Career Tips for International Students

What To Do When Your 90-Day OPT Unemployment Is Running Out

Five Steps To Take If You Are Unemployed Under Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Dear Coach Kwan,

HELP! I am now nearing the end of the 90-day unemployment period of my OPT. Unfortunately, I have not found employment yet. I am not ready to go back home just yet—what should I do?


A panicking unemployed international student

I get a lot of messages from international students such as the one above as their 90-day OPT unemployment allowance period comes to an end.

Many new graduates hoped that three months would be enough time to secure a job offer. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible in reality. 

The job market is tough to crack, and it is even more challenging to find jobs as an international student. If you are in this situation, please take a deep breath and follow the 5 steps below:

1) Start being specific about your career goal

Employers will hire you because you have the right skills to solve their business problems and you are passionate about helping them achieve their business goals. 

Don’t just blindly apply. You need to narrow down your job search. Be more specific about the jobs you are applying for and which industries you are applying to.

For instance, if you are an MBA international student, your career paths and job opportunities for MBA graduates can be various such as Management Consultant, Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, etc. If you have been distributing your resume to multiple companies in different roles, please pause and think about your specific skill sets and past experience. 

Find your selling points for your job applications. If you are open to any job, you will not be a strong candidate.

2) Target a stepping stone for your OPT

Since you have a limited amount of time, larger companies may not be the right target as there are multiple layers to the hiring process. 

Look for small to medium-sized companies that have been around for more than 5 years with sustainable revenue. Those companies can be flexible with their hiring policy and might not have a vast talent pool like large global companies. Many of them are willing to hire international students if they are short of manpower and urgently need skilled candidates.

After you have built your profile and expanded your knowledge in the industry with these companies, you will become a more desirable candidate and become ready to jump into bigger companies. 

Most large companies select to sponsor experienced hires over entry-level candidates.

3) Spend only 10% of your time on online job application

On average, only 2% of online applicants are called in for interviews. For international students, the odds are even tougher. It is sad that not all jobs posted online clearly indicate whether or not they hire international students. You need to use other methods. 

Spend 90% of your time connecting with your target professionals.

Use your connections and really put yourself out there. You might hear about great opportunities from the most unlikely sources. Remember: if you don’t put yourself out there, people won’t know you exist and are available.

4) Develop a Plan B for Your OPT

Find options that allow you to stay past the 90 days period. 

The term “employed” is not as specific as you might think. Find a job that is related to your course of study. Paid or unpaid job doesn’t matter. It will help stop the 90-day unemployment allowance clock. Please always contact your International Student Services Office at your college or university. Your DSO is the person who can approve if the job is compatible with your OPT.

In a normal situation, the OPT job needs to require at least 20 hours a week. However, duration the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT. See this announcement,

Find other options, such as temporary jobs or volunteering positions, that will allow you to remain in the country. Please contact your International Student Services at your school to ensure eligibility. If you are not familiar with the job market and specific industries, it is tough for students to find jobs within 3 months. If you don’t have connections, your search time will augment to an average of 5 to 6 months. Maintain your status with your plan B and continue your full-time job searching!

5) Find a Community to Support You

Join a community that helps you move forward. You can build your professional skills and connect with professionals via many professional affiliations. For example; joining Ascend Leadership will give you the opportunity to learn from so many inspiring Asian leaders in the US.

At ICAway, we also have a WhatsApp group for International Students so please make sure that you check this out today and request to join our group!

Do you want to get more tips on this topic? Check out these resources: