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OPT & Unemployment

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.
  • Volunteering*

June 1, 2020 UPDATE: For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.

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 said they will be terminating immigration records of students who have exceeded 90 days of unemployment. If your immigration record is terminated, you must leave the US immediately; there is no grace period.

If you exceed the 90 days of unemployment, you will no longer be in a valid immigration status, and this can both affect your ability to remain in the US, and may mean ineligibility for future immigration benefits (such as a change of status to H-1B), or denial of a future visa application. 

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 consider:

  • Applying to continue your education by a change of education level or transfer to another SEVP-certified school
  • Depart the US
  • Initiate a change of status
Leaving the US and ending your OPT

If you have decided to leave the US and not continue your OPT, you can request that the Reves Center complete your immigration record through iStart.

  • Log into iStart using your WM Userid and Password. Click on F-1 Practical Training in the menu on the left-hand side. Then, click on Optional Practical Training STEM Employment Update and complete the form.