Students on the first 12 months of post-completion OPT authorization may not be unemployed for more than 90 days total. This is aggregate, meaning that if you have 40 days of unemployment, you would only be allowed to be unemployed for a remaining 50 days before you risk violating your immigration status.
STEM extension students authorized for an additional 24 months of OPT may not be unemployed for more than 150 days during the total 36 month OPT period.
How can I avoid exceeding the 90 day unemployment rule?
While on OPT, engage in activities, paid or unpaid, in your field of study for at least 20 hours per week.
USCIS has a broad definition of what constitutes as employment which includes the following:
- Standard employment
- Paid or unpaid* internships
- Working for multiple employers.
- Short-term multiple employers
- Work for hire (service on a contractual basis)
- Self-employed business owner.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm.
Notify Immigration of any changes to your employment, address, or phone within 10 days by updating this within the SEVP Portal. Contact the Reves Center if you have difficulty.
Keep documentation of all your employment (e.g., job offer letter, volunteer confirmation letter, supervisor letter, etc.) as proof that you have not exceeded the 90 day unemployment rule.
* While students may engage in volunteer work and unpaid internships while on OPT, they must still be in compliance with the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor laws. Please see our page on “Volunteering and Unpaid Internships” for more information.
What happens if I exceed 90 days of unemployment?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 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 (such as a change of status to H1B), or denial of a future visa application. We do know that immigration services is currently checking employment data in SEVIS and there is some indication that students' immigration records may be terminated if they are not reporting their employment to Immigration.
The best advice is to engage in activities outlined above and keep good documentation of your employment.
If you are in your OPT and will soon exceed the 90 days of unemployment and you have no plans to work, volunteer, or intern in your field, then you should speak with an advisor to discuss your situation.