Immigration Lawyers Los Angeles: Immigration Questions: What is OPT Unemployment Rule

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional practical training (OPT) is designed to allow students to gain practical experience in their fields of studies, so they may be well prepared for their future careers. OPT is temporary employment, and students must meet certain eligibility requirements. Students may be enrolled in OPT and work on a part time basis while studying (pre-completion OPT), and students may be enrolled in OPT on a full-time basis after graduating (post-completion OPT). Both pre-completion and post-completion have a 12-month duration, and it can be done in combination of both. Students who have graduated with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) designated degrees may have a 17 month extension for a total of 29 months. For a more detailed explanation, please visit our page dedicated to Optional Practical Training.

OPT is not a visa by itself

Optional practical training (OPT) itself is not a visa. It is an adjustment to the status of F-1 Student Visa that authorizes students to seek employment in the United States. The 12 month period is fixed, and that includes the time students are unemployed and on employer authorized holidays or vacation.

OPT unemployment rule

Similar to F-1 visa holders who are required to attend school and take a certain number of classes to maintain their visa status, students on OPT are required to be employed to maintain their visa status. This does not apply to pre-completion OPT. All students on post-completion OPT must not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment, and students on the 17 month STEM extension are given an addition 30 days for a total of 120 days of unemployment.

Each day that student is unemployed counts towards the unemployment allowance, and this does not reset if the student finds another job after a period of unemployment.
  • Example 1: A student is employed for two month and loses his job, stays unemployed for 6 weeks (42 days) before finding another job. The student loses his second job after 3 months and stays unemployed for 7 weeks (49 days). He has already violated his OPT 90 days rule and he is out of status on his visa.
  • Example 2: A student is approved for OPT but can't find a job for 90 days after the start date listed on her EAD Card. She finds a job on the 90th day. She has now fully used up all of the unemployment allowance. If she loses her job, she is immediately in violation of her OPT 90 days rule and she is out of status on her visa.
** There are no grace periods allowed after the unemployment allowance is reached.

Students who desire to travel outside the United States for vacation must obtain their employers approval, and remain employed while abroad to avoid violating the OPT unemployment rule. Students who are required by their employers to travel outside the United States for work are not in violation of the OPT unemployment rule, and the time spent abroad will not count towards their unemployment allowance.

Last reviewed on: 05/26/2012
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