International Student Services

Graduate Students

Graduate Registration Waiver Fee

It is important to understand how the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee overlaps with F-1 status final quarter deadlines.

The Graduate Registration Waiver Fee is a benefit set by the Graduate School. From the Graduate School website:

The Graduate Registration Waiver Fee is an optional fee paid in lieu of registration.

Eligible students who pay this fee will graduate in the following quarter (e.g., a student who missed the deadline to graduate in Autumn 2020 and pays the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee will have a Winter 2021 degree conferral date).

Your Graduate Program Coordinator can best answer questions about eligibility for the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee. ISS advisors can advise how it overlaps with F-1 status.

How does this affect F-1 status?

When you complete your degree, there are important changes to your F-1 status, such as:

  • You have a 60-day grace period.
  • If you plan to apply for Optional Practical Training, you must submit your application no later than 60 days after program completion.
  • For other important changes, review the “Final Quarter Checklist.

If you pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee, these “Final Quarter” deadlines are based on your last enrolled quarter at UW, not your graduation quarter.

Example:

  • Your last enrolled quarter is summer quarter.
  • You plan to pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee; this means you will not register autumn quarter, but you will officially graduate autumn quarter.
  • Your 60-day grace period will begin the day after summer quarter ends–your last enrolled quarter, OR
  • If you plan to apply for OPT, you must apply for OPT based on a summer quarter completion date because that will be your last enrolled quarter.

If you have questions, complete the ISS “Have a Question” form.

Starting OPT Before Graduation

Students may be able to apply for “post-completion OPT” authorization to begin before graduation:

  • status as a graduate student
  • completion of all required coursework
  • status of thesis or dissertation work remaining

There are advantages and disadvantages to consider. Here is an overview. It is strongly recommended to schedule an appointment with an ISS adviser to further discuss options.

Post-completion OPT Before Graduation

Post-completion OPT can begin while the graduate student completes their thesis or dissertation as long as all required coursework is completed. Technically, the OPT start date can only be after the I-20 end date. As such, the I-20 expiration date will be shortened to the end of the quarter in which the student submits their OPT application. Students are subject to all the rules specific to the OPT authorization year, which are slightly different from the rules for registered students:

Pros

  • Students are not required to register for the purpose of maintaining F1 status (though students must consult their department about Graduate School registration requirements depending on funding, defense quarter, and ability to apply for on-leave status).
  • Students have authorization to work anywhere in the U.S. as many hours as they like in a job related to their degree.

Cons

  • Student’s on-campus work authorization ends on the last day of the quarter in which they submit their OPT application. Students cannot continue to work on campus, including in an RA or TA position, even if when registered for thesis or dissertation credits. Exception: When campus employment is related to their degree, students may resume working after their OPT is approved. Depending on what start date is requested and when the OPT is approved by USCIS, students may or may not have a gap in work authorization after graduation.
  • Students are subject to the 90-day unemployment limit, a potential added pressure when there is a need to focus on thesis/dissertation work.
  • The I-20 cannot be extended. Students who do not complete their thesis/dissertation within the year will have their F-1 status end when the OPT expires, and must travel and reenter with a new I-20 in order to continue their studies. (If students are otherwise eligible for the STEM OPT extension, they can apply for the extension even when the students did not graduate).
  • Students cannot travel internationally unless there is proof of a job:

Example:
A student is registered for winter quarter and will defend their dissertation. The plan is to pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee in order to submit their dissertation and graduate in spring quarter.

The student may submit an OPT application based on winter quarter being the last registered quarter. ISS will shorten the I-20 so the expiration date matches the end of winter quarter. The student will request an OPT start date that is within 60 days of the end of winter quarter.

The University will consider the student a spring quarter graduate; however, from the F1 perspective, the student has transitioned from the “enrolled student phase” to the “OPT phase” of their F1 status.