While you are on OPT, it is important to remember that you are still in F-1 immigration status. Since you are no longer a student, you do not need to enroll full-time. However, you will need to be aware of other regulation requirements so that you can get the most of your OPT and remain in legal status within the United States.
Employment Authorization Document
Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card serves as proof of legal work authorization throughout the United States. Once you receive your EAD and it is on or past your OPT start date (as listed on your EAD), you may work in your field of study for the duration of your employment authorization.
While you are on OPT, you must notify the Office of International Services within 10 days of any change in your circumstances. Submit the online form for OPT Update to easily notify us of any of the following changes:
- New job: Name of employer; Start date of employment; Mailing address of employer
- Change to a new job: Name of the previous employer; Ending date of the previous employer; Name of the new employer; Start date of new employer; Mailing address of new employer
- Unemployment: Indicate “unemployed;” Ending date of last job
- Change of address: Complete mailing address
- Enrollment: See below for additional information on the limited options for enrollment while on OPT.
- Decision to exit the U.S. and complete your F-1 status prior to end date of OPT; Indicate “completing OPT and exiting U.S.;” Date of exit. NOTE: This will result in a completed SEVIS record.
With any change in employment, ISS will issue you an updated I-20 to reflect this change. We will mail it to the address currently on file. Keep all previous Forms I-20 for your records.
Additional STEM Reporting Requirements
Students on a STEM extension have additional reporting requirements. To maintain your immigration status, you must check in with International Services once every 6 months to verify your employer, employer’s address and current address. Again, use the online form for OPT Update to check in on your STEM extension.
Termination of OPT
Understand that your work authorization ends when any of the following events occur:
- You reach the end of the dates on your OPT
- You transfer your I-20 to a new school
- You begin a new education level
- You reach 90 days of unemployment
- Students on STEM Extension: Failure to check in via email every 6 months to confirm address and employment
If any of these events occur, your work authorization is terminated and you no longer have OPT, even if the dates on your I-20 or EAD are still valid.
Graduates on Standard OPT are authorized 90 days of unemployment beginning on the OPT start date listed on the EAD. You may use all or part of these 90 days at any time during your OPT. Once an OPT STEM Extension is approve, graduates have 120 days of unemployment over the course of the entire 29 months of OPT. Failure to find a position within the allotted time of authorized unemployment result in your needing to leave the United States or receive admission to another educational program. If employment is unavailable, you may be able to use a “volunteer” or unpaid position to remain in the US.
Unpaid Employment or “Volunteering” to Satisfy Employment Requirement
If you are unable to find a job in your field of study before your 90 days of authorized unemployment, you may volunteer in an unpaid position. This may be a creative option for maintaining your status while receiving experience if the job market is difficult in your field. Report the unpaid employment to ISS through the link above. Request a job offer letter from your employer. They may specify that the position is unpaid. Maintain detailed records of the hours you worked and have these records signed by a supervisor. Undocumented time during OPT can lead to suspicion by USCIS and issues when applying for future immigration benefits. Graduates on the on the OPT STEM extension may not use volunteering to maintain their extension.
Health Insurance While on OPT
After graduation, you will not longer be automatically enrolled in UALR’s health insurance. If you would like to continue your coverage with LewerMark while you look for employment, you may enroll in the insurance coverage before the semester start date. Graduates may continue to enroll in coverage through LewerMark up to 12 months after graduation as long as there has been no break in coverage.
Studying While on OPT
Studying while on OPT is generally prohibited. Enrolling full-time or taking classes at a higher educational level will terminate your employment authorization, even if the dates on your EAD are still valid. In limited circumstances, you may enroll part-time in courses at or below your most recent program level. You must notify ISS of any enrollment at least 2 weeks before classes begin. We will verify that this enrollment will not result in the termination of your OPT and update this on your SEVIS record.
Driving on OPT
Once you have received your EAD for OPT, you may apply for or renew your drivers license. If you are waiting for your EAD to arrive and your program end date on your I-20 is approaching or past, you will not be able to renew your drivers license until your EAD is received. Once you receive your EAD, be sure you take the card with you to the DMV, as your EAD contains the number they should use to verify your eligibility for a drivers license. Please note that if they use your SEVIS ID number, you will be found ineligible or they will ask you to see your international student advisor.
If you follow the instructions above and you are still denied a drivers license, please submit the DMV Problem form and we will submit an official inquiry into the issue.
Students graduating from a STEM field may be eligible for a 17 months OPT STEM extension. You can apply as early as 6 months before your OPT ends and no later than your standard OPT expiration date. The application process is similar to standard OPT with a few additions. You must work for an employer who is enrolled in E-Verify. You must also submit copies of your diploma and transcript along with your OPT application. The $380 fee must be paid again and you will need to contact your international student advisor for an updated I-20 requesting your extension. When you are ready, submit the Request for STEM Extension.
Travel While on OPT
If your visa is still valid, you may travel in and out of the United States. Travel with a letter from your employer stating that you are currently employed and will continue to work upon your return. You will also send your I-20 to International Student Services for a travel signature if it has been a year since your last travel signature. Take caution if your visa has expired. Generally, OPT does not qualify as a circumstance warranting a renewed visa.
Checklist for Traveling on OPT:
- Unexpired F-1 visa
- Unexpired EAD
- Letter of employment
- I-20 signed for travel
Cap Gap Extension for H-1B Petitions
If your employer plans to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, they will generally apply for your visa on April 1. Students approved for H-1B will begin their new immigration status on October 1. If your OPT expires between April 1 and October 1, you may be eligible for the Cap Gap extension. Cap Gap grants you an extension of your F-1 OPT from your OPT expiration date until your H-1B begins on October 1. If you are approved for Cap Gap, you may request an updated I-20 to reflect this extension.
Please note that if you are on the Cap Gap but have not yet received official H-1B approval, you may not be eligible for drivers license renewal.