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While on OPT

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students currently on approved OPT (Optional Practical Training). As an F-1 student on OPT, you continue to be under Northwestern University's sponsorship. As such, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so you will remain in valid visa status.

Therefore, it is important that OPT students are familiar with the following guidance and OPT reporting requirements. On this page you will find information related to :

Employment and Unemployment on OPT

During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment. There are limits to what jobs count as employment and to the number of days you may remain unemployed.

When can I start working?

On the start date of your approved EAD card. You must physically have the EAD card to start working. If your OPT approval or EAD card is delayed or lost, contact your OISS advisor to discuss your work options.

What counts as "employment" while I am on OPT?

Employment must be:

  • a job that is directly related to the student’s major area of study; if the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship.
  • at least 20 hours per week; if work is less than full-time, it counts toward a student’s 90 days of unemployment. Each job should be marked as "full-time" (at least 20 hours per week or more) or "part-time" (less than 20 hours per week).
  • paid or unpaid.

Students on OPT should keep all records of employment. You may be asked to provide employment records during future USCIS application processes. Per the SEVP OPT Guidance document, the types of employment allowed during post-completion OPT include (these DO NOT apply to the STEM Extension):

Paid employment
Students may work in a job related to their field of study 20 hours or more per week (if work is less than full-time, it counts toward a student's 90 days of unemployment).
Multiple employers or gigs
Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s major area of study. If a student is working with gigs, students should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
Work for hire
commonly referred to as "1099 employment"
This is a type of 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.
Work for yourself or self-employed business owner
Students may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time ( 20 hours or more per week) and be able to provide proof that their work is related to their program of study at NU. 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 an agency
Students must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of over 20 hours or more per week while employed by the agency.
Unpaid employment
Students on post-completion OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns. The work must be 20 hours or more per week. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked 20 hours or more per week the period of employment.

Unemployment 90-day rule

During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment.

  • Students on post-completion OPT may have up to 90 days of unemploymentThe 90 days start counting from your approved OPT/EAD start date (not the recommended start date nor the program end date on your I-20) and are cumulative.
  • If you accumulate 90 days or more of unemployment, you are in violation of your F-1 status. You are expected to leave the U.S., transfer to another school, or change your visa status before the 90th day. See Options after OPT Ends.
  • Students who are granted a 24-month STEM extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT and STEM OPT periods.
  • Approved vacation from a job does not count as "unemployment" if you are still considered an employee there. 
  • To ensure that you do not exceed the 90 day unemployment limit while on OPT, it is necessary to secure a full-time job, which is defined by USCIS as working 20 hours or more per week. Any job that involves working 20 hours or less per week will be apply toward your 90-day unemployment limit.

How do I know if my job is related to my degree and why is this important?

Federal regulations require that all employment that you engage in while on OPT be directly related to your major area of study.  As part of your OPT reporting requirements, you must provide a description demonstrating a logical connection between your regular job duties and your major area of study. Further information and sample descriptions are available on the SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training – Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study page.

If the relationship between the job and a student's major area of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship. OISS won't be able to advise you on specifically which jobs do/do not qualify as we are not experts in your field of study. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic adviser, the relevant Northwestern Career Office, or others in your field.

What documentation do I need to maintain during my OPT employment?

It is recommended that students maintain evidence for each job:

  • the position held,
  • duration of the position (start date and end date)
  • the job title
  • contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager
  • description of the work

Students must always report employment changes within 10 days of any change.

While on OPT, you are required to use the SEVP Portal to keep your SEVIS record up-to-date and report certain information to maintain your F-1 status. To keep your SEVIS record updated, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will email you a link to create a SEVP Portal account on or close to your OPT start date. You be required to use the SEVP Portal to:

Changing employers/ multiple employers

Students may have multiple jobs and change jobs as many times as they wish during OPT, provided that all employment is directly related to their major area of study and the work is 20 hours or more per week. No special permission is required to change employers. However, you must update your employer information in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of the change.

Reporting Requirements & Other Rules

Important rules to remember while on OPT are:

  1. You may only work from the start date of your EAD card to the end date of your EAD card.
    The EAD card reads:          
    Valid From:_________ (start date)
    Card Expires: __________(end date)
  2. All employment must be related to your major area of study.
  3. You must report all employment and address changes to the SEVP Portal within 10 days of any change.
  4. You are limited to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
  5. The travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 is valid for 6 months while on OPT.
Below you will find additional details on OPT reporting requirements and other guidelines

Report any changes in address, employer, name, or status in the U.S. within 10 days

Once your OPT is approved and your start date has passed, SEVP will send you login information (via email)  to create a SEVP Portal account. If you do not receive this email within one week, contact your OISS advisor for help to gain access to the SEVP portal. Be sure to check your Northwestern Email (including your spam/junk folder!) for the SEVP portal account setup email.  

