be accepted and they must be in the exact amount. Make either form of payment payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
      • If you will submit an electronic application to USCIS, you have the ability to pay with a debit or credit card. The physical check or money order is not used for the electronic application. 
  • Two (2) identical “natural color” passport photos –
    • Please review the U.S. Department of State guidelines about U.S. style passport photos. These must have been taken within the last 30 days – older photos will be rejected. Lightly print your name and your I-94 number on the back of each photograph in pen so your photographs can be matched to your application in the event they are separated. ISSS strongly encourages you to get professional pictures taken at a local business to include drugstores, copy centers, and the post office.

How do I select a start date?

Your requested start date must fall within the 60 days after your program end date as listed on your current I-20.

When determining your start date, you should take into consideration when you are applying for OPT and the current USCIS processing time duration. Most OPT applications take 3 months or more to be fully review and adjudicated. You are encouraged to apply early to ensure a better chance of receiving an EAD with your requested start date.


When should I come to the ISSS for my OPT I-20?

After your submission has been reviewed, you will be contacted to arrange a one-on-one appointment for your new I-20 with an OPT recommendation. You must have an I-20 with an OPT recommendation in order to submit your OPT application to USCIS.

When you come to this appointment, you should bring copies of all documents you submitted through the ISSS portal. Additionally, you should bring:

  • Application Fees –
    • Mines ISSS – Post-completion OPT applicants are assessed a $75.00 fee for continued maintenance of their F-1 SEVIS record while on OPT.
    • USCIS: Please review the USCIS website for the most up-to-date fee information. Only personal checks drawn on a U.S. bank or money orders can be accepted and they must be in the exact amount. Make either form of payment payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
  • Two (2) identical “natural color” passport photos –
    • Please review the U.S. Department of State guidelines about U.S. style passport photos. These must have been taken within the last 30 days – older photos will be rejected. Lightly print your name and your I-94 number on the back of each photograph in pen so your photographs can be matched to your application in the event they are separated. ISSS strongly encourages you to get professional pictures taken at a local business to include drugstores, copy centers, and the post office.

How do I submit my OPT application to USCIS?

After your meeting with an ISSS advisor, you will have the option to have the ISSS mail your application via USPS, or you can mail your application yourself using a shipping service (i.e. FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc.). Please review the mailing information on the USCIS website to determine where to mail your documentation.

Your application cannot be mailed to USCIS more than 90 days before your program completion. USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the issuance of your new I-20 reflecting your OPT recommendation from ISSS. Please reference the date on Page 1 of your new I-20 to determine when USCIS must receive your application.

Your complete packet to USCIS must include the following documents in the order listed:

  • USCIS fee payment
  • Two identical, passport-sized photos
  • Complete Form G-1145
  • Complete and signed Form I-765 plus copy of your past EAD card(s) (if any)
  • Copies of your:
    • Mines I-20 with an OPT recommendation “Requested” on Page 2
    • Valid, unexpired passport
    • F-1 visa stamp
    • Most recent I-94

Can I apply in person at a local USCIS office?

No.  OPT applications must be submitted to the USCIS by mail, as detailed by the USCIS online instructions.


Can I apply online for OPT through USCIS?

No.  While USCIS does permit some other types of applications to be done electronically, OPT applications cannot be done electronically for USCIS.


Can I change my start or end date after I have submitted my application to USCIS?

Once your official OPT application is mailed to USCIS, the start and end dates of your request cannot be changed without fully withdrawing your application. This can take several months to do. As such, you are encouraged to think critically about your start and end dates requested prior to submitting your OPT application.

What is the ISSS administrative fee?

The OPT administrative fee assessed by the International Student & Services Office covers additional services provided by the ISSS for the continued maintenance of your SEVIS record in addition to ongoing guidance, workshop and event offerings, and additional administration required for your post-completion F-1 visa status.


How much is the fee and what is it applied towards?

