SEVP Broadcast Message on OPT Volunteer Work

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is part of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), recently released a broadcast message reminding all students on optional practical training (OPT) that volunteer positions not directly related to their course of study do not qualify as OPT. This broadcast does not represent a policy change, but could foreshadow stronger enforcement efforts to come.

OPT Work Must Relate to Course of Study

All work done on OPT, whether paid or voluntary, must be directly related to the individual’s course of study. Reporting non-qualifying work as OPT employment can be considered a violation of status and can result in one’s becoming subject to removal (i.e. deportation).

Limits on Unemployment Period During OPT

The broadcast also emphasizes that non-qualifying volunteer work does not stop the accrual of unemployment. During an initial 12-month period of OPT, one may be unemployed for no more than 90 days throughout the training period. An additional 60 days of unemployment is permitted if the student is granted the 24-month OPT extension.

STEM OPT Extension Prohibition on Any Volunteer Work

A person working during the F-1 STEM OPT extension period is not permitted to take voluntary or unpaid employment or self-employment, even if the position is related to the field of study. This prohibition has been in place since 2016.


While, the SEVP broadcast message does not represent a change in policy on the surface, it should be viewed in the context of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memo that is scheduled to make F-1 students subject to new unlawful presence rules. See the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, Analysis of USCIS Memo on Unlawful Presence for F, J, and M Nonimmigrants (18.May.2018) for more details. The broadcast’s multiple references to removal reinforce the Administration’s continued efforts to crack down on international students.


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