You must report any changes (in address, employer, name or status in the U.S.) within 10 days. All reporting must be done in the SEVP Portal. If you are unable to report changes in the SEVP Portal, the OISS Portal will allow you to report any changes in your employment or personal details by submitting the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request.

See the SEVP Portal resource for additional detailed information.

What records do I need to keep while on OPT?

It is your responsibility to keep records of your employment, paid or unpaid. You may be asked about these records in the future (for example, if you apply for an H-1B, Legal Permanent Residency or other U.S. immigration status). Examples of records to keep include offer letters, contracts, payroll records, all job start/end dates, employer names, employer addresses and number of hours per week worked.

Additional guidance for OPT students

Taking classes while on OPT

While on OPT, your primary purpose is to maintain OPT by working.  Incidental study (classes for fun or professional development) are allowed as a supplement to your work as long as you continue to work full-time.

If you decide to return to school full-time, you will need to transfer your SEVIS Record to the new school. If returning to Northwestern University, you should submit the Change of Level request at the OISS Portal

Your OPT will end on the date of your SEVIS transfer and you will no longer have work authorization.

Health insurance while on OPT

After you graduate from Northwestern, your NU-SHIP coverage can continue through the end of the current academic year (September-August) or you are eligible to end your coverage early. We strongly recommend you obtain health insurance coverage for your entire OPT/STEM OPT time period. Due to the high cost of medical care in the United States, it is very risky to be inside the country without health insurance coverage. 

If you are employed full-time during OPT, you might receive health insurance as a benefit of your employment. However, it is important to note that U.S. employer-issued health insurance policies often do not cover medical evacuation or repatriation, which are essential coverages for any non-citizen living in the U.S.

If you do not receive employee health insurance, we highly recommend you obtain your own health insurance. There are several companies that specialize in health insurance for international students and offer services in several languages. We recommend speaking to a representative about the plan coverage and asking any questions you may have before purchasing an insurance policy for yourself and any dependents.

How do I login to the OISS Portal after I graduate and my NetID is deactivated?

Upon completion of your degree, your NetID automatically expires and will be deactivated by the university within 148 days. As your NetID is used to access the OISS portal, this will cause you to lose access to your OISS portal account. To prevent this from occurring, you will need to transition to new login credentials.

The OISS will first need to convert your portal account user ID from your NetID to your email address.
Once your account user ID has been converted, you will receive an email with subject line:

"Northwestern Office of International Student & Scholar Services Portal Account Conversion & New
Login Credentials"

  • The email will list your new user ID (your email address) and a temporary password.
  • The temporary password will be valid for 30 days. If you do not log in within 30 days of receiving the email, you must reset your password (see below).
  • Your username is your email address that is listed as your “User ID” in your “Portal Account Conversion and New Login Credentials” email. Your password is the “Temp Password” from the same email.
  • You will be prompted to create a new password. This new password will be used for all future logins to the OISS Portal.

If you did not login within 30 days or receiving the email with  your temporary password, please follow the directions in the OISS Portal Guide for Alumni whose NetIDs are deactivated (instructions can be found on page 4).

Logging in to OISS Portal after graduation & deactivation of your NetID

In order to access your OISS portal account using your new login credentials, you must click on the Log in with OISS Portal Account (rather than Login with NetID).

oiss portal login button for alumni


Filing and paying U.S. Taxes

While on OPT, you are subject to all applicable federal, state and local taxes and must file taxes. See more information on the OISS webpage about U.S. Taxes.

Traveling while on OPT

Remember that your status is still F-1 while on OPT. If you travel abroad while on OPT, you must have the following to re-enter the U.S.:

  1. Valid EAD card. This means you may not be granted re-entry to the U.S. until your OPT is approved and you have your physical EAD card.  Please discuss your travel plans with your OISS advisor, especially if you plan to travel after graduation.
  2. I-20 with travel signature (no more than 6 months old). Need a new travel signature?  Request an I-20 reprint through the OISS Portal.
  3. Valid F-1 visa stamp (Canadians are exempt from this requirement)
  4. Current passport
  5. Job offer letter (highly recommended, but not required)


If you do not apply for OPT but travel outside of the U.S. after the end date listed on your I-20 during the 60-day grace-period, you will have negated your eligibility to re-enter the U.S to apply for OPT. Your only option is to file online and there are some risks. Discuss your options with your OISS advisor if this is your circumstance.

OPT Resources

Extensions of OPT

24 Month STEM OPT Extension

Students who have received a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24 Month STEM Extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months of OPT). You must apply for the STEM Extension before the end date of your EAD card.