The fee is $75.00 USD. This fee covers the continued administration of your immigration record following the completion of your academic program at Mines. Additional benefits of the fee include:

  • Maintenance of the SEVIS F-1 immigration record and issued I-20 document
  • Continued dedicated immigration support and guidance from the International Student & Scholar Services office throughout the approved OPT period
  • Access to workshops and events about OPT and other immigration topics
  • Processing of travel signatures and additional immigration requests

Who must pay the fee?

Beginning September 1, 2019, all F-1 students who apply for post-completion OPT are required to pay the fee.


How do I pay the fee?

You can pay the fee directly through the International Portal and Mines’ CashNet system. This is a secure and electronic method of payment. Please do not submit a check or cash to the ISSS. 


Can the fee be refunded?

No. If you choose not to use the OPT authorization granted by USCIS, or are denied OPT authorization from USCIS, the fee cannot be refunded. If you decide to not use your OPT authorization or intend to withdraw your OPT application, please notify the ISSS within 10 days of deciding.


Is this fee the same fee that needs to be paid to USCIS?

No. The OPT administrative fee is a $75.00 USD fee paid directly to Mines ISSS. The USCIS OPT I-765 fee is a $410.00 USD fee paid directly to the Department of Homeland Security. Mines receives no amount from USCIS or DHS for the continued maintenance of your SEVIS F-1 OPT record.


Is Mines the only university who charges an OPT fee?

No. Many universities charge additional fees for the continued maintenance of SEVIS records post-completion of an academic program. Additional information is below for other universities charging similar fees.

University

(Fees from February 2018)

Fee Type

 

Post-Completion OPT

(12 months)

24-month STEM Extension
New York University Maintenance of Status Fee $100 $100
Arizona State University Case Management Fee $100 $200
Columbia University Trainee Administrative Fee $140 $280
Northeastern University Post Graduation Administrative Fee $200 N/A
UCLA OPT Administrative Processing Fee $40 $380
University of Texas Practical Training Fee $100 $175
UC Berkeley Post-Completion Fee $100 $300
SUNY Buffalo Optional Practical Training Administrative Services Fee $55 $55
University of Florida STEM OPT Fee N/A $125
University of Georgia International Student/Scholar Compliance Fee $128  
University of Illinois OPT Management Fee $100 $100
University of Indiana STEM Fee N/A $150
University of Oklahoma OPT Fee $100 $200
University of Pennsylvania ISSS Processing Fee N/A $165
University of Southern California (USC) STEM OPT Extension Fee N/A $200
Harvard College One-time, non-refundable fee $150 $300
What happens after I mail my OPT application?

Approximately 3-4 weeks after mailing your application to USCIS, you should get an I-797, Notice of Receipt.  This letter will be mailed to the address you entered on your I-765 form as “Your U.S. Mailing Address.”

This notice will include your “Receipt Number” which you can use to follow your application status using the USCIS Case Status online tool. If you do not receive the Notice of Action after 5 weeks, please notify ISSS.


Decision on Your Application

The minimum processing time for OPT is currently 3 months; it could happen faster or could take longer in individual cases. You are encouraged to apply as earlier as possible within the 90-day window before program completion.

While your application is Pending, you may receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) if any part of your application is unclear or missing. The RFE will provide information about what specifically is needed to continue processing your request in addition to the timeline in which you are required to respond. Additionally, if you decide you no longer wish to apply for OPT while your application is still Pending with USCIS, please notify ISSS immediately so we can assist you with the withdrawal process.

If your application is Approved, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card will be mailed to the address you entered on your I-765 form as “Your U.S. Mailing Address.”  

If your application is Denied, you will receive an explanation for the denial. Please meet with an ISSS advisor if you receive a denial notice so we can assist you in identifying your immigration options. 


If I am approved and do not use the OPT granted, can I re-apply at a later time for the 12-month authorization?

If you have been approved for OPT and your EAD card has been issued, it is no longer possible to cancel your request or reclaim the time granted. Whether or not you use the OPT granted, time granted is considered to be time used. Decisions to cancel can only be made while your OPT application is Pending and before the EAD has been issued.


Travel and OPT

Travel while OPT is pending or while on approved OPT can be tricky.  Please review our International Travel page before making travel plans.

When can I start to work under OPT?

