What Kinds of Employment are Allowed Under OPT?
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, must be in a job that is related to the student’s degree program. The following information comes from policy guidance published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Note that policy guidance is subject to change.
For students who are not on a 17-month extension of OPT, this employment may include:
- Paid employment: Students on pre-completion OPT may work part time (20 hours a week or less while school is in session, full time during vacation periods). Students on post-completion OPT must work at least 20 hours per week or full time.
- Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program. Students on pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs. Remember that the student’s degree program must be in the performance area (music, theater, etc.)
- Work for hire: This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students 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: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the his/her degree program.
- Employment through an agency: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency. Employment agencies can be identified in the “yellow pages” of local phone directories under “Employment Agencies” or by searching “Temporary Employment Agencies” on the internet. Kelly Services and Manpower, Inc are examples of national agencies.
- Unpaid employment: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Not-for-profit agencies and religious organizations are good choices for unpaid employment. For an excellent definition of what constitutes “volunteering” and information on what kinds of employers can hire volunteers, visit the United States Department of Labor website.
Special employment rules for 17-Month Extensions of OPT: Students authorized on a 17-month extension of OPT must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to the student's STEM degree. Students on a 17-month extension of OPT may work multiple jobs, but all the employers must be enrolled in E-Verify. Unpaid or volunteer employment is permitted but it must be with an E-Verify employer as well.