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So you have just applied for your OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with USCIS. Congratulations!
Now, you might be wondering, what comes next after applying for OPT?
In this article, we will be discussing the next steps to pursue and what you must know after applying for OPT EAD.
Remember after applying for OPT, you are not allowed to start working until you have received our EAD card AND the "valid from" date on your EAD card has been reached.
Next Steps After Applying for OPT
1. Track Your OPT EAD Application Packet with your Delivery Service Provider
It is always recommended that you receive tracking information from your courier service provider (such as FedEx or UPS) or postal service (USPS) when mailing your OPT application packet.
With this tracking information, you can monitor the delivery of your OPT EAD application to USCIS.
In the event that you encounter any issues with the delivery of your mail, you should contact the customer service representative of your delivery service provider immediately.
It is very important to note that USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days from the date your DSO issues your Form I-20 endorsed for OPT.
If there are any significant delays with the delivery of your OPT application or your application is lost in delivery, you will need to immediately contact your DSO to re-issue a new Form I-20, and re-submit a new OPT application.
2. Receive Your OPT Receipt Notice (I-797 Notice of Action) from USCIS and Track Your Case
After USCIS receives your OPT EAD application, you will be sent a mail containing your OPT receipt notice, known as the Form I-797, Notice of Action.
Under normal circumstances, it takes about 3 - 4 weeks for USCIS to mail your OPT receipt notice. However under severe processing delays, it could take as long as 12 weeks for USCIS to send the Form I-797.
This Form I-797 acknowledges that USCIS has received your OPT EAD application.
At the top of this form, you will find two dates; a "Notice Date" and a "Received Date". The Notice Date indicates when this letter was generated by USCIS for mailing, while the "Received Date" is the date USCIS confirmed the receipt of your application.
Note that the "Received Date" on your Form I-797C may not coincide with your confirmation of delivery date.
Most importantly, you will find your receipt number, located at the top left corner. This receipt number can be used to track the status of your case using the USCIS case status online tool.
To learn how to effectively track the status of your case with this receipt number, watch this video below where we discuss the 4 best ways of tracking the status of your case with USCIS.
It is always a best practice to keep this receipt notice in a safe place. You never know if you will need this Form in the future.
When you track the status of your case soon after receiving your I-797C, the USCIS case status online tool will show the status "Case Was Received".
Below this status, USCIS would state the date your I-765 application was received and the receipt number for your case.
For several weeks after you receive your I-797 receipt notice, expect your case status to keep showing "Case Was Received". This could be quite frustrating as it is too vague.
Unfortunately, USCIS does not provide any further detail on your case while it is being processed. You would only see a status change from "Case Was Received" when a decision has been made on your case such as an approval, denial or a Request for Evidence.
3. Receive an I-797 Notice of Approval
If your OPT EAD application is successful, you would see your case status online change to "Case Was Approved" and you would receive a Form I-797 Notice of approval in the mail a few days later.
You might also see a case status notice stating "New Card is Being Produced" as shown below.
Unless otherwise noted, this Form I-797 Notice of Approval does not grant you any authorization to work. It simply confirms that your I-765 application for your OPT has been approved and you should expect your EAD card soon.
Again, you should keep a record of this approval notice.
Within a few days of receiving a status update that your "Case Was Approved", USCIS would mail your OPT EAD card and you would observe your case status change to "Card Was Mailed To Me".
4. Confirm Delivery of Your EAD Card
Within a few days, the EAD card also called the Form I-766 would be mailed to you. Once your card is delivered, your case status will change to "Card Was Delivered To Me By The Post Office".
This card would come by USPS regular mail, so check your mailbox for it.
Once you receive this card, inspect it closely to ensure your biographical information is correct.
5. Report Your EAD Card to Your Designated School Official (DSO)
You should make an electronic copy of the front and back of the EAD card and appropriately send it to your university’s international office or Designated School Official (DSO).
Keep physical and electronic copies of this EAD card for your records as well.
6. Create an Account on the Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVP) Portal
In addition to reporting the receipt of your EAD card to your DSO, you are also required to report your employment directly to the US Department of Homeland Security through the SEVP Portal.
After your EAD card is approved and issued by USCIS, you should receive an email with instructions on how to create your SEVP Portal account.
If you do not receive the SEVP email instructing you on how to create your SEVP Portal account, within a week from receiving your EAD card, you should contact your DSO immediately.
On this SEVP Portal account you will report information about your employment, such as the name and location of your employer, and the nature of your job.
You will also provide a statement describing how your current job is directly related to your major area of study.
For example, if you obtained a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, you can say "I work full time as a Computer Scientist at XYZ Limited. In my job, I develop software systems used in video gaming architecture. This job requires me to apply my understanding of software development, which was the foundation of my Computer Science degree obtained from ABC State University".
Keep in mind that whenever there are changes to your OPT employment in the future - such as the loss/gain of employment, change in your US address, or in your immigration status - you are expected to report these changes through your SEVP Portal account within 10 calendar days.
What if I Get an RFE on my OPT Application from USCIS?
For certain OPT applications, USCIS might request more information to adjudicate the case.
This does not mean that your I-765 application is going to be rejected. So don't panic.
Under this scenario, USCIS will send you a letter called a Request For Evidence (RFE).
You would also see a notification in the USCIS case status online tool that a Request for Evidence was sent to you.
This document would contain a list of issues with your OPT application, and would state the documents you must provide to rectify them.
If you receive an RFE on your OPT application, it is best to immediately contact your DSO or an experienced immigration attorney for advice on how to properly respond.
Your University’s international office (and its DSOs) have a lot of experience dealing with F1 students who have encountered RFEs on their OPT applications.
You must submit a response to USCIS before the deadline described on the letter. Furthermore, all the requested documents in your RFE should be sent in a single mail.
Failing to submit a timely RFE response could result in a denial of your OPT application.
Staying in US After Applying for OPT
You are allowed to remain in the US while your OPT application is pending a decision from USCIS.
Once your OPT application is received by USCIS, the 60-day grace period given to you at the end of your program no longer applies, even while your OPT is pending.
Instead, you will receive a new 60-day grace period at the end of your OPT or STEM OPT Extension if you're eligible.
However, it is very important to note that if your OPT application is not received by USCIS before the end of this initial 60 day grace period, you would be out of status and must depart the US.
Watch the video below to learn more about what you can do on your 60-day grace period.
How Long is the OPT Application Processing Time?
The typical USCIS processing time for OPT I-765 applications is around 3 - 5 months.
You can find the estimated processing time for your OPT I-765 application using the USCIS case processing time tool.
In this USCIS tool, the estimated time to process your Form type is given as a range.
The lower bound of this range is the time it's taking USCIS to process 50% of applications that were received on the receipt date shown in the table.
While the upper bound of this range is the time to process 93% of applications received on the receipt date.
Given that your application can take such a long time to be processed, it's important that you pick an OPT start date and apply for your OPT as early as possible.
Dealing with OPT Delays
In the unfortunate circumstance that you are experiencing an OPT delay that falls outside of this range, you may submit a service request on the USCIS website.
After submitting your service request, you can expect an email response from USCIS that discusses the problems with your case - if there are any - within 21 calendar days.
To learn about other options of speeding up the processing of your OPT application, check out our blog article on the best ways of speeding up your immigration case.
And if you need immediate help with your immigration case, you can chat with an online immigration attorney 24/7 through JustAnswer.com
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for general information only and is NOT legal advice. The information presented in this article and anywhere else on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may contact a licensed attorney.