Your official OPT start date will be listed on your formal EAD from USCIS. The start date may be exactly what you originally requested, or if USCIS processing took longer, it may be slightly delayed.

You cannot begin to work before the date listed on your EAD card. You are encouraged to communicate regularly with your employer and ensure you do not work before you have received the physical card and provided it to your company’s Human Resources (HR) team. 

What kind of work can I do while on OPT?

While on OPT, you have multiple employment opportunities available to you. You may work anywhere in the United States, but the key criteria is the work must be related to the degree you obtained and for which the OPT is being authorized.  

Employment opportunities you apply for may be listed as part-time or full-time. Full-time and part-time status for OPT purposes are different from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) standards. With this in mind, you may apply for a position considered to be “part-time” per the DOL, but “full-time” for the purposes of OPT depending on the number of hours you will work. Only full-time work on OPT will stop the unemployment counter for your OPT authorization. 

  • U.S. DOL
    • Part-time work equals less than 32.0 hours per week
    • Full-time work equals more than 32.0 hours per week.
  • OPT
    • Part-time equals 20.0 hours or less per week
    • Full-time work equals more than 20.0 hours per week. 

Acceptable Forms of Employment

You are able to have one employer or multiple employers while on OPT as long as all employment opportunities are directly related to your degree program. Employment for OPT can include the following: 

  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Unpaid and paid internships
  • Paid, regular employment
  • Contractor/work-for-hire work
  • Self-employment ventures
  • Short-term opportunities with multiple employers
  • Multiple concurrent employers
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm

For employment to count as full-time and stop the accrual of “unemployment days,” at least one opportunity on your record must be for more than 20 hours per week. Employment for less than 20 hours per week counts as part-time employment. You are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment while on regular, 12-month OPT authorization.


Volunteering and Self-employment

Yes, volunteering or self-employment does count as “employed” if you meet certain criteria.  The following guidelines must be met:

  • Volunteering
    • For any volunteer position, you need to verify that the volunteer position is “true” volunteerism. This means that no person, past or present, has ever been paid for doing that specific work. The volunteer work still needs to be directly related to your academic program/degree and you are responsible for demonstrating the correlation. 
    • You cannot “volunteer” in a position that would normally be paid, such as “volunteering” to work in a lab temporarily because they don’t have funds to pay you.  Doing so would violate both immigration and labor laws. 
  • Unpaid Internships 
    • There are many opportunities available for unpaid internships and these may be a great opportunity for you to receive critical practical training with work related to your degree program. ISSS recommends you ensure the position is a true internship and keep documentation to prove it. One way to check if an internship is a true internship is with the U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheet #71 on Unpaid Internships.

Please note the ISSS cannot make a determination about whether a volunteer position or an unpaid internship qualifies as employment for OPT.  


Self-Employment

Students on the original 12-month OPT authorization are permitted to begin entrepreneurial ventures as long as the business is directly related to the academic program and/or degree received.

If you wish to begin a business venture, please conduct your research for the proper procedures to create a business and if necessary, consult with an attorney for additional guidance. You will need to keep thorough documentation to demonstrate the existence and “product” of the business. Note: You cannot be self-employed for STEM OPT. 

Answering Work Authorization and Sponsorship Questions in Job Applications

These questions are often phrased in a very deliberate way, and is similar across many job applications. Variations include: “Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?”; “Will you now or in the future require sponsorship?”; or combined in some variation of “Do you require work authorization or sponsorship now or in the future?”

Many U.S. employers prefer to know everything up front in order to make informed decisions that will affect their business(es). You are encouraged to be as truthful as possible while completing all job applications. The phrasing of these questions helps employers plan for their futures and determine up front whether they are capable of properly supporting you as an employee.

It is also recommended to work closely with the Mines Career Center to polish your cover letter and resume, and prepare for interviews. The Career Center has the tool Interstride to help make your job search as smooth as possible. Interstride itself has useful information about employers, to include information about employers who have sponsored students for statuses like H-1B and Permanent Residency.

To determine how to respond to these questions, let us first break them down.

Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?

Answer: YES

International students who have properly maintained their status and have been academically enrolled full-time for two semesters as an F-1 student are eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) while attending school or Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation in order to participate in off-campus work opportunities directly related to their degree program.

Will you now or in the future require sponsorship?

If you answer NO:

An answer of NO to this question indicates to the employer that you intend to use your Optional Practical Training (and if eligible, STEM Optional Practical Training Extension) for the full authorized duration, then either return to school or depart the United States. A NO answer tells the employer that you do not need any additional immigration support from their company. If you answer NO and later ask for sponsorship for H-1B or Permanent Residency, the company could possible construe your original application as having been false.

If you choose to answer NO, be prepared to explain to a prospective employer why you have answered NO and what your long-term plans are.

If you answer YES:

An answer of YES to this question indicates that you might need their assistance in sponsorship an H-1B or Permanent Residency application in the future. Granted, the future is difficult to plan at times, therefore if you have any consideration that you may pursue a visa status requiring sponsorship in the future, then you should answer YES to this question.

If you choose to answer YES, be prepared to explain that you currently have CPT available or OPT/STEM OPT authorization for up to three years. You are encouraged to research the sponsorship process for the visa(s) you may be interested in so as to make the process as clear and approachable as possible for an employer who may not have sponsored an individual in the past.

Approved OPT Reporting Requirements

While on OPT you are legally required to report certain information to ISSS. Changes to personal information or employment information must be reported within 10 days of the event. To update your record, you can report through the ISSS portal or update your SEVP portal personally. The following must be updated:

  • Changes in name or residential/mailing address, email or phone number
    • Please also update your Trailhead account and ISSS portal profile
  • Changes in your employer name, address, starting/ending dates, number of weekly hours, and/or supervisor’s contact information within 10 days of any changes or new employment
    • You must report employment on your record. If you have no employment reported and you accrue 90 days of unemployment, the United States Department of Homeland Security will terminate your I-20 record. This action is irreversible. 
  • Changes or applications for a Change of Status to another immigration status
  • Early termination of employment
Can I take classes if I have Approved OPT?

If you have graduated and are currently on approved post-completion OPT, you are permitted to pursue avocational courses (example, basket weaving, language courses, etc.). Coursework cannot relate to your most recent degree program nor a future degree program.

If you begin a new course of study, or attend courses which may count towards degree requirements for a new course of study or level, this will violate the regulations of OPT and can result in termination of your F-1 status. 

If you have applied for a new course of study, please speak with the ISSS for further information on how to obtain a new I-20. 

Should I keep information about my employment?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends you keep records of all OPT employment.

  • Regular, paid employment
    • Keep regular HR/payroll records that demonstrate your work and hours
  • Contractors/Work-for-Hire
    • Keep records of each contract, name and address of the contracting company, employing agency, payment information and the duration of all employment
  • Self-employed/business owner
    • Keep documentation of full-time (20+ hours per week) work, applicable business licenses, and any other documentation demonstrating your product
  • Employment through an agency
    • Keep documentation of full-time (20+ hours per week) work, contracts, locations/sites worked at, supervisor contact information, and any performance evaluations or other pertinent documentation
  • Volunteering/Unpaid internship
    • Obtain a letter or memo on company letterhead, signed and dated by your supervisor, which documents that you are “working” at least 20 hours/week and that the work was related to your degree area.  

In order to prove that the practical training activity is related to your area of study, you should also keep documentation for each job about the position held, the duration of the position or dates worked, job title, supervisor name/contact information, and a description of the work.  Often offer letters contain descriptions of the job duties as well as online job descriptions provided when you first apply for a position. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to your degree, you are encouraged to obtain a letter from your employer that briefly describes how your degree is related to the work you perform.

All of this documentation will be relevant and required for any future H-1B or permanent residency applications. Keeping detailed immigration documentation related to any and all immigration statuses held in the United States will be helpful for facilitating and expediting the process of applying for new visa statuses in the future.

Vacation, unemployment rules and OPT

Vacation while Employed

If your time away is authorized by your employer, such as on vacation/sick leave or traveling on company business, it is still counted as being employed. You should speak with your employer to determine how your time away will be considered.


