COVID-19 FAQs for OPT and STEM OPT

OPT and STEM OPT Case Processing 

Is OIS still processing requests for OPT and STEM OPT?

Yes!

After OIS approved my OPT / STEM OPT request, I received an I-20 with a digital signature. Is this okay?

Yes, the federal government has allowed Designated School Officials (your Immigration Specialist at OIS) to provide digital signatures on a temporary basis.  

Will USCIS’ processing time for OPT and STEM OPT applications change?

It’s difficult to make predictions at this point. It is reasonable to expect that OPT / STEM OPT applications may take longer than usual (3 to 4 months) to approve.  Remember that STEM OPT applicants can continue to work while their applications are pending for up to 180 days after their post-completion OPT expires. 

I listed OIS’ mailing address on my Form I-765. How will OIS let me know when my receipt notice, EAD, or other information from the federal government about my OPT / STEM OPT application arrives at OIS?

OPT / STEM OPT applicants: 

  • OIS will send a scanned copy of your USCIS receipt notice to the email accounts listed in your My OIS accounts. 
  • You can check the status of your pending case here.
  • When USCIS approves your OPT application, and we receive your EAD and approval notice, OIS will contact you via email. We will ask for your current mailing address, email, and phone number. Then, we will send your EAD, approval notice, and receipt notice to you via express mail. 

Remote Employment

Is it okay to work remotely from home while on OPT? STEM OPT?

Yes, as long as you maintain an employee/employer relationship with your employer, working remotely is okay. 

Unemployment

Has the federal government changed the limits on unemployment for OPT (90 cumulative days) or STEM OPT (150 total cumulative days, including first 12 months of OPT)?

No. 

I am no longer working for my OPT / STEM OPT employer. What do I need to do?

Contact your Immigration Specialist for more detailed instructions. 

Grace Periods

My OPT or STEM OPT period will end soon. I will not exceed the limits of unemployment. How long can I remain in the United States? 

OPT / STEM OPT participants who do not exceed the limits of unemployment receive a 60 day grace period. During this grace period, students can prepare to leave the United States, prepare to start a new academic program at Pitt or a different school (must start classes within 5 months of OPT end date), or submit a Change of Status application to the federal government. 

What if I can’t depart the U.S. by the end of my 60 day grace period?

OIS strongly recommends that you depart the U.S. as close to the end of your 60 day grace period as possible. Some students may choose to submit a Change of Status application to the federal government if they cannot return home for months. 

I may exceed the 90 day limit on unemployment for OPT. What can I do?

During the first 12 months of post-completion OPT, students can work or volunteer to satisfy the government’s “employment” requirements. For activities to count as “employment”, they must be directly related to a student’s major field of study, and amount to more than 20 hours per week. Remote / online positions are okay.

If you aren’t able to find a qualifying position, OIS strongly recommends that you leave the United States as close as possible to the 90th day, or inform OIS about your intent to start a new academic program at Pitt or a different school 2 weeks before your 90th day of unemployment (must start classes within 5 months of 90th day of unemployment), or submit a Change of Status application to the federal government. 

Travel Signatures

I know that OPT / STEM OPT participants should receive a travel signature on their I-20s every 6 months. After I submitted my request for a new travel signature via the “Limited Services” section of My OIS, I received a PDF with a digital signature. Is this okay?

Yes, the federal government has allowed Designated School Officials (your Immigration Specialists at OIS) to provide digital signatures on a temporary basis.