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Employment While On OPT

  • While on OPT, F-1 students may only work in their major field of study.
  • Employment is only permitted upon receiving the OPT card (Employment Authorization Document—EAD), and only during the dates listed on the card (with the exception of the CAP-GAP).
  • Upon completion of a program of study, on-campus employment is not permitted. 
  • OPT allows students to work in more than one job, provided that all jobs are in the major field of study.
  • There are no maximum limits on the number of hours per week that a student can work while on OPT, but students must work at least 21 hours per week while on OPT.
  • Immigration regulations require that you report any interruptions in your employment to the Office of International Services.  To report interruptions in employment, please log into iStart and submit the “Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed” e-form.

Reporting Requirements While On OPT

There are reporting requirements for students who are pursuing Optional Practical Training in the US.

All students on OPT must report to the Office of International Services within 10 days of any change in the following:

  • Any change in name or address
  • Any change in immigration status (email to oiss@iusb.edu)
  • Any interruption of employment including a return to studies

Students who plan to begin a new academic program at Indiana University will need to contact IUSB regarding a new degree program.

Students who wish to transfer to another college or university in the US must fill out a Transfer Out form.  These requests must be submitted before beginning a new program, and the OISS approval for these requests must be granted no later than the end of the 60-day grace period following completion of OPT.

Note: OPT will automatically terminate when a new I-20 is created for a new program of study (at IUSB or at another institution).

Employment Tracking and Reporting

It is the responsibility of each F-1 student on OPT to keep track of employment-related information for the duration of the OPT authorization.  ICE regulations require that students pursuing OPT report interruptions in employment to the OISS within 10 business days to avoid situations where a DHS official may determine the student is out of status.

You will need to keep very careful track of your employment—dates, employer names, addresses, supervisor’s contact information.

It will be very important for you to track your days of unemployment, and also to retain supporting documentation of the periods of time when you are employed (including offer letters, pay stubs, etc.).

For your convenience in maintaining accurate records, you may find this downloadable Excel spreadsheet from IU Bloomington to be a helpful tool.  Filling out the information in the spreadsheet will help you keep track of the names of your employers and the dates when you worked for them, as well as the dates of unemployment that you may be accruing.  The Excel form is for your own record keeping purposes and should not be submitted to OISS.

To report changes in employment to OISS, you must send an e-mail to oiss@iusb.edu.  These requests must be submitted within 10 days of any changes in your employment or your address while on OPT.  We will then use the information you provide to update your SEVIS record accordingly.

Unemployment Issues

  • As of April 8, 2008, students granted post-completion OPT can accrue up to 90 days of unemployment.
  • Any period of unemployment will count toward the 90 total days of unemployment.  This means that any days for which you are not employed or remaining on payroll count toward the 90-day total.
  • Students whose employers filed a timely H-1B petition and were granted cap-gap coverage are permitted a total of 90 days of unemployment for the entire period of OPT.
  • Days spent outside of the US while unemployed count towards the 90 days of unemployment permitted.
  • If a student on OPT nears the 90th day of unemployment, it would be best to make plans to depart the US, apply for a change of status to a different status, or make preparations to begin a new degree program.  Action would need to be taken early enough so that by the end of the 90th day of unemployment, the student would have another option already in progress.  DHS has stated that an F-1 student who is unemployed for more than 90 days will be considered to be out of status.
  • The OISS will not take any adverse action on a student’s SEVIS record regarding unemployment.  OISS’s responsibility is to report interruptions in employment that the F-1 student reports to OISS.  Failure to report that information, or accruing more than 90 days of unemployment may result in DHS not approving future benefits or requests.

Traveling while Employed

  • Dates of travel outside of the US while employed do not count as days of unemployment.  If a student on OPT is traveling outside of the US for a vacation or for business while continuing to be employed in the major field of study, those dates outside of the US do not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment.
  • While traveling on OPT, students are advised to carry the following:
    • I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp
    • Passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the US
    • Valid OPT card
    • Job offer or confirmation letter
      • If traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.

If you are:

  • Traveling outside of the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved and before you complete your degree, take the following items with you:

    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp.
  • Traveling outside of the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved and after your degree completion, be advised that this option is somewhat riskier.  You will need to take the following items with you:
    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp;
    • It is also recommended that you bring your I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS).

      OISS recommends particular caution in this situation.  Your US immigration status is determined by the I-94 card that is placed in your passport and because the I-94 is taken each time you depart from the US, establishing your F-1 status while outside the US will be difficult if USCIS has questions about your application.  If USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and if it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied.

      According to DHS, traveling back to the US while your OPT is pending is permitted in order to search for employment (more information on the SEVP FAQ page).

  • Traveling outside of the US after your OPT has been approved and after the completion date on your I-20 (check item 5 on your I-20), you must have the following documents to re-enter the United States:
    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp;
    • OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature (given within the last six months);
    • valid OPT card;
    • job offer or employment confirmation letter (Immigration regulations state that you can re-enter the US to resume employment while on OPT)
      • If traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.

It can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT.  If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind.  Please remember that anytime you leave the US there is never a guarantee that the immigration official at the port of entry will allow you to reenter.  Please speak with an advisor at OISS if you have questions.

How do I report an interruption in employment to the Office of International Services?

Send an e-mail to oiss@iusb.edu.  These requests must be submitted within 10 days of any changes in your employment or your address while on OPT.  You must submit these request each time there is a change in your employment.  We will then use the information you provide to update your SEVIS record accordingly.

One strategy for maintaining your status while on OPT: Unpaid Employment

Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws.  This unpaid work must also be in the student’s major field of study.  Students on post completion OPT must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 21 hours per week during the period of employment.

Students engaged in OPT should be careful not to “volunteer” without pay in positions that US citizens would be paid for.  This is designed to protect you, the employer and other workers.  Click here for more information on the US Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act.