OPT FAQs

Employment and reporting requirements

OPT is a benefit available to students with F-1 status. It is not a work visa or work status. You will remain in F-1 status during OPT, and this means you will need to continue to meet your F-1 status reporting requirements.

OPT allows you to gain practical training and experience related to your major field of study. You are required to report all changes to your employment (starting, stopping, or changing any practical training experience) via the OPT Update Employment Information e-form in Atlas. Note that you will be asked to explain how your experience is related to your major field of study.

It is your responsibility to ensure and report how your practical training experience is related to your major field of study. If you are not confident that your employment is related to your major field of study, your academic advisor or career services center may be a good resource for you to use to discuss how the duties of your experience tie back to your major field of study. The information that you report to our office regarding your OPT employment will be reported in your SEVIS record.

It is your responsibility to keep track of employment-related information for the duration of your OPT authorization. You will need to keep very careful track of your employment: dates, employer names, addresses, and supervisors’ contact information. In addition, you are required to report any/all employment to our office within 10 days of any change and document the connection of that employment to your major area of study through Atlas.

To assist you in keeping track of your employment for your own records, you can download an Excel spreadsheet to help you maintain accurate records. Filling out the information in the spreadsheet will help you keep track of the names of your employers and the dates when you worked for them, as well as any dates of unemployment that you may be accruing. The Excel form is for your own record-keeping purposes and should not be submitted to OIS.

Types of reporting available in Atlas:

  • Update OPT Employer Information: Complete this form to update any employment information (new employer, addition of another job, providing additional information for your current employer, etc.) while on OPT.
  • Report OPT Unemployment: Complete this form if you are currently unemployed and do not have a new employer at the moment.
  • No Longer on OPT: Complete this form if you are no longer on OPT—if you’ve received a change of status or you’ve decided to leave the country and give up your remaining OPT authorization.
  • STEM OPT specific reporting: If you are currently participating in STEM OPT, you can find the STEM OPT reporting requirements here

You may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT. You are required to report any period of unemployment or interruptions to employment by submitting the Report OPT Unemployment form in Atlas within 10 days of the change.

Any period of unemployment will count toward this total. This means that any days for which you are not employed or on payroll count toward the 90-day total.

If your employer files a timely H-1B petition before your OPT expires and you are granted cap-gap coverage, you are still permitted only a total of 90 days of unemployment for the entire period of OPT.

Days spent outside of the United States while unemployed still count toward the 90-day total.

If you get close to your 90th day of unemployment while on OPT, it is best to make plans to depart the United States, apply for a change of status, or make preparations to begin a new program of study. Take action early enough so that by the end of the 90th day of unemployment, you have another option already in progress. If you are unemployed for more than 90 days, you may be considered to be out of status.

OIS will not take any adverse action on your SEVIS record regarding unemployment. OIS’s responsibility is to report interruptions in practical training employment that you report to OIS. Failure to report that information, or the accrual of more than 90 days of unemployment, may result in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) not approving future benefits or requests or terminating your SEVIS record.

It is a serious violation of your immigration status to work without authorization. Volunteering—even in an area related to your field of study—may be considered work without authorization if a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident would be paid for that work. You should wait until you receive your EAD—and for the start date as listed on the EAD—before beginning any type of employment in your field of study.

Learn more about volunteering

You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern. This unpaid experience must also be in your major field of study. You should keep records from your employer that you volunteered at least 21 hours per week during the period of employment.

You must be careful not to “volunteer” without pay in positions that U.S. citizens would be paid for. This rule is designed to protect you, the employer, and other workers. The U.S. Department of Labor provides information on the Fair Labor Standards Act on its website.

Learn more about volunteering

Each time you move, you are required to report your new address to OIS within 10 days. 

How to update or add your local address

  1. Log on to One.IU
  2. Search for and open Personal Information
  3. In the Addresses section, click “Add Future Address” and select “Local”
  4. Enter your new local address information
  5. Click Save
  6. If there is an incorrect “Local” address listed, click the pencil icon to edit your address and then click Save

Be sure to enter a local address, because that is the address that will be sent to SEVIS. “Local” refers to the address where you live in the United States.

If you find that you are unable to update or add your “Local” address in One.IU, you may log in to Atlas and submit an e-form to update your local address. But begin with One.IU before submitting your request to Atlas.

A 24-month extension of OPT is only possible for students who are completing a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in DHS-designated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

If your degree is in a non-STEM field, the maximum amount of time for which you are eligible for OPT is 12 months for each higher degree level.

Learn about the STEM extension

A branch of the U.S. government (the Student and Exchange Visitor Program or SEVP) has a portal that allows you to update your OPT employer information and address. You will receive an email invitation from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov after your OPT is approved and your start date is in the past. Using the portal is optional and you still need to use Atlas for your reporting requirements.

We suggest using only Atlas to manage all your OPT reporting obligations.

If you need to reset your SEVP Portal account or update the email used with your SEVP Portal account, you will need to contact OIS for assistance. If you have other questions about the Portal, you will need to contact the SEVIS Help Desk (1-800-892-4829).

Travel

If you are traveling outside of the United States while waiting for your OPT to be approved and BEFORE you complete your degree, take the following items with you:

  • Your passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry)
  • A signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT)
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp

If you are traveling outside of the United States while waiting for your OPT to be approved AFTER you have already completed your degree, take the following items with you:

  • Your passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry)
  • A signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp
  • An I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS)

We recommends particular caution when traveling outside of the United States after you have graduated, while you are waiting for your OPT authorization. Your U.S. immigration status is determined by your I-94 document, and because the I-94 information is no longer current when you depart from the United States, establishing your F-1 status while outside the country will be difficult if USCIS has questions about your application. If USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may travel back to the United States while your OPT is pending in order to search for employment.

Learn about travel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

If you have the proper documentation for your particular situation, you may be eligible to depart from and re-enter the United States after a brief absence.

If you are employed, travel outside of the United States for vacation, business, or a leave of absence—while continuing to be employed in your major field of study during the travel—does not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment

It can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind. Please feel free to discuss your plans with an international student advisor in our office before you travel.

If you are traveling while on OPT, carry the following:

  • Your I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp
  • A passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the United States
  • A valid OPT card
  • A job offer letter or letter verifying employment. If you are traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this and the date you are expected to return.

It can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind. Please feel free to discuss your plans with an international student advisor in our office before you make plans to travel.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) strongly recommends that you not travel during your cap-gap extension. USCIS may consider your application to change from F-1 to H-1B as abandoned and deny the change of status. You need to discuss all travel plans with your employer and/or the attorney assisting you with the process.