Maintaining Status on OPT

Students are still in F-1 status while they are on OPT or STEM OPT, but the primary purpose of your F-1 status changes to pursuing an internship/employment/practical training directly related to your field of study. As part of this change, you have new responsibilities:

Your Responsibilities to Maintain Status

  1. Keep a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Students must have the EAD card in hand and the start date on EAD must have arrived before you begin any employment. The only exception is for students with pending STEM or H-1B applications.
  2. Inform ISSP if you have changed status. An ISSP advisor will complete or terminate your F-1 SEVIS record as appropriate, based on your change of status. 
  3. Inform ISSP if you are transferring to a new degree program. We will need to discuss a SEVIS transfer and its effect on your OPT.
  4. Report changes to ISSP Advisor.* Students continue to be sponsored by UCSC while they are on post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. You are required to report any new employment, change in employment, additional employers, change of residential/mailing address, and change of legal name within 10 days of your OPT begin date and 10 days of any change thereafter via iGlobal, from the menu on the left choose F1 employment and then select the appropriate option.
    • For Students on STEM OPT: Even if there are no changes, you are required to resubmit your existing employment and personal information every 6 months starting from the date the extension starts. If your employment is terminated for any reason prior to the end date of your STEM OPT, your employer is required to provide the following information to within 10 days of the event: your name, your SEVIS ID number (if available), and the start/end dates of your OPT employment. In addition, 6 Month validation reports, annual evaluations, and submission of a new I-983 in case of material changes to the original I-983 are now required. Employers must agree to Department of Homeland Security site visits, as well as provide attestations to wages and working conditions

Traveling on OPT

You may want or need to travel while on OPT or STEM OPT. Keep in mind that the travel signature on your I-20 is only valid for 6 months once you have applied for OPT. To reenter the U.S. after you’ve applied for post-completion OPT, carry the following documents with you:

  1. Before your OPT is approved and after your I-20 program end date:
    • OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature
    • Valid passport
    • Valid F-1 visa (Canadian and Bermuda citizens exempt)
    • OPT application receipt notice (I-797A)
    • Proof of funding
    • Strongly recommended: job offer letter or other proof of seeking employment
  2. After your OPT has been approved:
    • OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature
    • Valid passport
    • Valid F-1 visa (Canadian and Bermuda citizens exempt)
    • Valid EAD card
    • Proof of funding
    • Job offer letter or employment verification letter.

Please consult with an ISSP advisor if you have questions.

Departure/Grace Period
If you have maintained status, you may remain in the U.S. for up to 60 days after the expiration date of your EAD. You cannot be employed during this period. If you travel out of the U.S. during this period, you cannot return in F-1 status.

Limits of Unemployment

Students on post-completion OPT may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment. Students who receive the 24-month STEM OPT are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire 36-month OPT period. Unemployment does not begin to accrue until after the date on your EAD card has passed.

Students are considered to be employed if they are working on OPT or STEM OPT with a valid EAD card in a field directly related to their major (as listed on the I-20) and working at least 20 hours per week. Unpaid work at least 20 hours per week while on post-completion OPT is acceptable as employment, if it is related to the student’s field of study. However, students on STEM OPT must NOT work for any employer that is not registered in E-Verify and may not be an unpaid/volunteer position.

Employment Related to Degree

How do I show that employment is directly related to my degree?

It’s recommended that students maintain evidence for each job of your position, including documentation of your position, proof of the duration of their position, their job title, contact information for their supervisor or manager, and a job description. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to your degree, it’s strongly recommended that you obtain a signed letter from your supervisor, manager, or the hiring official stating how your degree is related to the work performed. These documents do not need to be submitted to an ISSP advisor. Instead, you should keep them for your own records, in case they are needed or requested at a later time in relation to a USCIS application. Additional guidance on how to determine if the internship/job is a good fit for OPT can be found here: F-1 / J-1 Employment Related to Degree Guidelines.

Studying While on OPT

Because your primary purpose is to pursue practical training in your field of study in the form of a job or internship, any further study while on OPT must be incidental. This means you cannot be studying full-time and you cannot be seeking a new degree or certificate during this period of OPT. If you enroll in such a program, your OPT will automatically be terminated.

If you have applied for post-completion OPT and recently learned you have not finished your degree (additional enrollment at UCSC is required to complete your degree), please contact an ISSP advisor to discuss your options.

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Last modified: Dec 04, 2023