Office of International Services

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: OPT STEM EXTENSION

 

ELIGIBILITY

How can I find out if my field of study is a STEM field?

You can find a list of all of the STEM fields here: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm

Do I need a job offer to apply for the STEM extension?

Yes and this job offer needs to meet the following requirements:

  1. It has to be directly related to your degree level and field of study
  2. It has to be full time (i.e. more than 20 hours per week)
  3. It must be from an employer who participates in E-Verify.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an internet-based system operated by USCIS in partnership with the Social Security Administration to help employers determine the employment eligibility of their employees. You can find more information about E-Verify here: http://www.uscis.gov/everify

Is there a resource list of employers participating in E-Verify?

No, there is no public list of employers participating in E-Verify.

How many times can I apply for the OPT STEM extension?

You are only eligible for this extension once.

If I am planning to complete my Masters degree and use OPT and OPT STEM and then return to school for my PhD, can I then use OPT and OPT STEM again?

Since you are moving from MS to PhD, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT following the new degree, however you are not eligible for the STEM extension. You are only eligible for the STEM extension once.

 

OPT STEM APPLICATION PROCESS

When should I apply for the OPT STEM extension?

You can apply up to 120 days prior to the end date of your EAD card. USCIS must have received your application prior to the end date of your EAD card.

Which documents do I need to apply?

You can find the application instructions here:

What will be the dates of the extension?

The start date for the extension will be the day after your current EAD card ends and your end date will be 17 months after the start date. The dates are set by USCIS, they cannot be changed.

How long will it take for OIS to issue the I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation?

Once we receive the completed application package from you, it will take between 3 and 5 business days to receive the new I-20.

How long will it take for USCIS to process my OPT STEM extension?

The processing time is up to 90 days.

Can I pay extra to have my case be processed faster?

No. USCIS does not offer expedited processing for OPT or OPT STEM applications.

Can I change my mailing address while my OPT STEM application is pending?

You can, but it can (and often does) result in a delay of receipt of your EAD card. Please contact an OIS advisor to request an address change. We highly recommend to use a mailing address you know will be valid for at least 3 months on your application, so that your EAD card will be delivered on time.

 

TIME LIMITS & DATES

What if I have submitted my STEM extension to USCIS on time, but I have not received my new EAD card before my current EAD card expires?

As long as USCIS has received your application prior to your current EAD card end date, your legal status and work authorization in the US are automatically extended by up to 120 days or until you receive a decision from USCIS regarding your request.

Can I be unemployed while I am on OPT STEM?

Yes, temporarily. Under standard post-completion OPT, you receive a 90 day allotment to be unemployed. When you receive the STEM extension, you receive an additional 30 days to be unemployed giving you a total of 120 days of unemployment during your entire OPT time.

If I am outside of the US and employed, does that count as unemployment time?

Yes, any time you are unemployed, whether you’re in the US or outside, counts against your 120 day allotment.

After my OPT STEM extension ends, do I have a grace period?

Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days.

 

OPT STEM EXTENSION PROCESSING & APPROVAL

What happens after USCIS receives my OPT application?

USCIS will send you a confirmation of receipt if you have submitted Form G-1145 with your application. Next, you will receive a hard copy receipt notice via regular mail with your case number on it. If your case is approved, you will next receive your EAD card. The processing can take up to 90 days from the date on your receipt notice. If USCIS needs further information from you, you will receive a hard copy “request for evidence” in the mail. Please have this reviewed by an OIS advisor before sending your response.

How can I check the status of my case?

Students may use the case number (the number begins with “SRC” for applications filed with the Texas Service Center) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of the application on this site the USCIS website. (https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/caseStatusSearchDisplay.do )

What should I do when I receive my EAD card?

Review your EAD card to makes sure there are no errors and e-mail or drop off a copy of your EAD card to OIS and present the card to your employer.

What should I do if I receive a “request for evidence” notice from USCIS?

Please bring this notice to OIS during the walk-in hours and an advisor will review it with you and help you to prepare your response.

Can I change employers while my OPT STEM application is pending?

Yes, however you must submit an amended I-765 form with a letter of explanation and a copy of your receipt notice to USCIS. OIS will also issue a new I-20 form for you with the updated employer information to submit along with the above documents to USCIS.

 

MAINTAINING STATUS DURING OPT STEM

What is my status while I am on OPT STEM?

You are considered to be in lawful F-1 status as long as you meet the following requirements:

  • You have employment for more than 20 hours per week in your field of study and commensurate to your degree level,
  • You have full time employment with an E-Verified employer,
  • You have not been unemployed for more than 120 days during your OPT and OPT STEM,
  • You report to OIS any changes of address within 10 days of occurrence,
  • You report to OIS whenever a change occurs in your employment situation, address or visa status OR at least every 6 months. Your report these changes here: http://www.ncsu.edu/ois/forms/validate.php

How do I report to OIS while I am on OPT?

Please visit here for instructions on reporting during OPT STEM: http://www.ncsu.edu/ois/forms/validate.php

Can I change employers while on OPT STEM?

Yes, but you must report it to OIS immediately, so your F-1 record can be updated to reflect this change. Please visit this link to find reporting instructions: http://www.ncsu.edu/ois/forms/validate.php

How do I let OIS know if I have changed my immigration status?

Please submit a copy of the approval notice of your new immigration status to OIS, so your F-1 immigration record can be closed appropriately.

What types of employment am I allowed to do on OPT?

All OPT employment is required to be in a job that is related to your degree level and field of study. Employment under the OPT STEM extension may include:

  • Multiple employers. A student may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to your degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract period and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. A student on a 17-month extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. 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 his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm. A student on a 17-month extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.

Can I be employed in multiple part time positions?

Yes, but all employers must participate in E-Verify.

Can I study while I am on OPT?

You may take classes as long as they are supplemental to your employment. You may not start another degree program. (If you would like to start another degree program, your OPT would be canceled and you would receive a new F-1 student record).

What should I do if I decide to return home permanently before the end date on my EAD card?

Please submit the departure form to OIS, so that we can close out your F-1 record accordingly.

 

TRAVEL

Can I travel while my OPT STEM application is pending and I still have a valid, unexpired EAD card?

USCIS does not recommend that you travel while your application is pending.

Can I travel while my OPT STEM application is pending and my EAD card has expired?

No, you cannot re-enter the US with expired documents.

Which documents do I need when I travel on OPT?

  • Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 (recently signed by OIS)
  • Valid EAD card
  • Proof of employment