OPT Priority Processing

OISS is offering "Priority Processing" for early OPT applications for students graduating in May. If you submit the first part of your OPT application to OISS (i.e. OPT Student Form, OPT Faculty Advisor Form & I-765) by Friday, February 5th, we guarantee that you can get a priority OPT I-20 pick-up appointment right around February 14th, which is the earliest time when USCIS will allow you to send in your application.

Here is why applying early is important

  • If you would like to start work soon after graduation, applying early is the best way to make sure that you can get your EAD in time to begin employment on your requested start date. Please remember that you are not legally authorized to work until you have the EAD in your possession and you are within the validity dates, even in your advisor's lab!
  • Even if your job doesn't start until later, you want to get the EAD early in case you're hoping to travel internationally between graduation and starting your OPT. Leaving the country while your OPT application is pending can be risky, and OISS strongly discourages travel before you have the EAD. Applying early gives you a better chance of receiving your card before or right around graduation, which in turn may offer you more flexibility with your travel plans.

Submit your OPT documents before the deadline and you're guaranteed a spot in the "Priority Processing" OPT I-20 pick-up appointments! For more information, please see the Student Employment webpage.

Here's a quick reminder of what you need to do by the deadline to use "Priority Processing"

  1. Attend a CPT/OPT Workshop, or review the F-1 Optional Practical Training Tutorial on the Student Employment page
  2. Submit to OISS a complete packet containing:

Here's what you don't need to have by the deadline:

  • Job offer! You can apply for OPT even without a job offer, because you can use OPT to work for any employer in the U.S., as long as the job is related to your major field of study!
  • The application fee payment (i.e. check or credit card authorization form), photos, and copies. You will not need to have these items until the OPT I-20 pick-up appointment, so you'll still have plenty of time to put everything together between February 7th and the pick-up appointment.

Contact OISS for more information, and check out the Student Employment page for the OPT materials.

Priority Processing Frequently Asked Questions

What on earth is Priority Processing?

Priority Processing is a benefit offered by OISS, where if you submit your OPT application by the Priority Processing deadline, OISS guarantees that your OPT I-20 will be processed first, and will be ready in time for the earliest available OPT I-20 Pick-up Appointments, based on when the application window opens with USCIS.

When does the application window with USCIS open?

USCIS can receive your OPT application no earlier than 90 days before your graduation date. For May 2021 graduates that would be February 14, 2021, which is 90 days before the May degree conferral (May 15th).

Why do I need to apply that early if I’m only graduating in May?

Because USCIS can take a really long time to approve OPT applications, and you will not be able to start your OPT employment until you receive the EAD card issued by USCIS. Therefore applying early is very beneficial for you, especially if you want to start working (or travel internationally) soon after graduation, as it gives you the best chance of getting the EAD card by the time when you need it.

I don’t have a job offer yet, can I still apply for OPT? What start date should I ask for?

Yes, you can apply for OPT even if you don’t have a job offer! However, deciding on which start date to request can be a bit tricky, as all options have pros and cons (you can ask for a start date within 1-60 days after graduation). Ultimately it’s your choice, but here are a couple of “ground rules” or tips to keep in mind.

Requesting an early OPT Start Date:

  • Pro: Assuming that your OPT has been approved, you have work authorization to start on whatever date your employer wants once you find the job.
  • Con: If you don’t have a job on your OPT start date, you will start accruing unemployment days. Not an immediate concern since you can accrue up to 90 during your OPT, but may be problematic if it takes you a bit longer to find the job.

Requesting a late OPT Start Date:

  • Pro: You don’t have to worry about accruing unemployment days until much, much later.
  • Con: If you find your dream job and they want you to start already in May, you will need to convince them that you are worth waiting for, since your work authorization doesn’t start until later (on your OPT start date), even if you happen to receive your OPT EAD earlier.
I’m still not sure if I want to stay in the U.S., I might just go back home and get a job there. What happens if I miss the Priority Processing deadline? Can I still apply for OPT?

Of course!! You remain eligible to apply for OPT all the way until graduation, and even during your grace period. For applications received after the Priority Processing deadline, we are no longer able to guarantee that the I-20 can be ready in time for the very earliest pick-up appointments, but OISS will still process your OPT application as soon as possible once it’s received. Just remember that the later you apply, the later you will get your OPT EAD. And if you end up applying super late, you may not get a full 12 months of OPT, since the OPT end date can’t be later than one year + 60 days after your graduation date.

Okay, let’s do this! How do we do this?

Attend a CPT/OPT Workshop or look through the OPT Tutorial at https://oiss.rice.edu/studentwork to learn about the process of applying for OPT. For extra tips, see also https://oiss.rice.edu/OPTtips. Then submit the documents needed by the Priority Processing deadline of February 5, 2021. Then respond in a timely manner to OISS if they have any questions or feedback on your documents. Finally, attend an OPT I-20 Pick-up Appointment via Zoom (OISS will tell you when and how to schedule the appointment) and mail your application to USCIS. That’s the hard part, after that all you need to do is actually finish your degree and graduate, but that should be a piece of cake!

OPT Priority Processing deadline for May 2021 graduates is Friday, February 5, 2021!