The U.S. government requires students with OPT authorization to earn practical training experience (work/internships/unpaid professional experience) related to their major area of study.
WARNING: 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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.