By: Luiza Goncalves Oliveira Benvenuti, Senior Psychology Student from Brusque, Brazil, and Senior Peer Career Guide with University Career Services

Maintaining my immigration status has always been a worry of mine. I’ve always felt the need to know the step by step of applying for CPT & OPT, eligibility requirements, and timelines. Even though I had a small understanding of what was going on, I was super excited to learn that the International Student Scholar Office has been working on providing students with the information we need about our immigration status. You can find all the information on pre- and post-completion OPT, completion date, application process, and much more by clicking here. However, there are still many questions that arise while thinking about immigration. In this post, Natalia Meyer and Nakell Baker are going to be answering a few of those questions and giving some advice on CPT & OPT.

Natalia Meyer work at UNL ISSO as an International Student and Scholar Specialist Nakell Baker works at UNL ISSO as the International Student Success Navigator
  1. What does it mean to maintain enrollment and overall F-1 status while on OPT?

The full-time enrollment requirement to maintain F-1 status and eligibility to apply for OPT is fulfilled with no issues by most students. The problem that may arise is that the student might take a pause in their studies before their final semester and go home. So, when they come back and finish their last semester, they have not completed the 1 academic year requirement to be eligible to apply for OPT. Once on OPT, there are no requirements to be enrolled.

You can see it this way, when you are F-1 full-time student, you are required to enroll in classes; however, when you are F-1 OPT student, you are not required to enroll in classes anymore. To maintain status in OPT is not accruing more than 90 days of unemployment, so big tip: always report your employment through the portal (there is a video about it) since immigration is checking constantly.


  1. Every new application for pre-/post-completion has a fee. Can you further explain when one would have to re-apply?

If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, as usual, you need to fill out the application and pay the fee. You can apply for pre-completion OPT multiple times, such as for different summers, and therefore, for each of those times you need to fill out the application and pay the fee. Since pre-completion OPT is for any OPT done before the end of your academic degree, when you apply for post-completion OPT (for employment after graduation), you will need again to submit another application and fee.


  1. Is there a certain time during OPT where it is best to travel or avoid traveling?

We do not recommend traveling when OPT is pending. If there’s an emergency and you have to travel abroad, you will have to ask someone to send your card to you when it has been delivered because you need to have it with you when you come back. You also need to be physically present in the U.S. at the time of application since OPT is a benefit of the F-1 status and if you are not physically present in the country, you are not in F-1 status. However, once you have your OPT card, your I-20 with a travel signature, your valid visa, and all those documents, you are more than welcome to travel. It is best that you have employment when you are traveling but if you haven’t already accrued your 90 days of unemployment, they should let you back into the U.S.


  1. Have you ever heard of any International Students on OPT that had issues re-entering the U.S.?

Never had any issues as long as they maintained their F-1 status. This also goes for students getting a new visa while on OPT. Some students say it is harder to get a visa while on OPT, but we have never heard of any issues from our students.


  1. What are the pros and cons of applying early or waiting to apply after graduation for an OPT?

The timing of application will mostly depend if you already have a job lined up since you will be able to apply in advance and choose the right starting date. It becomes tricky for students that don’t know if they have a job or don’t have anything lined up and are worried about starting to accrue their 90 days on unemployment. In order to decide on the time of application, think about how confident are you that you have interviews lined up and will have a job by the end of the semester. Because if you decide to wait and choose your start date to be at the very end of that 60-day grace period, you can’t start working until you have your card and even if you end up getting a job, you will have to wait for your card.


  1. What happens if one starts an OPT but then decides to go to grad school before the 12-month period is over? And is there a maximum number of days International Students can stay in the country between the end of an OPT and the beginning of Graduate School?

Here’s a scenario, a student from UNL that is on OPT wants to start grad school in another institution in January, prior to her OPT end date which is in May. What she can do is request UNL ISSO to send her record to the other institution now, which will invalidate her OPT –she can’t work anymore –, so then the new school can issue an I-20.

On the other side, if the same student, her OPT ends in May and she doesn’t have an admission for a new school until August, that’s fine. She can stay here as long as her records are transferred to the new school within that 60-day grace period after her OPT is over.

You just need to start Graduate School on the next available session (Spring or Fall) within 5 months of the end date of your OPT.


  1. Do you have any advice for International Students applying for jobs and CPT/OPT?

COVID-19 made looking and finding internships and jobs an extremely hard task in the beginning, but it has gotten better. During this time immigration has allowed students to work less than 20h/weekly and not accrue unemployment days, however, I can’t guarantee how long that will last.

Also, keep trying and applying for a high number of jobs because even if it is daunting, at the end, it works out and you may get a position that you enjoy and is really happy about. It just may take more time and commitment than in a normal time period. Plus, be creative about how you find your positions. LinkedIn has become large during the pandemic for people to connect and network. Immigration wise – watch the videos (link provided in the beginning of the blog) multiple times if you need to and take notes! Those are important information that you will need before and during your OPT.


If you want to watch the full video, click here.

By Luiza Benvenuti
Luiza Benvenuti Career Connections Intern