The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students on approved Optional Practical Training (OPT). As an F-1 student on OPT (or STEM OPT), you continue to be under Washington University’s sponsorship. As such, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so that you remain in valid visa status.

On this page

Employment & unemployment on OPT

During your period of OPT authorization, you should be working or actively seeking employment. There are limits to what jobs count as employment and to the number of days you may remain unemployed.

When can I start working?

You can only start working on the start date of your approved EAD card. You must physically have the EAD card to start working.

What counts as “employment” while I am on OPT?

Employment must be:

  • a job that is directly related to your major area of study. If the relationship between the job and your field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate the relationship.
  • at least 20 hours per week; if work is less than full-time, it counts toward your 90 days of unemployment. Mark each job as “full-time” (at least 20 hours per week or more) or “part-time” (less than 20 hours per week).
  • paid or unpaid.
Keep records of your employment

Students on OPT should keep all records of employment. USCIS may ask for them during future application processes.

Types of employment allowed during post-completion OPT:

Paid EmploymentStudents may work in a job related to their field of study 20 hours or more per week (if work is less than full-time, it counts toward a student’s 90 days of unemployment).
Multiple employers or “gigs”Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s major area of study. If a student is working on gigs, students should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
Work for hire
commonly referred to as “1099 employment”
This is a type of 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 contracts and the name and address of the contracting company.
Work for yourself or self-employed business ownerStudents may start a business and be self-employed. The student must work full-time (20 hours or more per week) and be able to provide proof that the work is related to their program of study at WashU. The student must be able to prove that they have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to the degree program.
Employment through an agencyStudents must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of over 20 hours or more per week while employed by the agency.
Unpaid employmentStudents on post-completion OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns. The work must be 20 hours or more per week. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked 20 hours or more per week the period of employment.
OPT employment allowed, per the SEVP OPT Guidance document (PDF)
Unemployment 90-day rule

During the period of OPT authorization, students should be working or actively seeking employment.

  • You are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment on post-completion OPT. The 90 days start counting from your approved OPT/EAD start date (not the recommended start date nor the program end date on your I-20) and are cumulative.
  • If you accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment, you are in violation of your F-1 status. You must leave the U.S., transfer to another school, or change your visa status before the 90th day. See Options after OPT Ends section below.
  • Approved vacation or leave from a job does not count as “unemployment” if you are using a benefit and still considered an employee.
  • To ensure that you do not exceed the 90-day unemployment limit while on OPT, it is necessary to secure a full-time job, which is defined by USCIS as working 20 hours or more per week. Any job that involves working less than 20 hours per week will count toward your 90-day unemployment limit.
  • If granted a 24-month STEM extension, you are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT and STEM OPT periods.
How do I know if my job is related to my degree and why is this important?

Federal regulations require that all OPT employment is directly related to your major area of study. As part of reporting requirements, you must provide a description demonstrating a logical connection between your regular job duties and your major area of study. More information and sample descriptions are available in the SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training – Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study.

A direct relationship between employment and your major area of study is important because OPT is part of your F-1 student immigration status. The primary purpose of your immigration status is to study in the U.S. Therefore, practical training is seen as a supplement to the educational objectives of your program. It is meant to provide you with an opportunity to apply what you have learned in your program. It is not to simply give you permission to work in the U.S.

The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate if USCIS questions the relationship between your job and your major area of study in the future. OISS will not be able to advise you as to which jobs do or do not qualify. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic adviser, the WashU Center for Career Engagement, or others in your field.

What documentation do I need to maintain during my OPT employment?

It is your responsibility to keep records of your employment, paid or unpaid. You may be asked about these records in the future (for example, if you apply for H-1B, Lawful Permanent Residency or other U.S. immigrant or non-immigrant statuses). Examples of records to keep include offer letters, contracts, payroll records, all job start/end dates, employer names, employer addresses and number of hours worked per week.

OISS recommends that students maintain evidence of the following for each job:

  • position held
  • duration of the position (start date and end date)
  • job title
  • contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager
  • description of the work
Using the SEVP Portal

You must use the SEVP Portal to keep your SEVIS record up to date and to report information to maintain your F-1 status while on OPT. SEVP will email you a link to create a SEVP Portal account on or close to your OPT start date.

You should use the SEVP Portal to:

Changing employers or multiple employers

Students may have multiple jobs and change jobs as many times as they wish during OPT, provided that all employment is directly related to their major area of study and the work is 20 hours or more per week. You do not need special permission to change employers. However, you must update your employer information in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of each change.

OPT reporting requirements & rules

  1. You may only work from the start date to the end date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
    Your EAD card will read:
    Valid From: _______ (start date)
    Card Expires: ________ (end date)
  1. OPT employment must be related to your major area of study.
  2. You must report all employment and address changes in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of any change.
    The SEVP Portal is an important tool that lets F-1 students on Post-Completion OPT meet their legal reporting requirements. Learn how to get started and maintain your portal account on the SEVP Portal Help page.
  3. You are limited to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
    Learn more about unemployment limits from Study in the States

If you do not report your employment updates within 10 days of the start date of your employment, you will not be able to report in the SEVP portal. If this happens, you can report your employment in via the MyOISS request titled OPT: Past 30 Days OR Change Recommended Dates and an OISS adviser will update your employment information for you.

