Maintaining F-1 Student Status While on Post-Completion OPT

F-1 Visa Status while on OPT.

While you are on OPT you will remain in F-1 status. Consequently, while you are on OPT you will be responsible for the maintenance of your F-1 status.

Failure to maintain F-1 status can result in the termination of your F-1 SEVIS record and loss of F-1 benefits. Terminated records are subject to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement review, which could result in denial of future immigration benefits or even deportation.

To ensure that you maintain your F-1 status while on OPT, you will need to:

  • Report certain information to International Student Services by submitting the OPT Report Form for periodic SEVIS record updates. Note that this is a regulatory requirement, and you will be considered to have violated your F-1 status if you do not comply. Areas of required reporting for SEVIS Compliance include:
  • Changes in your personal information (ex. local/home country addresses, email address, name as listed on your passport, departure from the U.S. without intentions of return, etc.) within 10 days of the move and/or update.
  • Employment information (ex. employer contact information, breaks in employment, employer changes, etc.) immediately as updates and/or changes occur.
  • Changes in academic plans (admittance to a degree program at another institution) as soon as the changes and/or updates have occurred.
  • Changes in immigration status to a visa status other than F-1 as soon as you have received your Notice of Approval of change of status or entered the U.S. under another status.

Keep up to date on immigration rules and regulations pertaining to F-1 students by:

  • Reading through the International Student Services website and OPT FAQs to make sure you are following all posted guidance.
  • Checking your email regularly for immigration updates and office updates from the International Student Services office
  • Contacting the international student advisor at the International Student Services office for advice on immigration-related matters

Employment Required while on OPT

F-1 status while on OPT is dependent upon employment. Employment can be paid or unpaid, but must be at least 20 hours/week and must be directly related to your field of study and commensurate with degree level. Students engaging in a 12 month period of OPT are limited to 90 days of accrued unemployment.

Record-keeping while on/after the completion of OPT

Current F-1s/OPT students must be in possession of their immigration and immigration-related documents and information. This includes but is not limited to:

  • All F-1/OPT I-20s ever held (from Hampshire College as well as any other school you have attended)
  • All EAD cards received from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Valid Passport
  • F-1 visa stamp in passport (even if expired)
  • I-94 (white card stapled in passport)
  • Any receipt notice or documentation issued from USCIS, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration Customs and Enforcement, etc.
  • School transcripts, diplomas, certificates, etc.
  • Record of ALL US and home country residential and mailing addresses
  • Record of employment history: names of employers, positions held/job titles, proof of employment duration, employer and supervisor contact information, description of positions held, breaks in employment, etc.
  • Record of ALL reports made to the international student advisor at the ISS office (and how the reports were made), i.e. copy of OPT Report Form email, relevant email advisement, fax confirmation reports, etc.

Former F-1/OPT holders should keep their immigration and immigration-related documents and/or copies of these documents indefinitely.

*Keep in mind that after you leave Hampshire/complete your OPT, International Student Services will only keep your file for a limited period. We will not be able to assist with requests for documents or verification of student status after files have been destroyed.

Traveling while on OPT

While on OPT, you may travel outside of the U.S. and use your F-1 documents (listed below) for re-entry to the U.S.:

  • I-20 endorsed within the last 6 months by the international student advisor at International Student Services
  • OPT EAD card
  • Proof of employment
  • Passport valid for up to 6 months into the future
  • Valid F-1 visa

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) While on 12-month post-completion OPT.

Now that I have received my EAD card, do I still need an I-20?

Yes. While you are on OPT you remain in F-1 status and therefore must maintain a valid I-20 that reflects your OPT recommendation on page 3.

When can I start working under OPT?

You may only begin working after you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card AND within the dates specified on your EAD card.

Where can I work?

You may only accept employment that is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with degree level. As long as those requirements are met, you may work for any employer/location in the U.S.

How many hours can I work per week on OPT?

You may work full-time (more than 20 hours per week) as well as part-time. If you volunteer (unpaid work), then that must be for at least 20 hours. All work must be in your field of study.

How long am I eligible to work under OPT?

Generally, USCIS allows students to work for a maximum of 12 months per academic level. The dates that you are eligible for employment are listed on your EAD card.

Is there any way to get more than 12 months of OPT?

Only under two conditions can a student apply for an "extension" of their OPT:

  1. STEM students may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM extension of OPT after their initial 12 month OPT. For details on eligibility requirements and application procedures, please refer to 24- Month Extension.
  2. Students who have been approved for H-1B as of Oct. 1 may be eligible for an extension of their current OPT until Sept 30. For details on eligibility requirements and application procedures, please refer to Cap-Gap Extension.

If you do not fall under either category, you are not eligible to apply for any additional OPT beyond the 12-month period.

What types of employment are allowed for regular post-completion OPT?

All OPT employment must be in a job that is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with degree level.

For students on 12-month post-completion OPT, this employment may include:

  • Paid employment. Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time.
  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be directly related to your field of study and commensurate with degree level.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing arts may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full time. The student must be able to prove that they have the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student's degree program.
  • Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

SEVP recommends that students maintain evidence--for each job--of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your degree level, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the employer's hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how the field of study is related to the work performed.