Learn more:
Apply for STEM OPT

Cap-Gap extension for future H-1B employees

"Cap-Gap" refers to the period of time between the official end-date listed on the OPT or STEM OPT EAD card and the official start date of an H-1B filed as a Change of Status.

The cap-gap OPT extension is the period in which an eligible F-1 student's status and employment authorization under OPT is automatically extended to bridge the gap in immigration status and employment authorization between the end of F-1 status (OPT end-date) and start of H-1B status. The student must not have violated the terms or conditions of his or her F-1 status to qualify for the cap-gap extension.

To qualify for the "H-1B cap-gap extension" you must be in valid F-1 status, and you must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that meets all of the following:

  • Has been timely filed
  • Requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year
  • Requests a change of status (cap-gap extension does not apply to Consular filed H petitions)

The cap-gap extension is added to a student’s SEVIS record as a result of a pending Change of Status application to H-1B. The end date of the OPT must be after April 1.

The cap-gap extension appears on a student’s I-20. To request your I-20 reflecting the cap-gap extension, submit a Cap-Gap Extension request in the OISS Portal.

Travel while on cap-gap is generally permitted if these conditions are met:

  • The change of status request to H-1B is approved
  • Re-entry to the U.S. is before October 1 or the date the H-1B employment begins
  • The student is otherwise admissible to the US, has a valid I-20 with travel signature reflecting the cap-gap extension, and has a valid F-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from this requirement)

 For more information about travel or other details during the Cap-Gap Extension, please visit this USCIS page.


Options after OPT Ends

You are allowed a 60-day grace period following your OPT end date to leave the United States, change your immigration status, transfer your F-1 record to a new school,l or begin a new program at NU. You may want to pursue these options before the end of your OPT. If you remain in the U.S. past the end of your 60-day grace period without transferring to a new school, beginning your new program, or having applied for a timely filed Change of Status, you may begin accruing days of Unlawful Presence, which has serious consequences depending on the length of the overstay. Read more about each of the options:

60-day grace period to leave the United States

If your plan is to depart the United States after OPT, you must do so within your 60-day grace period. You must stop working by the end date (card expires date) on your EAD card.

If you are leaving the United States permanently before the end date on your EAD, you must report this via the "Early Departure Notification" in the OISS Portal so OISS can complete your SEVIS record and F status. 

Changing immigration status

During OPT

If you are approved for a change of visa status during your OPT, you must report this to the OISS by submitting a "Report Change of Status" request in the OISS Portal so we can update your SEVIS record.

After OPT

If you have a pending change of status after your OPT ends, check with the immigration legal counsel working on your change of status application to determine what options are available to you and if you may remain in the U.S. past the end of your 60-day grace period without a negative impact to your immigration status

Pending or approved change of status to H-1B

If you have a pending or approved change of status to H-1B, you may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension I-20. Please consult with your OISS advisor to determine your eligibility for issuance of an I-20 reflecting this extension.

Pursuing a new program of study in the U.S.

During OPT

If you wish to start a new full-time academic program while on OPT, the remainder of the OPT must be forfeited before beginning classes with the new program.

  • If you are beginning a program of study at another U.S. school, you must request a "Transfer Out" in order to transfer your F-1 SEVIS record to another school.
  • If you are beginning a new program of study at Northwestern University, you must submit a "Change of Level" request at the OISS Portal.

After OPT

If you are planning to go back to school after your OPT, you will need to submit either a "Transfer Out" request to transfer your F-1 SEVIS record to another school or request a "Change of Level I-20" if returning to Northwestern University.  Both of these requests are submitted via the OISS Portal. The "Tranfer-Out" or "Change of Level" request must be completed before the end of the 60-day grace period following the OPT end date.

Students should keep in mind the following points when deciding on when to request a Transfer Out of their SEVIS record:
  • After the SEVIS transfer release date has passed, students may not continue working on OPT, even if the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has not expired. The transfer release date, in effect, cancels the EAD.
  • The SEVIS transfer release date can be within the OPT period dates listed on the EAD or up to 60 days after the expiration date on the EAD.
  • Classes at the new school must begin within 5 months of the transfer release date or at the start of the next available term, whichever is earlier.
  • Students may request a transfer release date in the future and continue working on OPT until that date as long as the EAD has not expired, and the new program of study has not yet begun.
  • If the length of time between the OPT end date and the start date of classes at the new school will be more than five months, please meet with your OISS Advisor to discuss your options.


Disclaimer Statement

The Northwestern University Office of International Student & Scholar Services (OISS) offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and OPT STEM processes and requirements as a courtesy to NU students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. However, any advice provided to you by our office does not constitute legal advice. While OISS exercises best efforts to provide you with the most current guidance, please be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time.  OISS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS.  For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.