OPT-Work-Travel-and-More

OPT: Work, Travel, and More

 

Limits on Periods of Unemployment

Between the start and end date of your post-completion OPT authorization (the dates on your EAD), you cannot be unemployed for more than 90 accumulated days. If you received a 17-month STEM extension, you are allowed an additional 30 days of unemployment for a total of 120 days. Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. There is no grace period after 90/120 days of unemployment. To avoid violating status, Immigration recommends that prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the U.S., or change to a different immigration status.

Reporting Requirements to the study abroad office

All the information listed below must be reported to Dr. Petoskey within 10 days of change!

  • Name of employer
  • Start date of employment
  • Mailing address of employer
  • Change of employer, with end and start dates of employment
  • Decision to exit the U.S. and complete F-1 status prior to OPT expiration date (if applicable)
  • Your current residential address
  • Your email address
  • Your ECSU student ID number

Keep documentation of your OPT employment history for your own records. You may need it for future benefits applications.

If you are currently approved for a STEM extension, these updates must be reported within 10 days of the change.

Employment Allowed While on OPT

During the 12-month OPT period, you may accept any job that is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of education.

You should be employed at least 20 hours per week. Regardless of your job title or how the position is classified, such as an “intern,” “temp,” “freelance contractor,” “post-doc,” etc., the following employment options are allowed:

  • Multiple employers: you may work in your field of study for more than one employer.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): musicians and other performing artists may work for mutiple short-term employers (gigs). Keep a list of all positions, dates, and duration.
  • Work for hire: contract employment in your field of study
  • Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed in your field of study. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree.
  • Employment in your field of study through an agency or consulting firm.
  • Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study, as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

17-month STEM extension-approved students: you must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to your STEM degree.

Employment may include:

  • Multiple employers: you may work in your field of study for more than one employer. Each employer must be enrolled in E-Verify as previously mentioned.
  • Work for hire: contract employment in your field of study. The company for whom you are providing services must be registered with E-Verify.
  • Self-employment: you may start a business and be self-employed in your field of study. You must register your business with E-Verify and work full time. You must have a business license and document your active engagement in business related to your degree.
  • Employment in your field of study through an agency or consulting firm: you may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency of firm (for which you are providing services) need not be registered with E-Verify.
  • Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study, as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

All of the combined employment above counts for purposes of maintaining F-1 status. Please keep documentation of working an average of 20 hours per week. It is your responsibility to report any employment change to Dr. Petoskey as soon as possible!

Money Matters

You will need a Social Security number in order to receive payment from your employer.

In general, as an F-1 student you will be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S., as long as you continue to declare nonresident status for tax purposes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the U.S. and your home government, your earnings as an F-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes, and employers are required to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, consult the Internal Revenue Service.(IRS)

Health Insurance

Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. If you are not insured through your employer, you should purchase an individual plan. Bear in mind that when you enter OPT status you are no longer a full time student at ECSU and therefore need to make sure you have your own health insurance plans in order.

Travel and OPT

While your OPT application is processing:

You can travel and re-enter the U.S. while your post-completion OPT application is processing. However, please be aware of these risks:

  • USCIS sometimes sends a request for more information or for you to correct a problem with your documentation. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S.
  • After your OPT application is approved, you must also have proof of employment and your EAD in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT application is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.
  • You must have a valid F-1 visa to travel during the OPT year (except for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean). It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.

After your OPT application is approved:

After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you can travel and reenter the U.S. if you have proof of employment. Carry the following documents with you:

  • I-20 signed for travel by an international student adviser within the last 6 months
  • Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
  • EAD card (on the EAD card, there is a statement “Not Valid For Reentry. ” This means the EAD card cannot be used by itself for reentry to the U.S.)
  • Valid passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless you are Canadian or are returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean)
    You can apply for an F-1 visa during your OPT year. Bring the documents list above, as well as proof of financial ability to stay in the U.S. and proof of continuing ties to your home country.

Once the approved period of OPT has begun, time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90/120-day limits. However, travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment. Please keep Dr. Petoskey informed of any travel plans while on OPT that may affect your status.

If you have dependents in F-2 status who will travel without you, be sure they carry a photocopy of your EAD card and proof of your employment along with their updated F-2 I-20 that is properly signed for travel.

Study While on OPT

While approved for OPT you may take recreational courses, but if you begin a new degree program, your OPT is automatically terminated.

Grace Period

Students who do not exceed 90/120 days of unemployment and report employment to the study abroad office as required are automatically granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD (Employment Authorization Document). Within this 60-day grace period, you have the following options:

  • Depart the U.S. Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies and OPT period, you are not eligible to reenter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
  • Request a new I-20 if you will continue at another university in the U.S. in a new degree program. If you are an undergraduate and will begin graduate studies, your new I-20 will be issued by the graduate admissions office at the new school.
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
  • Apply to change status to another visa category.