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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Frequently Asked Questions | OPT Application | OPT Extension | OPT Reporting | H1-B Cap-Gap

General Information

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. related to their program of study. OPT approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the application process takes approximately 3 months.

OPT Employment Rule

With regard to all types of employment, it must relate to the student's program of study. In addition, in most, but not all cases, employment does not need to be full time. Students engaged in regular, paid employment; employment through an agency; or volunteer or unpaid internship should work at least 20 hours per week. Students in the performing arts may need to work for multiple, short-term employers and it may be difficult to document the exact number of hours worked. In such situations, students should keep a list of all engagements and the dates / durations of those engagements, and related proof, regardless of the exact number of hours worked, while on OPT.

Unemployment rule while on OPT

Students who are on OPT may not accumulate more than a total of 90 days of unemployment during the regular one-year post-completion OPT period. Students who receive a 17 month OPT Extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment for a total of 120 days of unemployment over their entire post-completion OPT period.

Volunteering as Employment

Many students are able to obtain experience that is most appropriate to their line of work by engaging in volunteer work or unpaid internships. This is possible during the standard 12-month OPT period. Work as a volunteer or unpaid intern must not violate any labor laws and should not be for less than 20 hours per week. Students should provide a written volunteer agreement within 7 days of start of employment to the International Office. While working as volunteer, students are not eligible for an OPT Extension.

SEVIS Reporting Requirements While on OPT

All students on OPT must report any of the following conditions to the Office of International Programs within 10 working days:

  • Any change in name or address
  • Any change in immigration status
  • Any change or termination of employment
  • Volunteer employment

NOTE: The Office of International Programs has prepared a website with an OPT Reporting Form that is available for you to send SIUE this information. Please update this information as often as necessary per federal regulations. For students who have applied for an H-1B, please send an email to and put H-1B Status in the subject line. Please tell us if your application is pending or if it has been approved.

Traveling While on OPT

You may travel while on OPT. However, please keep in mind that you are still in F-1 status and that you will need the following in order to re-enter the United States:

  • A valid travel signature on your most current I-20 (within 5 months of re-entry)
  • Your unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or I-797 receipt notice
  • A letter from your employer indicating that you currently hold a job in your field of study and will be returning to the U.S. to resume employment
  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 visa

You are still considered to be in F-1 student status while on OPT, so any questions or concerns can be addressed by an International Student Adviser during this time.

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