Additional guidance for OPT students

Traveling while on OPT

Remember that you will remain in F-1 status while on OPT. If you travel abroad during this time, you must have the following to re-enter the U.S.:

  1. Valid EAD card: You may not be granted re-entry until your OPT is approved and you have your physical EAD card. Please discuss your travel plans with your OISS adviser, especially if you plan to travel after graduation.
  2. I-20 with travel signature (no more than 6 months old): Submit a Reprint I-20 request for an updated travel signature in MyOISS.
  3. Valid F-1 visa stamp: Canadians are exempt from this requirement.
  4. Passport: Valid and unexpired.
  5. Job offer letter or proof of employment: Not required, but highly recommended.
Health Insurance while on OPT

If you are employed full-time during OPT, you might receive health insurance as a benefit of your employment. However, it is important to note that U.S. employer-issued health insurance policies often do not cover medical evacuation or repatriation. These coverages are essential for any non-citizen living in the U.S.

If you do not receive employee health insurance, we highly recommend you obtain your own health insurance. There are several companies that specialize in health insurance for international students and offer services in several languages. We recommend speaking to a representative about the plan coverage and asking any questions you may have before purchasing an insurance policy for yourself and any dependents.

Students who are enrolled in the Student Insurance Plan remain covered by the plan until the end of the insurance term (July 31). You have the option to enroll yourself and your dependents in the Continuation Plan after the termination date of your plan. You are only eligible for this continuation plan if you have been on the plan for the policy year directly preceding graduation / departure from the university. For more information, please visit the Student Insurance Continuation page.

Taking classes while on OPT

While on OPT, your primary purpose is to maintain your immigration status by working. Incidental study (classes for fun or professional development) is allowed as a supplement to your work as long as you continue to work full-time.

If you decide to return to school full-time, you will need to transfer your SEVIS record to the new school by submitting the Transfer Out request in MyOISS. If you are returning to WashU to pursue a new degree, you should submit the Change of Level request in MyOISS.

Your OPT ends on the date of your SEVIS transfer and you will no longer have work authorization.

Filing and paying U.S. taxes

While on OPT, you are subject to all applicable federal, state and local taxes and must file annual tax returns. See more information on our U.S. Taxes page.

Extensions of OPT

24-month STEM OPT Extension

Students who have received a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24-Month STEM Extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months of OPT). You must apply for the STEM Extension before the end date of your EAD card. Learn more about STEM OPT Extension.

Cap-Gap Extension for future H-1B employees

“Cap-Gap” refers to the period of time between the official end date listed on the OPT or STEM OPT EAD card and the official start date of an H-1B filed for Change of Status.

The Cap-Gap OPT Extension allows eligible F-1 students to maintain immigration status and employment authorization under OPT until the start of H-1B status. To qualify for the Cap-Gap Extension, you must not have violated the terms or conditions of your F-1 status. Learn more about Gap-Gap Extension.

Options after OPT ends

You are allowed a 60-day grace period following your OPT end date to leave the U.S., change your immigration status, transfer your F-1 record to a new school, or begin a new program at WashU. You may want to pursue these options before the end of your OPT. If you remain in the U.S. past the end of your 60-day grace period without transferring to a new school, beginning your new program, or having applied for a timely filed Change of Status, you will begin accruing days of Unlawful Presence, which has serious consequences based on the length of the overstay.

60-day grace period to leave the U.S.

If your plan is to depart the U.S. after OPT, you must do so within your 60-day grace period. You must stop working by the end date (card expires date) on your EAD card.

If you are leaving the U.S. permanently before the end date on your EAD, you must submit the Early Departure Notification request in MyOISS so OISS can complete your SEVIS record and F-1 status.

Do not complete this request if you have intentions to begin a new degree program in F-1 status within the next five months.

Changing immigration status

During OPT
Submit a Report Change of Status request in MyOISS if you are approved for a change of immigration status during your OPT. We will then update your SEVIS record.

After OPT
If you have a pending change of status after your OPT ends, check with the immigration attorney working on your change of status application to determine what options are available to you, and if you may remain in the U.S. past the end of your 60-day grace period without a negative impact on your immigration status.

Pending or approved change of status to H-1B
If you have a pending or approved change of status to H-1B, you may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension.

Pursue a new program of study in the U.S.

During OPT
If you wish to start a new full-time academic program while on OPT, the remainder of your OPT must be forfeited before beginning classes with the new program.

  • If you are beginning a program of study at another U.S. school, you must request a Transfer Out in MyOISS in order to transfer your F-1 SEVIS record to another school.
  • If you are beginning a new program of study at WashU, you must submit a Change of Education Level request in MyOISS.

After OPT
If you are planning to go back to school after your OPT, you will need to submit either a Transfer Out request to transfer your F-1 SEVIS record to another school or request a Change of Education Level if returning to WashU. Both requests are located in MyOISS.

You must complete the Transfer-Out or Change of Education Level requests before the end of the 60-day grace period following the OPT end date.

When considering a transfer (to another school), keep in mind the following
  • After the SEVIS transfer release date has passed, you may not continue working on OPT, even if your EAD has not expired. The transfer release date, in effect, cancels the EAD.
  • Your SEVIS transfer release date can be within the OPT period dates listed on the EAD or up to 60 days after the expiration date on the EAD.
  • If you accrued 90 days of OPT unemployment, you are not eligible to transfer your SEVIS record. You must submit the SEVIS transfer at least 7 days prior to the unemployment maximum to allow your OISS adviser time to complete the request.
  • Classes at the new school must begin within 5 months of the transfer release date or at the start of the next available term, whichever is earlier.
  • You may request a transfer release date in the future and continue working on OPT until that date, as long as the EAD has not expired and the new program of study has not yet begun.
  • If the length of time between the OPT end date and the start date of classes at the new school will be more than 5 months, meet with your OISS adviser to discuss options.