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F-1 Visa Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

1. I am studying in the U.S. on F-1 visa. I am about to complete my academic program. How do I apply for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

To apply for the post-completion OPT, you first need to apply for a recommendation for post-completion OPT from your OPT from your Designated School Official (DSO) to pursue OPT. If the DSO finds that you are eligible for OPT, he or she will issue an I-20 with annotation indicating the OPT recommendation. You must then apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) with USCIS within 30 days of the date that your DSO enters the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record. Additionally, you may apply for the EAD up to 90 days prior to your program end-date and not later than 60 days after your program end date. You cannot begin working until you receive your EAD. Your OPT employment must be related to your major or course of study.

2. If I had Curricular Practical Training (CPT) while I was in school, am I still eligible for post-completion OPT?

Per 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(i), students who have received one year or more of full time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training. However, part-time CPT is fine and will not stop you from doing OPT post-graduation.

3. I completed my one-year OPT following my first Master’s degree. Now I am enrolled in another Master’s program. Am I eligible for CPT?

Yes, you can work on CPT so long as your school’s DSO approves the CPT employment.

4. Can an F-1 student work on campus even though the employment is not related to his or her course of study?

An F-1 student may engage on-campus employment following the three main guidelines. The student:

1. May work at any qualifying on-campus job that does not displace a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident;

2. May work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session, and full time when school is not in session or during the annual break;

3. Should report his or her work to the DSO and receive a certification letter to present to the Social Security Administration in order to be able to receive a Social Security number.

A “qualifying on-campus job” is a job that:

· Takes place at your school or at an educationally affiliated (associated with the school’s established curriculum or part of contractually funded research projects at the postgraduate level) off-campus location. Work that takes place at your school location could be for an on-campus commercial business, like a bookstore or cafeteria, as long as the work directly provides services for students. Employment located on-campus that does not directly involve services to students (such as construction work) does not qualify as on-campus employment.Work with an employer that is contractually affiliated with the school is on-campus employment even if the work site is not located on the campus (such as a research lab affiliated with your school).

· Does not displace a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident.

5. I am approved for OPT and have received my EAD. However, I have not been able to find any paid employment. A company offers me an unpaid internship that is related to my field of study. Does the unpaid internship count as “employment” for purposes of OPT?

Yes. In SEVP’s Policy Guidance 1004-03, published in 2010, it is specifically stated that “A student may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for a student on post-completion OPT. A student must be able to provide evidence acquired from the student’s employer to verify that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.”

Notwithstanding this guidance, some OPT STEM extension applications were recently erroneously denied based on the fact that the student applicants intended to work as volunteers or unpaid interns during their extension periods. To prevent this problem from happening again, SEVP published a message on February 6, 2014, stating that SCOPS has instructed all USCIS Service Centers to follow ICE SEVP’s OPT Policy Guidance regarding work as a volunteer or unpaid intern.

If a student’s OPT STEM application was denied solely on the basis that he or she intended to work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, the student should contact the Service Center that issued the denial by sending an email message to the applicable dedicated student mailbox. In the email message, the student should provide his or her full name, as well as his or her USCIS receipt number relating to the denied OPT STEM extension application.

6. Must employers be enrolled in E-Verify in order to hire F-1 students who are seeking the 17-months STEM extension of their OPT?

Yes. The employer must enroll in E-Verify and sign an E-Verify memorandum of understanding (MOU) to hire F-1 students seeking a 17-month STEM extension of their OPT.

7. What is the difference between F-1 OPT and J-1 Academic Training?

The table below explains the difference between F-1 OPT and J-1 Academic Training:


J-1 Academic Training

Time Limits

12 months maximum for each higher degree earned, with possible Cap-Gap extension if an H-1B petition is timely filed.

Some students who have earned a STEM degree may apply for a one-time 17-month extension of their OPT.

A total of 18 months or the amount of time spent in the academic program, whichever is less.

May be extended for post-doctoral researchers up to a maximum of 36 moths.

Degree: Pre-doctoral, 18 months maximum Post-doctoral, 36 months maximum (for post-doctoral research only).

EAD Required?


No. Work authorization is obtained from the school’s Responsible Officer.

8. I had a serious illness last semester and was unable to complete the course work. Consequently, I fell out of status. Now I have fully recovered and would like to resume my study at my university in the U.S. Can I reinstate my F-1 status?

Your F-1 status may be reinstated if you meet all of the criteria of 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(16):

The F-1 student:

(A) Has not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement (or demonstrates that the failure to file within the 5 month period was the result of exceptional circumstances and that the student filed the request for reinstatement as promptly as possible under these exceptional circumstances);

(B) Does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of Service regulations;

(C) Is currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20;

(D) Has not engaged in unauthorized employment;

(E) Is not deportable on any ground other than section 237(a)(1)(B) or (C)(i) of the Act; and

(F) Establishes to the satisfaction of the Service, by a detailed showing, either that:

(1) The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control. Such circumstances might include serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster, or inadvertence, oversight, or neglect on the part of the DSO, but do not include instances where a pattern of repeated violations or where a willful failure on the part of the student resulted in the need for reinstatement; or

(2) The violation relates to a reduction in the student's course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.

USCIS determines the F-1 reinstatement requests on a case-by-case basis, based on a review of all circumstances.

To apply for F-1 status reinstatement, the student needs to submit a Form I-539, reinstatement I-20, DSO reinstatement letter, as well as other supporting documents and applicable fees. The student should consult an immigration attorney or his or her DSO in regard to the specific reinstatement procedure.

9. I am currently working on F-1 OPT. My EAD expires on April 5 of this year. My employer filed an H-1B petition for me on April 1. Unfortunately, my H-1B petition was not selected for adjudication. Am I entitled to any grace period following the rejection?

Yes. USCIS has stated that once a timely filing has been made, requesting a change of status to H-1B on October 1, the automatic cap-gap extension will begin and will continue until the H-1B petition adjudication process has been completed. If the student’s H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, revoked, or is not selected, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice or their program end date, whichever is later, to prepare for and depart the United States. Please see the USCIS Q&A discussing the OPT and Cap-Gap extension .

10. My current F-1 visa has expired and I need to get a new visa stamp. Can I go to Canada or Mexico for visa stamping? I am not a Canadian or Mexican citizen.

Yes, you can. However, it is not recommended because you will not be able to return to the U.S. until the U.S. consulate issues you a visa, which could take weeks if the U.S. consulate requires a background check. Moreover, if the U.S. consulate denies your visa, then you will have to reapply in your home country

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