Maintaining Status on OPT

Maintaining status while on OPT:

  • If authorized for pre-completion OPT, you may work 20 hours or less per week (part time) when classes are in session (spring and fall semesters), and over 20 hours per week (full time) during school breaks (summer or winter breaks). Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will show part-time or full-time authorization.
  • If authorized for post-completion OPT, you must work full time or you will accrue unemployment days. More than 20 hours per week is considered full time. 
  • You cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment throughout the 12 months of post-completion OPT. The 90-day unemployment clock begins on the first day of your OPT as indicated on your EAD, and will end the day you begin employment. 
  • You must have received your EAD before you start working.
  • You cannot start any type of employment or training (paid or unpaid) until the start date on your EAD.
  • You must report any change in employment, address, name, through the Highlander Pipeline. If you change your immigration status, please send us a copy of new visa to .

Starting employment:

  • Completing the Form I-9: Form I-9 is the Employment Eligibility Verification form implemented by USCIS. Upon hiring you, your employer is required to complete it with your information to verify your identity and that you are authorized to work in the U.S. Some employers don’t have experience hiring F-1 students. You can direct your employer to USCIS’s Handbook for Employers, pages 15-21.
  • Reporting your employment: You must report your employment within 10 days through the Highlander Pipeline. This is the official record of your compliance with this rule. You may be required to submit proof of OPT reporting when applying for an H-1B.
  • Requesting a new I-20 after you report your new employment: You may request a new I-20 from OGI after you report new employment. This is not required by the regulations but OGI recommends that you carry an updated I-20 when you travel outside the U.S. In some cases, employers might request to keep a copy of an updated I-20, but they are not allowed to withhold pay until you provide it.You can request an updated I-20 by emailing Processing time is 5 business days.
  • Send a copy of your EAD to so we can check your SEVIS record and make sure the dates match.
  • Keep track of your hours: You are required to work more than 20 hours a week while on OPT (full time) in order to maintain status and not accrue unemployment. Keep a copy of your paycheck for your own records in case you are required to demonstrate that you were employed full time. This might be necessary if you apply for H-1B or employment-based permanent residency in the future. If you are volunteering or have an unpaid internship while on OPT, you should keep a timesheet and have your employer sign off on it. That way you will have a record that you worked more than 20 hours per week even if you were not receiving pay.Unpaid/ volunteering work must also be related to your field of study.
  • Applying for a Social Security Number: If you don’t already have one, you can apply as early as the start date on your EAD.

Traveling while on OPT:

While application is pending: Unless it is an emergency, do not travel while your OPT is pending if your I-20 has expired. You will not be able to reenter with an expired I-20 until your OPT is approved. Additionally, USCIS might send you a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) to your U.S. address while you are abroad, which requires answering as soon as possible. If your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S. you will be required to have your EAD in hand to reenter the country. USCIS cannot mail your EAD outside of the U.S.

Students may choose to travel and re-enter the US prior to their program end date while their OPT application is pending with USCIS at their own discretion.   Travel will not cancel a pending OPT application, however, if you are outside of the US and USCIS send you a Request For Evidence, you will not be present to address this request in a timely manner and may jeopardize your OPT application.  Additionally, travel and re-entry so close to the end of your program may raise questions with Customs and Border Patrol, and students may wish to carry copies of course syllabus, class schedules, etc in order to demonstrate to CBP that their return to the US for the last few weeks of their program is critical for their graduation and completion of their degree.

After OPT is approved: In order to reenter you must have your EAD in hand, your I-20 with a valid travel signature, valid passport and visa, and a letter of employment.

Travel signatures are valid for only 6 months while on OPT.

If you exceed your 90 days of unemployment while outside the U.S., CBP can deny your reentry.