International Student Services

Post-Completion OPT: After Approval

12-Month OPT is Approved. Now What?

Congratulations! Your OPT was approved. Now what?

  1. Set up your SEVP Portal Account; read about the portal
  2. Report your OPT activity (more details below).
  3. A new I-20 is not required to show OPT approval.
  4. Keep your EAD in a safe place. ISS does not need a copy of your EAD.
  5. Read all the information on this page about the 12-month OPT period. 

Required: Report Your OPT Activity! 

These reports are required to maintain your F-1 status. The U.S. government checks that students with OPT authorization are engaged in practical training experience that meets all the requirements below.

What are the consequences of late or missed reporting?

If you do not report your OPT activity, the U.S. government could terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date printed on your EAD card. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S. The U.S. government could deny future benefits based on late reporting.

What to Report When to Report How to Report
Starting OPT activity (work or practical training)
  • Must report within 10 days of starting OPT activity
  • Cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment from OPT start date on EAD

SEVP Portal

If you missed the 10 day reporting deadline, use the ISS webform

End of OPT activity (work or practical training) Within 10 days of end date

SEVP Portal

If you missed the 10 day reporting deadline, use the ISS webform

Changing OPT activity site/employers Within 10 days of end date

SEVP Portal

If you missed the 10 day reporting deadline, use the ISS webform

Address change Within 10 days of moving SEVP Portal
Final departure from U.S. (if earlier than OPT end date)   ISS Reporting Webform

Request New Form I-20

  • Not required, but employer may ask
  • Travel signature update
  ISS Reporting Webform

What Does “OPT Activity” Mean?

OPT Activity = Employment = Internship = Volunteer Service = Practical Training

The purpose of OPT is for you to get practical experience related to your studies. The U.S. government uses the terms practical training or employment.

The word employment can be confusing because unpaid activity also counts as practical training as long as the activity meets all the rules below.

ISS uses the term “OPT activity” to help you learn the OPT rules.

The following types of OPT activity are allowed:

Activity Type Additional Information
Agency or consulting firm employment  
Internships (paid or unpaid)  
Multiple employers You may work in your field of study for more than one employer as long as all positions relate to your studies
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.
Temporary  or “temp” work  
Work for hire Contract employment in your field of study is allowed.
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. ISS strongly recommends that you speak with an experienced attorney for guidance on starting your own business during OPT. See ISS’ Tips for Finding a Lawyer.
Volunteer service You may be a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study, as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

Your OPT Activity Must Relate to Your Studies

OPT authorizes employment/practical training that is related to your major area of study and commensurate with your level of education.
OPT does NOT authorize employment/practical training unrelated to your major area of study.

How do you know if it’s related? Who decides?

These are good, yet hard questions, to answer.
First, it is your responsibility to evaluate how a job relates to your major area of study. The following questions can help you assess:

  • What skills did you learn that are specific to your major/area of study?
  • Did the job offer require your particular degree?
  • Are the described job responsibilities using the skills from your major/area of study?
  • You may want to consult your academic adviser to help you think about and articulate the skill set unique to your degree.

ISS advisers cannot review job descriptions to assess if they are related to your studies. The government does not give us the authority or role to “approve” work. We also do not have the academic subject-area expertise in all fields to make this assessment.

You must do your best in evaluating potential job offers and being comfortable that they relate to your degree.

Can I consult an immigration official?

Unfortunately there is not “one” immigration official or resource who can assist with this question during the OPT period.

Most likely, an immigration official would review your employment/practical training in the following situations:

  • Upon reentry to the U.S. if you travel during the OPT year
  • If you apply for a new F-1 visa during your OPT year
  • If you apply for other immigration benefits during or after your OPT year (such as an H1B, green card, etc.)

What is the risk of working in a job unrelated to my studies?

Working in a position unrelated to your studies is considered a violation of F-1 status. Future immigration benefits could be denied based on working in a position that is not an appropriate OPT activity.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement can terminate a student’s F-1 SEVIS record if a student works in a position unrelated to their studies. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and invalidates F-1 status in the U.S.

Hourly Minimum

Your OPT activity must be at least 20 hours per week.

If you have multiple jobs/positions, the sum total hours must be at least 20 hours per week. (Exceptions exist during the COVID-19 emergency).

There is no maximum number of weekly hours.

Limits on Unemployment Days

“Unemployment” = not having an OPT activity (including volunteering, internship, jobs, etc.)

You cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment during your 12-month OPT year.

  • Your OPT year is the time between the OPT start and end dates on your EAD
  • Unemployment days start counting on the start date printed on your EAD unless you start an OPT activity that day.
  • The day you start the OPT activity itself (not the date you receive an offer letter for a future start date) is when the unemployment days stop counting. 
  • You must report your OPT activity to stop the unemployment clock from counting in SEVIS (see the OPT Reporting Requirements above)
  • If you are employed and on approved vacation or leave time or you are travelling as part of your employment, this is not counted as unemployment days.
  • Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying OPT activity counts as a day of unemployment.
  • There is no grace period after 90 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.
  • If you exceed 90 days of unemployment, or if you fail to report your employment, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after your OPT start date. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

Proof of OPT Activity/Employment

Keep documentation of your OPT activity history for your own records.

You are not required to provide this documentation to ISS or the U.S. government for your OPT reporting, but you might need OPT activity documentation for future benefits applications in the U.S. (such as work visa or permanent resident applications).

The immigration regulations do not specify what documents are “proof of employment.” Examples of OPT activity/employment documentation could include:

  • Offer letter from your employer
  • Letter from your supervisor on official letterhead that confirms continued employment (or internship/volunteer service)
    If the connection between your field of study and your employment/practical training is not obvious, it might be helpful for the letter to explain how your practical training relates to your studies.
  • Payment records
  • Timesheet/activity log for unpaid practical training experience

EAD (Employment Authorization Document)

Protect your EAD

Keep your EAD in a safe place. It is not recommend that you carry it in your wallet. If you lose your EAD, you must file a replacement application to USCIS and pay the fee again. 

EAD Errors

What happens if your EAD card has incorrect information on it?

  1. Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
  2. To correct the EAD, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.

Travel and OPT

COVID-19 Visa & Travel Restrictions: Updates and FAQs
Temporary Online Travel Signature Process: Online Request Form 

Students have many questions about whether or not it is okay to travel while OPT is processing and/or during the OPT period.

Here are the rules about travel and OPT, depending on your situation.

1. During your final quarter, after you submit your Post-Completion OPT application:

You can travel and reenter the U.S. as a student during your final registration quarter. You will use the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on page 2, along with the other regular travel documents. If you plan to return to the U.S. before the expiration date of the new I-20 (your program completion date), it does not matter whether your OPT application is still processing or is approved, and whether or not you have a job offer yet.

2. After graduation, while your Post-Completion OPT application is processing:

After your final quarter ends, you are technically allowed to travel and reenter the U.S. while your post-completion OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer.

ISS does not recommend travel after graduation with a pending OPT application because of these risks:

  1. USCIS sometimes returns, denies, or sends a request for more information regarding OPT applications. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S. It is your application, so ISS does not have the authority to respond for you.
  2. 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.

If you are unable to change or cancel your travel plans, carry the following documents with you:

  • Your OPT receipt notice from USCIS
  • Your OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature from ISS (travel signature is valid for only 6 months during OPT)
  • Valid Passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless you are Canadian or are returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, with some exceptions). 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.

3. After graduation, and after your Post-Completion 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. only if you have proof of employment. If you are still looking for practical training opportunities, you should not travel internationally.

For travel, carry the following documents with you:

  • OPT I-20 signed for travel by an international student adviser within the last 6 months
  • Proof 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, with some exceptions)

You can apply for an F-1 visa during your OPT year. Follow the regular procedures to apply for an F-1 visa outside of the U.S. For the F-1 visa application, plan to provide the documents listed above, as well as proof of financial ability to stay in the U.S. and proof of continuing ties to your home country.

