STEM OPT FAQs
STEM OPT FAQs
General STEM OPT Questions
Employment on the STEM OPT extension must be paid employment. Unfortunately, volunteer opportunities are not considered employment on the STEM extension. There is no specific wage requirement for employment during STEM OPT, but the I-983 includes an attestation by the employer that compensation is commensurate with that provided to U.S. employees who provide similar duties and responsibilities.
Students cannot serve as their own supervisor under the STEM rule, so self-employment is not permitted.
You must work a minimum of twenty (20) hours per week to be considered employed.
Employers hiring students for STEM OPT must be part of the E-Verify Program. Employers that are not part of the E-Verify system but would like to enroll in E-Verify may do so. The employer's E-Verify application cannot be pending at the time of the Form I-765 application to USCIS, as the E-Verify number is required on the Form I-765.
Before applying for the STEM OPT extension, you must complete the Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students with your employer. The Form I-983 is not sent to USCIS, but provided to ISSS as part of your STEM OPT application and saved to your student record. You should also retain the original of your I-983 for your records. ISSS has created a visual Form I-983 Guide based on the Form I-983 Instructions.
These tools will help you and your employer complete the form with accuracy. STEM OPT students and their employers are subject to the terms of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations, effective as of the start date requested for STEM OPT, as indicated on the form I-983. More information about the Form I-983 can also be found on the STEM OPT Help Hub.
You must meet two requirements in order to qualify for a second 24-month STEM extension:
1. Earn a second qualifying STEM degree at a ‘higher degree level’ and
2. Be first approved for a new period of post-completion OPT based on that higher degree.
This means you may not apply for a new STEM OPT extension if you are not currently participating in post-completion OPT, and you may not apply for back-to-back STEM OPT extensions.
If you are engaged in your 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned (within the last ten years) from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.
For example: If you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a
bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree. The STEM OPT employment
opportunity must be directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
The average length of time for USCIS to adjudicate an application is 90-120 days (3-4 months). USCIS does not typically expedite applications. You can review USCIS' expediate criteria on the USCIS website.
Pending STEM OPT Extension Applications
Yes, you can continue to work. Your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days after the expiration date on your most recent OPT EAD once you have a STEM OPT extension application pending with USCIS. Please see this referenced on the USCIS website.
Employers should know about the M-274, Employer Guide to the I-9. This helps employers and you know what documents are needed while STEM is pending in case your employer has questions on how to complete the paperwork for the I-9 showing your extended status when you have not yet received the EAD card. The information related to students on OPT or
STEM OPT is Section 6.4.2.
You may change jobs while your STEM OPT application is pending.
Step 1: You must submit the following items to [email protected] for processing within 10 days of changes to your employment:
Form I-983 for your new employer
Form I-983 with final evaluation (page 5, bottom) completed, even if you only worked one day.
Step 2: Inform USCIS of the change of employment via the online application portal, if applied online with USCIS
ISSS will update your employer information in SEVIS and will issue you a new I-20. After you receive your new I-20, you need to sign it, and submit the following items in the USCIS online application portal:
Cover letter including your name, SEVIS ID number, receipt notice number, and a brief description of the changes, including the new employer's E-Verify number.
A signed copy of the new I-20 form with the updated employer
A copy of the USCIS receipt notice
There is no fee associated with submitting the amended Form I-765. After completing Step 2, You may choose to send copies of those materials to the ISSS Office via [email protected] to notify the USCIS Services Center.
Employment and Reporting Requirements and STEM OPT
You should review your current I-983 for any changes related to your job changes (salary, goals and objectives, supervisor, etc.) and provide ISSS with a new I-983 with the updated changes. ISSS will then make the updates to SEVIS and save your I-983 to your student record, per regulation.
You should review your current I-983 for any changes related to your new client site (salary, goals and objectives, supervisor, etc.) and also update the site location on page 3 of the I-983. You will then need to provide ISSS with a new I-983 with the updated changes. ISSS will then make the updates to SEVIS and save your I-983 to your student record, per regulation.
Yes, you may work for more than one employer while engaged in STEM OPT work authorization, but each employment must be related to your STEM field of study, must be paid employment, and must be for at least 20 hours per week. To report an additional employer, you will need to submit an employer update to ISSS and provide the I-983 for the additional employer.
You are permitted a total of 150 days of unemployment.
Of the 90 days of unemployment you were allowed on post-completion OPT,
you are permitted to use any unused time (the balance of 90 days), plus
an additional 60 unemployment days on the 24-month STEM OPT extension
for a total of 150 days. If you become unemployed, you must submit the following to [email protected] within 10 days of ending employment:
Form I-983 with final evaluation (page 5, bottom) completed.
While engaged in the OPT STEM extension work authorization, you are required to report your legal name, address, employer, employer address, employment start date every 6 months. This means that you are reporting this information at the 6, 12, 18, and 24-month marks of your STEM OPT participation. If you fail to report this information, your F-1 status could be terminated in the SEVIS system. Failure to report this information may also impact other visa applications (example: H-1B).
For the 6 and 18-month reports, you will complete the STEM OPT Report Form.
For months 12 and 24-month reports, you will complete STEM OPT Report Form AND the Form I-983 with the evaluation completed. The 12-month evaluation is on the top of page 5 and the 24-month evaluation is on the bottom of page 5.
The reporting form and Form I-983 should be sent to [email protected]. The staff of ISSS will report your information in SEVIS.
NOTE: Do not use the reporting form to report a change of employment. Please
follow the regular reporting requirements when you change employment.
Do not participate in self-employment or unpaid employment.
Report changes to your legal name or home address within 10 days of the change.
Submit a new Form I-983 within 10 days of any changes in employment.
Submit STEM OPT Report Form every 6 months.
Submit Self-Evaluation 12 and 24 months from STEM OPT Start Date (page 5 of the Form I-983).
During STEM OPT, the employer must complete the I-983 and fulfill all the requirements of the I-983. Working for a staffing agency or a temporary agency may not meet the employer/ employee relationship requirements outlined in the I-983.
USCIS clarifies third-party placements for STEM OPT. Staffing and temporary agencies and consulting firms may seek to employ students under the STEM OPT program, but only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training experience to the student and they have and maintain a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student.
Travel and STEM OPT
If you have an unexpired EAD card for post-completion OPT, and you are otherwise admissible to the United States, you may consider international travel.
If your EAD card for post-completion OPT is expired, and you have a pending STEM OPT application, we suggest you avoid travel. More information about travel can be found on the Travel Information section on the website.
You should have the following documents: I-20 with travel signature that is less than 6 months old, valid passport, valid visa, letter of employment/offer letter, EAD card. More information about travel can be found on the Travel Information section on the website.