Unemployment

Students on OPT cannot accrue more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT.

If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment, your legal F-1 status ends immediately on of the 91st day. If you are still in the U.S. after 90 days of unemployment, you may begin accruing unlawful presence which can impact future visa applications and eligibility.

If you have not obtained employment before the 90st day, you will need to make arrangements to either leave the U.S., start a new degree program, transfer to another institution, or change to a different status. If you plan to start a new degree, transfer to a different school, or change your immigration status, you are encouraged to set up an appointment with ISSS to discuss timelines and processes.

Travel & OPT

Before planning any international travel while you are on Optional Practical Training, be certain to review the necessary documentation required for departing and re-entering the United States. Click here to visit our International Travel page

Can I apply for OPT and STEM OPT at the same time?

OPT and the STEM OPT extension cannot be filed at the same time. If you are in a STEM-eligible degree field, you may be eligible for the STEM OPT 24-month extension in the 90 days before the end of your regular 12-month OPT authorization. 

What can I do after completing OPT?

STEM-eligible students can apply for a 24-month STEM Extension during the final 90-days of their regular 12-month OPT authorization. Please review the STEM OPT extension application information online for how to qualify and apply. 

After completing OPT, if you are accepted to a new degree program, degree level or to a new SEVP-certified school, you are able to remain in the U.S. and start a new academic program. You will need to obtain an I-20 for the next program of studies, and complete the online request for a Change of Degree Level I-20 (if you resume studies at Mines) or the procedure for Transfer Out From Mines (if you go to a different school).  You must begin the new degree program within 5 months after your OPT period ends. 

If you are moving to a new degree level, you may be eligible for another year of OPT if your new degree will be at a higher level of study. Standard 12-month OPT can only be used one time per academic degree level.  If you have questions about this, please speak with an ISSS advisor. 

If you will not start a new academic program or apply for the 24-month STEM extension, you are able to remain in the United States for up to 60 days on your grace period. This time can be used strictly for tourism; no work authorization can be provided during this time.  

OPT Cap-Gap Extension

What is the H-1B “Cap Gap?”

The H-1B visa is a temporary employment visa for skilled individuals. Many companies across the United States sponsor international students for the H-1B visa and assist in filing the visa petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for adjudication. Each year, cap-subject employers and students submit applications for a limited number of H-1B visas which are effectively “capped” at 65,000 available (2019). Students who have an H-1B petition filed on their behalf with a cap-subject employer may receive a “cap-gap” employment authorization extension.

Students working for cap-subject employers are able to submit an H-1B petition between April 1 and April 5 each year. Applications should be submitted as early as possible in order to have the best chance to be selected in the H-1B lottery for one of the 65,000 available visas. Students must be formally sponsored by an organization in order to file for the H-1B visa.


What does Cap-gap permit me to do?

Cap-gap allows F-1 students to remain in the United States and continue to work for an employer until September 30. The cap-gap authorization must be printed on the I-20, Certificate of Eligibility and a student should request an updated I-20 if they have successfully filed an H-1B petition and received an I-797 Notice of Receipt indicating they are being considered for an H-1B visa. An ISSS advisor can review your SEVIS record to verify if you have been provided the cap-gap extension.

Please note, if an H-1B petition is not approved on or before September 30, students must stop working until USCIS has adjudicated the H-1B petition and either approved or rejected the request. Please work closely with your company’s immigration attorney in this instance.


Cap Gap eligibility

The following criteria must be met:

  • Complete maintenance of your F-1 status without a status violation
    • This includes ensuring your SEVIS OPT employment information is up-to-date and you have submitted all required 6-month reports and/or evaluations
  • An H-1B petition was filed in a timely manner by your cap-subject employer)
    • This petition must have a start date of October 1
    • This petition must request a “Change of Status” to H-1B rather than “consular processing”

Who is ineligible for the Cap Gap?

There are exceptions for certain employers who are not subject to the conditions of the cap-subject employers explained above.  These employers are considered to be “cap-exempt” and include organizations in higher education, specific non-profit organizations related to or affiliated with higher education, and specific non-profit or governmental research organizations.

