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The U.S. government checks that students with OPT authorization are engaged in practical training experience (work/internships/unpaid professional experience) related to their major area of study.
If you do not report your practical training/employment to OIES, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date print on your EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.
Use our online OPT I-20 Update Request to notify OIES about the following updates during your OPT year.
Keep documentation of your OPT employment history for your own records. You might need it for future benefits applications. The immigration regulations do not specify what documents are "proof of employment." Examples of employment documentation could include:
OPT authorizes employment/practical training that is related to your major area of study and commensurate with your level of education. OPT does NOT authorize employment unrelated to your major area of study.
If you work in a job unrelated to your major area of study, or that does not meet the government's requirements for your type of OPT (12-month standard, 17-month STEM extension, 24-month STEM extension) you are in violation of your F-1 status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can terminate a student's F-1 SEVIS record if a student works in a position unrelated to their studies. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and invalidates F-1 status in the U.S.
It is your responsibility to evaluate how a job relates to your major area of study. International student advisors CANNOT review job descriptions to assess if they are related to your studies. Advisors will update your SEVIS record with the job information you provide through our online OPT reporting form.
During the 12-month OPT Period
You should be employed at least 20 hours per week in activities directly related to your major. Regardless of your job title or how the position is classified, such as an "intern," "temporary," "freelance contractor," "post-doc," etc., the following employment options are allowed:
During the 17-month STEM Extension
You must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to your STEM degree.
Employment may include:
All of the combined employment above counts for purposes of maintaining F-1 status. Please keep documentation of working an average of 20 hours per week. It is your responsibility to report any employment change.
During the 24-month STEM Extension
You must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that a) participates in the E-Verify program and b) agrees to follow all the employer requirements in the 24-month STEM rule.
The government has new guidance about acceptable types of activity during the 24-month STEM Extension that is substantially different than the past guidance for the 17-month STEM Extension.
The Department of Homeland Security has commented that although working for multiple employers is not prohibited, each employer must employ the student for no less than 20 hours per week, and must fully comply with the requirements of the new 24-month STEM rule.
The Department of Homeland Security has also commented that students may be employed by new start-up businesses as long as all regulatory requirements are met, including that the employer:
Self-Employment, Work for Hire, and Employment through Agencies/Consulting Firms
The government has commented:
"There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain
types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through 'temp' agencies,
employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other
relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.. . . Accordingly, DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions
unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the (I-983) Training
Plan, and the employer that signs the (I-983) Training Plan must be the same entity
that employs the student and provides the practical training experience."
Volunteer and Uncompensated Activity
The government has commented:
"DHS carefully considered whether to allow volunteer positions to qualify under the STEM OPT extension program but has decided against permitting such arrangements. ... Requiring commensurate compensation for F-1 students -- which does not include no compensation -- protects both international and domestic students and ensures that the qualifying STEM positions are substantive opportunities. . . ."
You will need a Social Security number in order to receive payment from your employer.
In general, as an F-1 student you will be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S., as long as you continue to declare nonresident status for tax purposes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the U.S. and your home government, your earnings as an F-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes, and employers are required to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, consult the Internal Revenue Service.
Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. The
cost of medical care for an accident or illness in the US can be more money than you
earn in an entire year of OPT employment!
Additionally, health insurance in the U.S. is typically linked to your employer. If your OPT activity is not with an employer that offers insurance, or if your employer's plan does not cover medical evacuation/repatriation for people living internationally, then you should purchase additional coverage.
Students on OPT may still enroll in insurance through our University. Please visit our health insurance page.
Students have many questions about whether or not it is okay to travel while OPT is processing and/or during the OPT year. Here are the rules about travel and OPT, depending on your situation.
You can travel and reenter the U.S. as a student during your final registration semester. You will use the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on page 2, along with the other regular travel documents. If you plan to return to the U.S. before the expiration date of the new I-20 (your program completion date), it does not matter whether your OPT application is still processing or is approved, and whether or not you have a job offer yet.
After your final semester ends, you can travel and reenter the U.S. while your post-completion OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer. However, be aware of these risks:
After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued,
you can travel and reenter the U.S. only if you have proof of employment. If you are
still looking for practical training opportunities, you should not travel internationally.
For travel, carry the following documents with you:
Once the approved period of OPT has begun, time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90/150-day limits. However, travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment. Please keep your primary international student advisor informed of any travel plans while on OPT that may affect your status.
If you have dependents in F-2 status who will travel without you, be sure they carry a photocopy of your EAD card and proof of your employment along with their updated F-2 I-20 that is properly signed for travel.
While approved for OPT you may take recreational courses, but if you begin a new degree program, your OPT is automatically terminated.
Students who do not exceed 90/150 days of unemployment and report employment to the OIES as required are automatically granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD (Employment Authorization Document). Within this 60-day grace period, you have the following options: