STEM OPT FAQ
When can I apply for the STEM OPT extension?
You can apply up to 90 days before your current 12-month OPT expires. USCIS must receive your application before your current OPT expires, otherwise they will deny your STEM OPT application.
What jobs can’t I do while on STEM OPT extension?
- Volunteer/unpaid positions
- Any work that is not related to your STEM major.
- Any work that is not listed on your I-983 Training Plan.
- Employment through a third party, such as a staff or temp agency, is still a gray area. The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that provides the practical training experience to the student. Thus, we advise to be cautious when accepting this employment during STEM OPT period.
What jobs can I do while on STEM OPT extension?
- Your employer must have an E-Verify number and an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- Employment must be at least 20 hours per week
- Job is related to your degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. Not all STEM fields are eligible, so you must see if your specific degree (as indicated on your I-20) is included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List by Department of Homeland Security.
What if I don’t have a job for the entire OPT STEM extension work authorization – how many days of unemployment am I allowed during the extension period?
You are allowed a total of 150 days of cumulative unemployment during your OPT STEM extension. This is including the 90 days of unemployment from your post-completion OPT. If you reach 150 days, your SEVIS record will be terminated.
How can I purchase health insurance while on STEM OPT?
Although not required by your visa, ISS strongly encourages you to make every effort to be insured during your entire stay in the U.S., including grace periods and while authorized on Optional Practical Training. If you do not receive health insurance through your OPT employer, you can consider private insurance providers listed under “Other Insurance Plans“. These companies specialize in working with international students, and some have special coverage options for students on OPT (such as ISO Insurance).
Can I Study While on STEM OPT extension?
Yes, but you may only take recreational courses. If you begin a new degree program, your current OPT authorization is automatically terminated when the I-20 is updated and/or transferred to the new school.
My F-1 visa expired – can I apply for a new visa?
Yes; however, know that it is OK for you to remain in the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa. The only time that you will be required to have a valid F-1 visa is if you are re-entering the U.S. after traveling outside the country.
To apply for a new F-1 visa, you should follow the direction of the specific U.S. Consulate where you plan to apply for the visa. Some additional documents that they may ask you to bring is your 12-month OPT EAD, your 24-month OPT STEM extension EAD, document verifying your employer, updated I-20 from ISS office showing your current employment/valid travel signature.
What happens after my STEM OPT extension expires?
You have a 60-day grace period after your OPT end date. The OPT end date is indicated on your EAD. You must take one of the following actions during your grace period:
- Depart the United States.
- If you have received admission to a new degree program, you will need to initiate the SEVIS transfer with ISS so that your I-20 can be sent to your new school.
- If you have received admissions to a new degree program at UWB, you will need to talk with ISS so that we can update your I-20 accordingly.
- Change to another status to remain lawfully in the United States. Typically, students will work with their employer for the H-1B work visa sponsorship. Some students have also changed to other statuses, such as applying for a green card after getting married, etc.
When does my OPT STEM extension work authorization start?
The extension is a continuation from your 12-month OPT. For example, if your 12-month OPT end date is September 1, 2022 then your 24-month OPT STEM extension authorization would start (if approved) from September 2, 2022.
What if my OPT expires before my STEM OPT application is approved?
Don’t worry. If your OPT authorization expires and your STEM OPT application has been properly and timely filed, then your employment authorization is considered automatically extended for up to 180 days while the STEM OPT application is pending. All work done during this 180-day period is considered STEM OPT extension time that counts towards the 24-month total.
When can I travel outside the U.S.?
- Do not travel outside the U.S. if your OPT expired and your STEM OPT application is still pending.
- A list of required documents for travel is here.