OPT can be difficult to navigate even without all of the dates and deadlines to remember. One of the questions we get a lot is about the grace period students get after their program and the unemployment days students have once their OPT begins. We’ve created a graphic that will hopefully help you understand the differences a little better!
Note: This example is specifically for a student applying for post-completion OPT.
The “Grace Period” This period begins after your program end date on your I-20. Your requested OPT start date must fall within this period. If you have not applied for OPT yet before your program end date, you must apply for OPT during this period.
While this is similar to a standard grace period that you get after you complete your program, it is not a true grace period since you are maintaining your F-1 status by applying for OPT. A key difference from a true grace period is that you are eligible to travel and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status during your “grace period” as long as you’ve applied for OPT. Make sure to review our guidelines for travel during this time!
*This “grace period” lasts until your OPT start date or your OPT adjudication date. Even if your OPT application is still pending after 60 days, as long as you applied by the deadline, you are eligible to legally remain in the U.S.
Unemployment Days: Your unemployment days start after your OPT start date on your EAD card. You get a total of 90 days of unemployment for the duration of post-completion OPT. While you are considered in valid F-1 status while unemployed, travel may be risky if you don’t have a job offer or proof of employment. Be sure to review our guidelines for traveling while on OPT if you plan to travel internationally during OPT.
If you use up all of your unemployment days, you are considered out of status. You do not get an additional grace period, and you should leave the U.S. before the end of your unemployment period.
The Grace Period: After completing your OPT, you are eligible for a 60-day grace period. During this time, you may travel within the U.S., transfer your SEVIS record to a new school, request a change of level if you are starting a new program at the UW, or apply to change status to another visa category. If you leave the U.S. during your grace period, you are not eligible to reenter with your I-20. You must enter the U.S. in a different visa status.
If you plan to apply for the STEM OPT Extension, you must do so before the end of your OPT period. You cannot apply for the extension during your grace period.
— Post written by Alisa Sweet, ISS advisor —