ICE Confirms Unpaid F-1 Internships Count as OPT Employment

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a public notice on February 6, 2014 reconfirming that unpaid internships are a permissible form of employment for foreign nationals in F-1 status engaged in initial optional practical training (OPT). This statement was issued in response to the unexpected slew of OPT STEM extension applications denied in recent months by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for students relying on unpaid internships to satisfy the OPT employment requirements. Per the notice, all USCIS service centers have been instructed to follow the 2010 guidance issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which classifies volunteer work and unpaid internships as permissible forms of employment during the initial 12-month OPT period. The notice also provides instructions for students who received one of these erroneous denials on how to resolve the problem.

ICE Notice Corrects Misinterpretation of Regulations by USCIS Service Center

The MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, Unpaid Internships on F-1 OPT Considered ‘Unemployment’ (25.Nov.2013), provides an overview of how, in October 2013, the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) abruptly changed its position on unpaid internships, deciding that days spent in these positions should actually count toward the maximum 90-day unemployment period permitted during an initial stay in OPT. The NSC position led to the denial of a number of OPT STEM extension applications. By January 2014, the Murthy Law Firm had successfully filed motions on behalf of certain individuals caught up in the NSC’s change in policy, having their denials reversed, as reported in Motions Filed by Murthy Law Firm for F-1 OPTs in Unpaid Internships (17.Jan.2014). This latest statement by ICE hopefully will serve as the final chapter in a brief, but turbulent period for foreign nationals impacted by a misinterpretation of the OPT rules and requirements.

Recourse for Students Issued Related OPT STEM Denials

Per the notice, F-1 students who were denied OPT STEM extensions based solely on this erroneous interpretation of the law are instructed to:

“…contact the service center that issued the denial by sending an eMail message to the applicable dedicated student mailbox (listed below). In the eMail message, the student should provide his or her full name, as well as his or her USCIS receipt number relating to the denied OPT STEM extension application.”

The eMail addresses provided are:

California Service Center:

Vermont Service Center:

Texas Service Center:

Nebraska Service Center:


Disputes between government entities and stakeholders inevitably arise from time-to-time, but it is reassuring to see immigration officials take steps to resolve this issue within a relatively short timeframe. Although this matter now appears to be closed, the Murthy Law Firm will post updates if further developments arise.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.