No, a job offer is not needed to apply for regular OPT. For STEM OPT, however, an acceptable full-time position is required for the application.
What start date do I request on my OPT application?
Your start date must be within the 60 day grace period after the program end date. You cannot choose a date before this period starts or after this period ends. Consider:
Date you submit your OPT request form (The later you submit the form, the more likely you'll need to select a later OPT start date)
Travel plans after graduation
Whether or not you have a job offer and the start date of that job
If you graduate in December, it may be to your benefit to apply as late as possible to facilitate a future H-1B application
How long does the approval take?
USCIS generally takes 2-3 months to approve an OPT application. Use your receipt number to check your case status online, at uscis.gov (find 'Case Status Online' in 'TOOLS'). Your receipt should be sent to your address as on your I-765 in about 7-10 days. If you filed online, check the status of your application within your account.
What do I do if I change my mind about OPT?
If you decide to cancel or withdraw your OPT application or quit earlier than the employment end date indicated on your EAD, contact your international student adviser. Recovering all or part of a period of OPT that has already been granted by USCIS may be difficult.
May I save my OPT to use at a later date?
No, your eligibility for OPT is tied to the ending date of the program. You cannot save OPT or any segment of OPT based on a degree, to use later.
Do I need a social security number?
Yes, you will need an SSN to work. If you do not already have one, you can apply on your OPT application (on the I-765), or as soon as you have your EAD card and the employment start date is current. You may begin working before you have an SSN (but not before you have your approval and employment authorization document). If you already have an SSN, you do not need to apply for a new one. One SSN is valid for life.
Is this job suitable for OPT?
It's your responsibility to follow the OPT regulations, which require that any employment be directly related to your field of studies. Your school official can give you general advice, but in the end it is your responsibility to make sure that you follow all OPT regulations.
Does my job have to be paid employment?
For the first 12 month period of post-completion OPT, the employment does not have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed, interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment reporting as long as they work in the unpaid position(s) for an average of 20 hours per week. Students should report all employment, keep documentation for all unpaid employment positions, and be careful to comply with all labor laws.
For the 24-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.
What are the unemployment rules?
A student on regular post-completion OPT is considered in violation of status after 90 days of unemployment, and 150 days cumulative regular OPT plus STEM extension OPT. In that situation, the student is advised to depart the U.S. to avoid further violation, and request completion of the OPT record (ending the OPT authorization and F-1 status). Recent changes have made this a more serious issue, as students are informed by SEVP in communications that they must depart the U.S. if they reach 90 days of unemployment or be considered immediately out-of-status, and possibly accruing unlawful presence.
When can I start working on OPT?
You can only begin working when the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card is in your possession, and the validity dates are active.
Can I work on-campus after I complete my degree, before I have my OPT authorization?
No! Such employment would constitute illegal employment and would be a serious violation of F-1 status.
Can I use the SEVP Portal to do my required reporting?
You are welcome and encouraged to access your assigned SEVP Portal record to update your employment, address, and other information. However, at this time, you are still required to report all information to your international student adviser. This is because some updates will require confirmation by your international student adviser and the issuance of an updated I-20.
What about health insurance?
It is highly recommended to have good health insurance in the U.S. as health care costs are very expensive. You may be required to have health care if a resident for tax purposes. Your employer may provide a plan. If your employer does not offer a health plan or you do not yet have employment, you should purchase one on your own. Ask your international student adviser for more information if you are in this situation.
Can I travel outside the U.S. during OPT?
While your OPT application is being processed (before being 'Approved'), travel outside the U.S. is not recommended.
During approved OPT, you can travel outside the United States and should be eligible for re-admission to the U.S. to begin or resume employment for the remainder of the period authorized on your EAD card, if the following are all true:
You have an updated I-20 showing OPT ‘Approved’ and signed by your International Student Adviser in the last 6 months, and
You have an unexpired EAD
You are returning to begin or resume employment (you must have an employment letter)
You have a passport valid at least 6 months into the future
You have a valid visa (unexpired)
IMPORTANT – Before you travel on OPT, request from your International Student Adviser an update of your I-20 that shows your OPT ‘Approved’ and has your reported employment information included. Carry the employment letter showing your employment offer/continuing employment. During OPT, make sure your I-20 is signed for travel every 6 months.
If you plan to travel out of the U.S. during OPT, contact your international student adviser for advising.