My Optional Practical Training (OPT) Story - The Emotional Journey Part 1
My OPT Story
Hi, Amazing People,
This story that I'm about to share is one that I have debated with myself for days, just trying to grasp exactly where to start from. As much as it was an emotional rollercoaster, I also know that facts will be more helpful for F1 students who are or will be applying for OPT. So, I will share the emotional storyline in two posts, and give a more concise timeline, process, and application tips in another post. That way, things are not too muddled and mashed all into one. It has also been quite long since I shared an aspect of my life. I apologize in advance for being rusty.
OPT is a work authorization document you could apply for at the end of each level of an academic degree in the United States. The very first time I applied for OPT was 5 years ago, after my bachelor's degree. Until this second experience, I could have sworn that my first OPT took too long, but in hindsight, it was a breeze compared to what I'm about to share.
To give you a brief background, OPT application typically takes 90 - 120 days from the time you submit the application to when you have the card in your hand. There's usually fear surrounding the approval or denial or even how long it takes to get a decision. It's more nerve-racking when you have a job on the line that is dependent or could be affected by the timeline surrounding this process. Okay, back to my first time. I applied sometime around March and it arrived in sometime in July or so. This process was quite uneventful in comparison to this and those 4 months or so felt like an eternity. But I applied, it was approved, and it arrived in my mailbox. Apart from how long it took, it was pretty straightforward.
Fast forward to October 2017. I had heard that the process was a lot better than when I initially applied. At the time of my application, my designated school official (DSO) told me to estimate 120-150 days. I thought I was going to pass out when she uttered those words. I immediately started binding and casting in my heart and praying for a faster and seamless process. To add more pressure, I was coming to the end of my job hunt and a position was in sight; I would start working as soon as January. My people, I was desperate for a miracle.
I sent in my application sometime around the first week of October, and on the 16th I got a notification that my application has been received with a receipt number I could use to track my status online. Google immediately became my best friend, as I searched and searched for indications of what to expect and any insight on how fast or slow things will go. Thankfully I read online that you could submit an inquiry on your case if it was pending for over 75 days and 90 days without a change in status. So, you can imagine I had some hope. The counting of days began and it didn't stop me from refreshing the case status page a million times a day from when it was day 1 to day 78.
Speaking of day 78, this was after New Year and I had practically been sleeping on the case status page all through Christmas and New Year. Oh, I forgot to mention I was supposed to start working on January 8th, so I was really high on nerves at this point. To paint a better picture, I had moved to a new state, gotten a new apartment, got some shade of settled, and I desperately needed my OPT card that is the ONLY document that will allow me to legally start working. Can I hear you say 'BILLS PILING UP'? Let's come back to bills, later.
I called on the 2nd of January, and the customer service representative said, I had passed 75 days and so she could put in an inquiry about my case status. She ended the call by saying, I should expect a response within 30 days, and she might as well had given me a hot slap through the phone. I silently prayed that it will really NOT take 30 days for something I needed physically in my hand in less than 6 days. Following what felt like really long 2 days, my case status changed from "Case Received" to "New Card Ordered" on January 4th.
I couldn't contain my excitement. If I could fly to the office to pick up the card myself, I would have, but I couldn't. So, the wait continued. I don't know how else to describe that I slept on that case status website. I want to say every hour but it was drastically more than that. I would open my phone browser and it would refresh the page automatically for me, almost like it was expecting. There were times I almost felt like the website would suspend me or block my phone IP just from exhaustion.
As it drew closer to January 8th, it became more glaring that my OPT card would not come in time. I contacted my employers and informed them of what was going on. I wasn't as nervous because it had been approved and I was just waiting for it to be mailed. This was me thinking everything would be resolved in just a couple of days. Right on my prediction, on January 9th my status changed to "Card Was Mailed To Me" in addition to a note that says you should request the card be resent to you if you don't receive it in 30 days. Yup...30 days again.
At this point I'm thinking, the last time I heard 30 days, it took 2 days, so it can't be that bad. My obsession moved from refreshing a webpage to checking my mailbox more times than I can actually give you a number for. I was painfully amused at myself when I found out mails are delivered once or at most twice a day; not like it would have stopped me. So, I waited and waited and checked my mailbox and waited, and repeated the process multiple times over. I also checked online which quite honestly doesn't have much information. I'm thankful for a few discussion boards where I found some information. I saw that OPT cards are mailed with USPS priority and typically get delivered within 2-3 days.
On the 16th of January, I called USCIS and I got transferred to a 'higher level' of customer service where I received a tracking number and was informed that my mail had been scanned undeliverable. The call pretty much ended with me being told, here is your tracking number, figure it out with USPS. I ended the call and I immediately dashed out to the post office. The tracking information showed that my OPT card arrived on the 11th, couldn't be delivered, and was returned to the sender on the 12th of January.
I struggled with words to describe exactly how I felt in that moment. It was a mixture of rage, disappointment, fear, confusion, and just plain pain. On getting to the post office, they pretty much recited exactly what I saw online. There was no added information on any current location of my OPT card since the 12th. I immediately called USCIS customer service and requested the card be resent to me since it had been sent back. You can guess that call ended with me told to expect a response in 30 days.
The following day on the 17th, I opened up an inquiry for a lost mail with USPS. The status of my mail had not been updated since the 12th, and I knew something was not right. On the 18th, I received an email from someone at my local USPS office stating that the mail was returned and that's as much as is known at this point. I inquired about an absence of any new tracking updates since the 12th and I was told to give it more time, returned mails could take longer.
The days went by, with me just battling with nerves and the uncertainty that weighed heavy on me. On the 23rd of January, I got an email response from USCIS that said my mail had not been returned, and that I should get a letter on letterhead from USPS stating the loss of my mail before I can get another one issued or reapply and pay another application fee, which by the way is $410.
I immediately contacted by local USPS office and informed the supervisor of this email. She acknowledged on the phone something was not right with the last tracking information being on the 12th just stating it was returned. I was told that I would get a response regarding the letter I requested by the following day. I went to the post office the following day, and after two hours of waiting was informed that they couldn't issue a letter like that. I was then told to give it even more days for more investigation. At this point, I was stuck. I couldn't get a new one reissued at no cost, there was no information on the whereabouts of my first mail, and I was unsure of how long it will take to apply for new one, seeing the first one was approved after 80 days.
I got into my car that evening and I just broke down in tears in the parking lot. It was a build up of emotions and the frustration of what felt like a dead end. I felt so helpless, like some tiny person in between two big organizations, making no headway in either direction. I remember my mom on the phone asking me to be strong; it was tough. I went home, drafted a letter to USCIS explaining what had happened with USPS, and faxed it the following morning. I continued troubleshooting with USPS and during one of my calls the customer service agent informed me that my case for a lost mail was closed without any resolution. At this point, I lost it! I was so angry! The case was closed on the 18th without any information about the whereabouts of my mail. I just kept thinking, they haven't even made any efforts since the 18th to find my mail and they are refusing to acknowledge its loss, for me to get issued another one. I drafted an email and I sent to every email I could find on the USPS website. I kept calling...
I am working on an OPT checklist, that could help you avoid some of the troubles I went through. Sign up below and I'll send it to your email address once it's completed. It's completely FREE.
I can't wait to read your comments.
Make it a Winning-Day
This post is a recount of my experiences based on my perspectives and understanding. I do not know what the standard processing policies in USPS/USCIS are, neither am I offering any absolutes on how cases are handled. Nothing in this post should be received as any form of legal advice, and your discretion should be applied in using the information shared in this post.
I don't know how to write disclaimers, but you get the gist.