Requirements While on OPT

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 regulatory requirements so that you can get the most out 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.

Reporting Requirements

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 employment: Name of employer, address of employer, EIN of employer, whether or not your employer participates in E-Verify, Start date of employment; End date of employment (if applicable); Supervisor name, phone number, and email; Whether the position is paid, unpaid, or self-employed, how is employment related to your major field of study?
  • Leaving employment: Name of previous employerLast date of employment
  • Change of address: Provide your current physical address
  • Decision to exit the U.S. and complete your F-1 status prior to the end date of OPT; Indicate 
“Leaving the US and abandoning OPT.” Date of exit. NOTE: This will result in a completed SEVIS record.

OISS will provide you with an updated I-20 to reflect any changes in your employment status. The updated document will be sent to the address we currently have on file. It is important for students to keep copies of all previously issued I-20 forms for their own records.

Additional STEM Reporting Requirements

To ensure compliance with their F-1 status, STEM OPT students are required to regularly communicate with their school during the extension period. This is necessary to ensure that all SEVIS information, such as legal name, address, employer details, and employment status, is current and accurate. Furthermore, students must submit self-evaluations to UALR at the conclusion of each job, as well as at the 12- and 24-month marks from the start of the STEM extension. Use the OPT Update form available online to submit any updates related to your STEM OPT status.

Termination of OPT

Please be aware that your work authorization will expire when any of the following events take place:

  • You reach the expiration date indicated on your EAD card.
  • You transfer your I-20 to a new school.
  • You begin a new education level.
  • You reach 90 days of unemployment.

Upon transferring your SEVIS record, commencing a new degree program, and exceeding a 90-day unemployment period, your work authorization will be terminated, regardless of the expiration dates listed on your I-20 or EAD.

Authorized Unemployment

Students who have completed their studies and are on post-completion OPT are granted a total of 90 days of unemployment starting from the OPT start date indicated on their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This period of 90 days can be utilized at any point during the post-completion OPT period. Upon approval of an OPT STEM extension, graduates are given an extended period of 150 days of unemployment. This includes any days of unemployment accumulated during the post-completion OPT phase and covers the entire 36 months, encompassing both the OPT and STEM OPT periods. If a student is unable to secure employment within the specified timeframe, they are required to either leave the United States or gain admission into another degree program.

Unpaid Employment

Opting to work in an unpaid role within your program of study can provide valuable experience. This approach offers a practical solution to stay in compliance while navigating a challenging job market. Report the unpaid employment to ISS. 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. Volunteering and unpaid employment cannot be utilized by graduates on the OPT STEM extension as a means to maintain their extension period.

Health Insurance While on OPT

After graduation, you will no longer be automatically enrolled in UA Little Rock’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, taking classes at a higher educational level, or taking courses at another institution will terminate your employment authorization, even if the dates on your EAD are still valid. Any study while on OPT must be incidental. Per regulation, “recreational and avocational classes are permissible,” but the regulation does not clearly define these terms.

Driving on OPT

After receiving your EAD for OPT, you can apply for or renew your driver’s license. If you are waiting for your EAD and your I-20 program end date is nearing or has passed, you will be unable to renew your driver’s license until your EAD arrives. Once you obtain your EAD, make sure to bring it with you to the DMV, since it contains the number they will need to verify your eligibility for a driver’s license.

STEM Graduates

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field. After completing their program of study and participating in an initial period of post-completion OPT, eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees have the option to apply for the STEM OPT extension. The application can be submitted as early as 90 days prior to the end date of the post-completion OPT, but no later than the expiration date of the post-completion OPT. The application process is similar to standard OPT, but with a few additional requirements. These include, but are not limited to, working for an employer enrolled in E-Verify, submitting copies of the diploma and transcript along with the STEM OPT application, paying the I-765 application fee again, completing the form I-983 training plan, and contacting the Office of International Student Services to request an updated I-20 for the STEM OPT 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:

  • An unexpired passport
  • Letter of employment
  • An unexpired F-1 visa
  • I-20 signed for travel
  • An unexpired EAD

Cap Gap Extension for H-1B Petitions

In the event that your employer intends to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, they will assist you in the application process for the H-1B. Students who have been granted approval for the H-1B will transition to their new immigration status on October 1. If your Optional Practical Training (OPT) is set to expire between April 1 and October 1, you might qualify for the Cap Gap extension. The Cap Gap extension allows for an extension of your F-1 OPT from the expiration date of your OPT until the commencement of your H-1B on October 1. After receiving approval for the Cap Gap extension, you may request an updated I-20 that reflects the approval.