OPT Employment Types

All OPT employment must be directly related to the student’s major field of study and commensurate with the degree level. The following types of paid and unpaid experiences are considered valid OPT activities according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and should be reported to the ISSO.

What employment is permitted under Pre-Completion OPT?

Pre-completion OPT (OPT that is done prior to program completion), can be authorized either part-time (up to 20 hours per week) or full-time (20 hours or more per week). Whether you are granted part-time or full-time authorization depends on the request you submitted on your OPT application and is reflected on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  Pre-completion OPT can be paid or unpaid training related to your major field of study. You may work for multiple employers (including short-term gigs, self-employment, contract work, or work for hire) as long as your cumulative number of hours is within your authorized limit.

Under pre-completion OPT, there is no limit on unemployment time. If you do not find a job during your period of authorization, you will use up the amount of OPT eligibility for which you were authorized, but you are not required to report your OPT employer information.

What employment is permitted under Post-Completion OPT?

Post-completion OPT (OPT that is done after completion of your degree requirements), authorizes you for full-time OPT participation (20 hours or more per week).  Post-completion OPT can be paid or unpaid training related to your major field of study.  You may work for multiple employers (including short-term gigs, self-employment, contract work, or work for hire). In order for your OPT employment to be considered active, you must be working 20 hours per week or more between all OPT jobs combined. If your combined OPT employment is under 20 hours per week in total, this time may count against your unemployment time.

Under post-completion OPT, you may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during the entire 12-month OPT period. You must be engaged in at least 20 hours of OPT activity per week to count as active employment; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual.

We strongly recommend that you keep thorough and accurate records of your OPT experience/employment in case you are ever required to show proof of your OPT activities.

Post-Completion OPT may include:

  • Paid or unpaid training

You may engage in paid employment that is directly related to your major field of study.

You may also serve as a volunteer, unpaid intern, researcher, community service worker, etc., where this does not violate any labor laws. We would advise that you obtain evidence from your volunteer organization that you performed services at least 20 hours per week.

  • Multiple employers

You may work for more than one employer. For active OPT, all jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more. 

  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists)

If you hold a job as a musician and other performing artist, you may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, you should be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.

  • Work for hire

You may be engaged in work for hire (commonly referred to as working as a 1099 independent contractor), performing a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

  • Self-employed business owner

You may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that you are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.

  • Employment through an agency

If you are employed through an agency, you must be able to provide evidence showing that you are working an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

What types of employment are allowed for students during authorized for a STEM OPT extension?

The requirements for work under STEM OPT are significantly more restrictive that those for work under post-completion OPT. Your employment must meet the requirements of a Form I-983 Training Plan. You must be employed in a paid job that is related to your STEM major field and that is for a qualified E-Verify employer. 

For more information on STEM OPT Employer Types see here.

Students are encouraged to contact the student advising staff with questions relating to OPT activity.