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OPT: Work, Travel, and More

Reporting Requirements to the Office of Int'l Education and Services (OIES)

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.

  • Employment/Practical Training information: Report employment/practical training as soon as you start working. Do not exceed 90 days of unemployment. For students approved for the STEM 17-month OPT extension, do not exceed 120 days of unemployment. Report employment changes within 10 days.
  • Address changes: Report within 10 days of moving.
  • Final departure from the U.S. (if earlier than your OPT end date)

Proof of Employment

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:

  • Offer letter from your employer
  • Letter from your supervisor on official letterhead that confirms continued employment (or internship/volunteer service)
  • If the connection between your field of study and your employment/practical training is not obvious, it might be helpful for the letter to explain how your practical training relates to your studies.
  • Payment records
  • Timesheet/activity log for unpaid practical training experience

Limits on Periods of Unemployment

  • You cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment between the start and end date of your post-completion OPT authorization (the dates on your EAD).
  • You must report your practical training/employment to OIES; an international student advisor will update your F-1 SEVIS record with your employment information.
  • If you exceed 90 days of unemployment, or if you forget to report your employment/practical training to OIES, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after your OPT start date. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.
  • If you received a 24-month STEM extension, you are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days.
  • Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. There is no grace period after 90/150 days of unemployment.
  • To avoid violating status, Immigration recommends that prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the U.S., or change to a different immigration status.

Employment Requirements

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:

  • Multiple employers: you may work in your field of study for more than one employer.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). Keep a list of all positions, dates, and duration.
  • Work for hire: contract employment in your field of study
  • Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed in your field of study. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree.
  • Employment in your field of study through an agency or consulting firm.
  • Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study, as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

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:

  • Multiple employers: you may work in your field of study for more than one employer. Each employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire: contract employment in your field of study. The company for whom you are providing services must be registered with E-Verify.
  • Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed in your field of study. You must register your business with E-Verify and work full time. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree.
  • Employment in your field of study through an agency or consulting firm: you may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency of firm (for which you are providing services) need not be registered with E-Verify.
  • Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study, as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

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.

Multiple Employers

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:

  • a) adheres to the training plan requirements
  • b) remains in good standing with E-Verify
  • c) will provide compensation to the STEM OPT student commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers
    • For instance, alternative compensation may be allowed during a STEM OPT extension as long as the F-1 student can show that he or she is a bona fide employee and that his or her compensation, including any ownership interest in the employer entity (such as stock options) is commensurate with the compensation provided to other similarly situated U.S. workers.
  • d) has the resources to comply with the proposed training plan.

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. . . ."

Money Matters

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.

Health Insurance

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.

Travel and OPT

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.

1. During your final semester, after you submit your OPT application:

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.

2. After graduation, while your OPT application is processing:

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:

  • USCIS sometimes sends a request to OPT applicants asking for more information or for you to correct a problem with your documentation. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S. It is your application, so OIES does not have the authority to respond for you.
  • After your OPT application is approved, you must also have proof of employment and your EAD in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT application is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.
  • You must have a valid F-1 visa to travel during the OPT year (except for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean). It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.
3. After graduation, and after your OPT application is approved:

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:

  • I-20 signed for travel by an international student advisor within the last year
  • Proof of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
  • EAD card (on the EAD card, there is a statement "Not Valid For Reentry." This means the EAD card cannot be used by itself for reentry to the U.S.)
  • Valid passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless you are Canadian or are returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, with some exceptions)
  • You can apply for an F-1 visa during your OPT year. Follow the regular procedures to apply for an F-1 visa outside of the U.S. For the F-1 visa application, plan to provide the documents listed above, as well as proof of financial ability to stay in the U.S. and proof of continuing ties to your home country.

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.

Study While on OPT

While approved for OPT you may take recreational courses, but if you begin a new degree program, your OPT is automatically terminated.

Grace Period

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:

  • Depart the U.S. Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies and OPT period, you are not eligible to reenter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
  • Request a new I-20 if you will continue at Southeast in a new degree program. You must first be accepted into the new program before we can create your new I-20/give you a new level I-20.
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
  • Apply to change status to another visa category.


International Village

International Education and Services
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Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701