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OPT Unemployment Limit

Once your application for Optional Practical Training (OPT) is approved, continued F-1 status and post-completion OPT work permission are dependent on active employment.

Students authorized for the standard 12-month OPT period are limited to a cumulative total of 90 days without employment. If you are unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days during your approved OPT period, your work permission will be terminated and your F-1 status ended. In this case, you will need to take immediate steps to settle your affairs and leave the United States or otherwise change your status.

Periods of unemployment are calculated automatically in your SEVIS immigration record, so it is important to keep your employment information accurate and up-to-date through required OPT reporting.

Conditions to Satisfy "Employment" During OPT

The primary conditions for OPT employment are:

  1. The work is related to your field of study
  2. You are engaged at least 20 hours per week, which the US government considers as full-time

There is no requirement that the work be paid and no limit on the number of appropriate training activities to reach the 20-hour minimum. This means that temporary or part-time positions and some volunteer opportunities may qualify as “employment” for OPT reporting purposes. Additionally, other types of work may be appropriate, such as:

  • Self-employment or entrepreneurial activities
  • Employment as an independent contractor (1099 employment)
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm

Such alternative arrangements can be helpful if you do not want to exceed the 90-day unemployment limit while looking for other jobs in the United States.

If you are not sure whether a particular opportunity is permitted or how to report that information to the International Services Office (ISO), please contact us to schedule a meeting with an advisor.