These types of employers are permitted to submit an H-1B petition at any time of the year and there are no limits to how many visas are available for these types of employers. If an H-1B petition will be submitted on your behalf by any such institution, then the “Cap-Gap” extension will not apply to you. You are encouraged to work with your organization’s immigration attorney(s) through this process.


Do I get any documentation to show I am covered by the Cap Gap?

Yes, but you will need to contact ISSS (isss@mines.edu) to request a new I-20 document. The ISSS is not automatically notified when you submit an H-1B petition. Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) are not issued or updated for the Cap-Gap extension.


Will I be able to work during the Cap Gap extension period after my EAD has expired?

Yes, keeping in mind the following criteria:

  • You must continue to maintain your F-1 visa status per the visa regulations
  • Your H-1B petition must have been filed in a timely manner
  • Your H-1B petition must have an employment start date of October 1
  • Your H-1B petition must have a change of status to H-1B instead of “consular processing”
  • You must be on valid OPT or STEM OPT at the time the H-1B petition is received by USCIS
  • Your H-1B petition must be accepted by USCIS for review and you must have received an I-797, Notice of Receipt
  • You should obtain an updated I-20 showing the Cap Gap extension – your employer should receive a copy of this I-20 in order to continue your work authorization after your EAD expires and before the H-1B employment begins (if approved)

If all of the above applies to you, you can keep working until September 30.


Must I be on OPT to get the Cap Gap coverage?

No.  For example, if you graduate in May and do not apply for OPT, as long as your H-1B petition is filed and receipted prior to the end of your 60-day grace period, you are legally able to stay in the U.S. to wait for the adjudication of your H-1B petition.  You cannot be authorized to work if you did not already have work authorization when applying for the H-1B status.


What if I learn my H-1B was rejected or denied?

If your H-1B petition is not selected, or is otherwise denied, withdrawn, or revoked, your OPT Cap Gap employment must end when that action is taken (if you have no additional time on your OPT or STEM OPT EAD).

You will automatically enter your 60-day post-completion grace period. You must either depart the U.S. before the end of the 60-day period, begin a new degree program and level within 5 months, transfer to a different institution, or change to another visa status.

If your H-1B petition is denied due to a status violation, the 60-day grace period will not be available and you will be required to depart the United States as soon as possible. More information is available here.


How will the Cap Gap impact my driver’s license?

Unfortunately, you may not be able to renew it until you receive the updated I-20 with the September 30 end date. Each state has different license issuance rules, but overall most will require you to show proof that you are legally able to stay during the cap-gap period, such as the updated I-20 with a revised end date and the cap-gap explanation.

ISSS is not able to intervene or write letters etc. to driver’s license departments; the driver’s license offices will not accept such documentation as evidence of your continued legal status.


Can I travel outside the U.S. during the Cap Gap?

You should not travel internationally after you have submitted your H-1B petition.  If your OPT EAD is expired and you are under the cap-gap extension, you should not leave the U.S. as you will not be permitted to re-enter in F-1 status. 

If you depart the United States, your Pending “Change of Status” H-1B petition may be considered “abandoned” and you will be required to apply for an H-1B visa at a consular post abroad.

If approved for the H-1B prior to traveling outside of the United States, you would not be able to re-enter the U.S. until October 1.


Does unemployment matter during the Cap Gap?

Yes.  If you were already on STEM OPT, you are restricted to a total of no more than 90 days of unemployment.

The information contained in this web site is provided as a service to the international students, faculty, staff, employees and administrators of the Colorado School of Mines, and does not constitute legal advice on any immigration, tax or any other matter. We aim to provide substantial and useful information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or sufficiency of the information contained in or linked from this web site or any external/associated site. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Neither the Colorado School of Mines nor the Office of Global Education is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in this website, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Click below to apply for OPT authorization through the International Portal.

CONTACT US

International Student & Scholar Services
924 16th Street
Green Center, Suite 219
Colorado School of Mines
Golden, CO 80401

Office Hours
Monday through Friday, 9:00a – 12:00p and 1:30p – 4:00p

Main Office Phone and Email
(303) 273-3210 / isss@mines.edu