After the OPT approval start date, time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit. 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 your primary ISS adviser 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

Studying while on OPT is generally prohibited. Enrolling full-time, taking classes at a higher educational level, or taking courses at another institution will terminate your employment authorization, even if the dates on your EAD are still valid.

Government guidance states that recreational and avocational study is OK, but they do not define these terms.

UW ISS cannot verify if specific courses or programs fall under the category of “recreational and avocational” because there is not official written guidance. UW ISS recommends caution about beginning any kind of professional formal training during OPT.

Please consult an experienced immigration attorney if you have more questions about the risk of study during OPT. See ISS’ Tips for Finding a Lawyer.

Grace Period

You are automatically granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) if:

  • You do not exceed 90 days of unemployment during the OPT year
  • You report your OPT activity as required

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 “Change of Level” I-20 if you will continue at the UW in a new degree program. If you are an undergraduate and will begin graduate studies, your new I-20 will be issued by Graduate Admissions.
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
  • Apply to change status to another visa category.

F-1 Status During OPT

F-1 Status

You are still in F-1 student status during your OPT year even though you graduated and are not registering for classes (exception: graduate students with thesis/dissertation remaining  may continue enrolling).

OPT is a benefit and extension of your F-1 nonimmigrant status. OPT is a benefit of F-1 status, not a unique, different visa type or different nonimmigrant status.This means that the U.S. government still considers you to be in F-1 student status as long as you follow the rules of the OPT year.

The OPT activity, instead of classes, maintains your F-1 status.

During the OPT period of your F-1 status, ISS will continue to provide advising related to your F-1 status, including travel signatures, travel questions, OPT reporting questions, etc.

UW Status

However, after graduation, you are no longer considered a student by the UW. You are an alumnus and you no longer eligible for various UW student services that are funded by enrolled student fees.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • UPASS
  • IMA access
  • Eligibility for on-campus housing
  • ISHIP or GAIP insurance coverage (There may be exceptions such as for students who purchased the annual ISHIP option; be sure to consult the applicable insurance office on campus for details).

F-1 Visa Validity

It is OK if your F-1 visa expires while you are in the U.S. during OPT.

Your F-1 status is distinct from the F-1 visa and depends on your maintenance of status, not the validity of your visa – the visa itself is a travel document required for entry into the U.S. It’s important to note that the F-1 visa and the I-20 are separate documents with different requirements. See F-1 Documents.

It is very common for students to remain in the U.S. after the F-1 visa expires; your F-1 status remains valid as long as you follow the OPT rules described on this webpage.

You do not need to renew your visa in order to apply for the STEM Extension.

You do need a valid visa in order to enter the U.S. (There are some exceptions for reentry to the US after short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands).

For more information about renewal, see our Visas page and the travel document information above. 

Note: You cannot renew your F-1 visa in the U.S.

Money Matters (Taxes)

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.

To help make tax filing easier, ISS purchases an online tax preparation service designed for F-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants. This web-based program, GLACIER Tax Prep, provides step-by-step instructions and assistance with the preparation of the appropriate forms. If you still need help or need information regarding taxes, consult the Internal Revenue Service.

Health Insurance

Medical insurance is an extremely important consideration while you are on OPT. If your OPT activity is not with an employer that offers insurance, or if your employer’s plan does not cover medical evacuation/repatriation for people living internationally, then you should purchase additional coverage.

If you have questions after researching your insurance options, UW’s ISHIP Counselor can advise about the following topics:

  • Assistance comparing various insurance plans
  • Understanding medical terminology/jargon (examples: deductibles, exemptions, in-network/out-of-network, preferred provider)
  • Medical evacuation & repatriation coverage (very important, and not typically included in U.S. employer-sponsored health insurance plans)