All optional practical training (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). Please note that policy guidance is subject to change.
For students who are not on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
Students on pre-completion OPT may work part time (20 hours a week or less, full time during vacation periods). Students on post-completion OPT must work at least 20 hours per week or full time.
Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
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, theatre, 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 student’s degree program.
Employment Through a National 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.
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 postcompletion 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.
Special Employment Rules for 17-Month OPT STEM Extensions
Students authorized an OPT STEM extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to the student’s STEM degree. STEM students may work multiple jobs, but all the employers must be enrolled in E-Verify. Unpaid or volunteer employment is allowed, incidental to the student’s status. This means that volunteer work is allowed but does not count as employment for the purpose of maintaining F-1 status under the rules of the 17-Month STEM Extension.