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OPT Processing Time Trends, Waiting for OPT to be Approved

OPT applications are reviewed and approved by USCIS, and processing times can be difficult predict.  This information can help you manage the uncertainty you may experience while waiting for an OPT approval.

Tracking processing times

To help capture trends, we invite graduates that have received their OPT approval for the current semester (Fall 2019) to share their experience with processing time by using this simple form below.  Please do NOT complete this for experience with the STEM OPT Extension, but for post-completion OPT only (meaning your first year of OPT, usually right after graduation).

All are invited to view the form and get a sense of the trends emerging!

**Please note UMBC does not usually encourage pre-completion OPT, so these trends reflect post-completion OPT only.  This is crowd-sources information, and is not verified or official in any way, so please keep this in mind when using this tool.

OPT Processing Times

NOTE: You must be logged in to your myUMBC account in order to view and add your information.

As you plan ahead for your OPT approval, please remember that you do not have legal work permission until your OPT is approved, and the start date you requested has arrived.

Average Processing time, so far

  • Summer 2019 saw an average of approximately 3.5 months from application to EAD arrival; summer 2020 started off with about 1.5 -2 months processing time but slowed later on to about 3 months processing time, with significant delays in EAD card processing late in the summer up to 3-4 weeks from approval.
  • Please keep in mind that this processing time can change at any time, but these are our best reports of recent trends.

Waiting to start a job? 

If you are waiting for your OPT approval to start a job, you might be feeling anxious about how your employer is feeling about the delay.  Here are a few ideas to help!

  • First, be honest with your employer.  Hopefully you have already done this when you first accepted employment, and they have been aware all along that your start date could be delayed, and aren’t surprised.
  • Don’t avoid letting your employer know if you expect a delay in your start date – the earlier you talk to them, the more time they have to make a plan for you to start later.  Though it may be frustrating for all involved, they will appreciate your honesty!
  • It might help to emphasize to the employer that you have applied as early as you could and that USCIS processing times are unpredictable – the delay is not through any fault of your own.
  • It is unlikely that the employer will choose not to employ you because of this delay, so try not to worry too much!  Hiring someone is a long and difficult process for a company, and they would most likely rather wait for you then start the hiring process all over again to find someone new!  Some positions do have very specific required start dates, but typically they will discuss this with you when offering you a position and you might already know this to plan for any delay.

What documents to expect, and when 

When your OPT is approved, you will receive three communications from USCIS:
  • First, the email and/or text message alert, similar to the message you received to share your receipt number with you.
  • Next, your formal approval notice from USCISwill be mailed to the address you gave on your I-765 application form.  If this is UMBC’s IES Office, we will email you as soon as we receive any document for you. The approval notice will usually follow the email alert by about one week.
  • Last, you will receive your EAD card (work permit) for OPT.  This can arrive anywhere from the same day as the approval notice (or sometimes it might even arrive BEFORE the approval notice!), up to one week after the approval notice.


What documents does your employer need to start paying you?

  • Technically, your employer is legally allowed to start paying you with just the USCIS approval notice, for a period of a few months until they receive the EAD card.
  • However, not all employers will be comfortable with this, so it is ultimately up to the individual employer.
  • To show your employer you are eager to get started as soon as possible, you could consider reaching out to ask if they would like you to send just the Approval Notice for your OPT, if it is received before your EAD card arrives.  This might allow you to get started a few days earlier than waiting for the EAD!
  • The employer might also have a specific way they want you to reach out once your documents arrive, so if you don’t already know what they prefer, now is a great time to ask so you can act quickly once you do receive your documents.  For example, they might have a Portal for you to upload documents, or a specific contact to email, etc.
  • Sometimes students ask if they can volunteer with an employer in advance of starting a paid position.  While you can always volunteer your time as you like, please keep in mind that there are Labor Laws that govern when an employer can let you volunteer, and they are not allowed to let someone volunteer for a position that would usually be paid.  However, they might invite you to attend an orientation or trainings before you can be paid, or to shadow your future team – as long as you are not doing work voluntarily that others are paid for, this is usually okay. You might consider asking the employer if there is anything you can do now voluntarily to ease your transition into the new role once you can start your paid work.

Once OPT is approved, don’t forget to setup your SEVP Portal!

  • Remember that once your OPT is approved and your OPT start date arrives, you should receive an email prompt to set up your SEVP Portal from
  • Your SEVP Portal is your access to your own immigration record, and you will need to use it during OPT and STEM OPT Extension to share your employment information and keep your contact information updated.
  • There are directions, trouble-shooting tips, and more information on the Portal here:
  • Your employment information in your SEVP Portal is what makes it clear that you are NOT unemployed, which means you will not be using unemployment days from your 90 day maximum unemployment time during OPT.  Please make sure to prioritize keeping your Portal updated!!
  • Remember that during OPT, your work can be paid or unpaid, and can be part-time or full-time – it MUST be at least 20 hours per week, and it must be related to your degree of study that you just completed.