OPT Frequently Asked Questions

When I’m on OPT, what status am I in?

OPT is part of F-1 status. Even though you are no longer studying, you are still in F-1 status.

Am I required to have health insurance while an OPT?

No, but it’s a good idea. If you wish, you can pay to extend your current W&M policy. You must submit a request for a “Continuation Policy” to UnitedHealthcare within 31 days after the expiration of your student coverage. Please refer to the student insurance webpage for more information. This insurance extension is temporary, so you may also want to research other options, such as through the Affordable Healthcare Act, or other plans.

Can I travel while on OPT or before my OPT?

Yes, but you must have the documents necessary to reenter the US. The necessary documents are your passport, F-1 visa, OPT I-20 signed within the last 6 months, and EAD (OPT card). We also advise you to carry documents showing you have or are pursuing employment, such as: a letter confirming your employment, or invitation to an interview, etc., as the law says you may reenter to resume employment. Keep in mind that if your visa is expired, or will expire, you will need to obtain a new one before reentering. Remember, any time you leave the US there is never a guarantee that Immigration will allow you to reenter. Please see our section on Travelling Abroad While on OPT for additional information. You can speak to someone at the Reves Center if you have questions.

Do I have to pay taxes while working on OPT?

Yes, you must pay federal and state income taxes. Taxes are due on April 15. Most large cities will have VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) services. Make sure the tax consultant knows if you are a resident or non­resident for tax purposes (this is different from immigration status). NOTE: If you have been in the US for less than 5 years, you may be exempt from Social Security taxes. See the IRS website for more information.

Do I need a new Social Security card to work on OPT?

You only need a new Social Security card if your current one says “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT.” To get a new card that says “VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT WITH DHS WORK AUTHORIZATION”, go to any Social Security office with your passport and I-94 card, OPT I-20, and EAD (OPT card).

Can I take a class while on OPT?

You may take a class or two (even for credit), but if you begin a new degree program, you will end your OPT. OPT is intended for students to get practical experience in their field of study.

What if I never find a job or never work while on OPT, am I “illegal”?

Students on the first 12 month of post-completion OPT authorization may not be unemployed more than 90 days total; students authorized for an additional 24 month extension may not be unemployed more than 150 days during the total 36 month OPT period. Your employment may be either paid or unpaid (unless you are on the STEM extension), as long as it is in your field of study and at least 20 hours per week. Immigration has not yet clarified the consequences of exceeding the unemployment limits, but it may include loss of immigration status or ineligibility for future immigration benefits.

What if USCIS takes a really long time to process my application?

For the initial 12 month post-completion OPT authorization, you may remain in the U.S. while they are processing the application, but you can’t begin work until it is approved and you receive the card.  If more than 3 months pass after your application, and it is still not issued, and you have a job offer, we can request an expedite, but it is not guaranteed.

For the 24 month STEM extension, as long as you apply for the extension before the current OPT period expires, you may continue working until it is approved or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

If my employer wants to sponsor me for an H1B, when should s/he start the process?

Generally we tell students to start as soon as possible. Here are some H1B resources:

My employer wants me to begin work immediately but I have not received my OPT authorization yet.  Can I volunteer with the company while I wait for my OPT authorization?

To volunteer in a position that is usually paid would be considered unauthorized employment and is in violation of immigration and labor laws. Please see our page on “Volunteering and Unpaid Internships” for more information.

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