For information regarding employment requirements while on the 24-month STEM OPT extension, please visit https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub/additional-resources/stem-opt-extension-overview.

What happens if I cannot find a job?

F-1 status/OPT is dependent on employment; therefore, you are only allowed a limited time in which you may accrue unemployment, depending on the type of OPT you are engaging in:

  • 12-month Post-Completion OPT and Cap-Gap extended OPT; you may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment
  • 24-month STEM extension OPT, you may have up to a cumulative 150 days of unemployment during the total 36-months of OPT

While you are unemployed, you should be actively seeking employment in your field of study to avoid jeopardizing your F-1/OPT status. If you are unable to find a job after the allowed unemployed period, you should make plans to return to your home country, return to school to pursue another degree, or change to a different immigration status.

What counts as time unemployed?

Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. NOTE: If you travel abroad while you are unemployed you will continue to accrue unemployment time.

May I study while engaging in OPT?

You may only take courses that are recreational in nature. You cannot enroll in an academic degree/certification program while on a 12-month Post-Completion OPT.

I am in the middle of my OPT and decided to start another academic program. Can I continue working after I start my new program?

No:

  • OPT employment authorization is automatically terminated when the student begins study at another degree level or in another field of study. You will need to contact International Student Services for advisement on obtaining a new I-20.
  • Any OPT authorization ends on the transfer release date for a student who requests a transfer to another SEVP-certified school. You will need to contact International Student Services for advisement on the SEVIS transfer process.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?

The answer depends on the timing of your situation:

  • If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must notify International Student Services of your change of plans immediately.
  • If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a cancellation request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact International Student Services for assistance.
  • If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel authorization, cancellation in this case is impossible. Depending on what your plans are, though, you may not have to engage in OPT regardless of approval.

In any of the above situations, you will need to work with the international student advisor at International Student Services for immigration advisement on updating your record and what your next steps will be.

Can I travel abroad and re-enter the US while on OPT?

Once your 12-month Post-Completion OPT is APPROVED, you are in possession of your valid EAD card, and secured employment; you may travel abroad and re-enter the US as F-1. You will need to carry your F-1 documents with you for re-entry.
Travel is restricted for those students who:

  • Are approved for 12-month post-completion OPT but have not yet secured employment
  • Have PENDING applications with USCIS for 12-month post-completion OPT or 24-month STEM extension OPT
  • Have been approved for Cap-gap OPT

If you are in any of these circumstances and wish to travel abroad, please contact the international student advisor at International Student Services for immigration advisement.

What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT?

You will need to carry your F-1 documents: your I-20 that has been endorsed for travel by the international student advisor within the last 6 months; the valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS; your valid passport valid for 6 months into the future; a valid F- 1 visa stamp; and proof of employment, such as a letter from your employer stating you are returning to a job in the U.S. (listing the name and contact information of the company and your job title).

Do I still need to get my I-20 signed for travel by the international student advisor during OPT?

Yes, if you travel outside the U.S. your I-20 will need to be signed within the last 6 months for re-entry to the U.S. Note that while on 12-month Post-Completion OPT travel signatures are only valid for up to 6 months.

How do I request a travel signature on my I-20?

You can stop by the ISS office with your I-20 for a signature from the international student advisor. If you are not located in/near Amherst, mail the original I-20 to the international student advisor for endorsement, leaving plenty of time for mailing delays both ways.

How does travel outside the United States impact the period of unemployment?

  • If you have been approved for OPT but have not yet secured a job and will travel outside of the United States, the time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90/150-day limits.
  • If you have been approved for OPT and have secured employment and will travel outside of the U.S. during a period of leave authorized by your employer or as part of your employment, the time spent outside the United States will not count as unemployment.

The visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy?

F-1 visa rules still apply while you are OPT. Therefore, if you travel abroad with an expired F-1 visa, you will need to obtain a visa renewal prior to your return, as a valid F-1 visa is required for re-entry.

Exception for return to the U.S. after travel to Mexico, Canada, and the neighboring islands/U.S. territories: Automatic Visa Revalidation Benefit. This benefit allows you to return to the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa under the following conditions: visit is not more than 30 days, and the purpose is pleasure or vacation only; you maintained F-1/OPT status at all times; you are in possession of your F-1 documents required for travel; you have NOT applied for a visa renewal during that particular visit; and you are NOT a national of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, or North Korea.

In any case, if your visa is expired and you plan to travel abroad, please consult with the international student advisor at the ISS office before you travel to go over your situation and options.

What documents do I need to show at the embassy for a new visa stamp under OPT?

You will need to carry your F-1 documents: your I-20 that has been endorsed for travel by the international student advisor within the last 6 months; the valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS; your valid passport valid for 6 months into the future; and proof of current/future employment, such as a letter from your employer stating you are returning to a job in the U.S. (listing the name and contact information of the company, your job title, salary, job duties, and beginning date).
You should also be prepared to discuss how this job experience will apply to the job market in your home country, and how you intend to apply it there.