International Student Services

STEM OPT Extension: After Approval

STEM OPT is Approved. Now What?

Congratulations! Your STEM OPT is approved. Now what?

  1. Learn the STEM OPT reporting requirements (different from 12-month OPT) outlined below.  
  2. Mark your calendar for the 6- and 12-month reporting requirements.
  3. A new I-20 is not required to show STEM OPT approval.
  4. Keep your EAD in a safe place. ISS does not need a copy of your EAD.
  5. Read all the information on this page about the STEM OPT period.

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

Mark your calendar!

These reporting deadlines are required to maintain your F-1 status.

What are the consequences of late or missed reporting?

  • The U.S. government could deny future benefits based on late reporting.
  • There is no remedy through ISS for late reporting.
  • Consult an immigration attorney with concerns about missed reporting deadlines.
What to Report When to Report How to Report

6-month STEM OPT Report:

The 6-month report is due even if there are no changes in employment or other information.

Every 6 months from OPT start date on EAD

Tip: submit your report every 5.5 months to accommodate ISS processing time.

ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform
I-983 Annual Evaluation

12 months after OPT start date on EAD

Tip: submit your annual evaluation 11.5 months after STEM OPT start date on EAD to allow for ISS processing time.

ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform

You must upload page 5 (only page 5) of the I-983 Training Plan.

I-983 Final Evaluation 1. If you end a job
2. 24 months from OPT start date on EAD

ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform

You must upload page 5 (only page 5) of the I-983 Training Plan.

Changes in Employment/Practical Training

Report employment changes within 10 days.

Cannot exceed 150 days unemployment.

ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform

  1. Upload I-983 Final Evaluation (page 5 only) for the position you are ending.
  2.  Upload a new I-983 Training Plan (new position).
Address changes Report within 10 days of moving. ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform
Change of immigration status   ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform
Final departure from the U.S. (if earlier than your STEM OPT end date)   ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform
Request a new Form I-20   ISS STEM OPT Reporting Webform

Limit on Unemployment Days

After your 24-month STEM OPT extension period is approved, you are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment (in addition to the 90 days allowed during 12-month OPT) for a total of 150 days of allowed unemployment.

If you had zero unemployment days during your 12-month OPT year, you have the full 150 unemployment days left during the STEM OPT period.

  • Your STEM OPT period is the time between the OPT start and end dates on your EAD
  • Unemployment days start counting on the start date printed on your EAD unless you start a job that day.
  • The day you start the job itself (not the date you receive an offer letter for a future start date) is when the unemployment days stop counting.
  • You must report your job to stop the “unemployment” clock from counting in SEVIS (see the “STEM OPT Reporting Requirements above)
  • If you are employed and on approved vacation or leave time or you are travelling as part of your employment, this is not counted as unemployment days.
  • Each day (including weekends) that you do not have a qualifying OPT job counts as a day of unemployment.
  • There is no grace period after 150 days of unemployment. To avoid violating status, Immigration recommends that prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the U.S., or change to a different immigration status.
  • If you exceed 150 days of unemployment, or if you fail to report your employment, the U.S. government will terminate your F-1 SEVIS record 150 days after your OPT start date. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

Employment Requirements

Hourly Minimum

You must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that:

  • Participates in the E-Verify program, and
  • Agrees to follow all the employer requirements in the 24-month STEM rule.
  • Meets all the criteria described in the “paid job offer” section of our STEM OPT eligibility information
  • There is not an hourly maximum amount. 

What Kind of Work is Allowed?

The government has new guidance about acceptable types of activity during the 24-month STEM Extension that is substantially different than the past guidance for the STEM Extension.

Multiple Employers

You can work for multiple employers as long as:

  • You work for each employer at least 20 hours per week
  • Each employer fully complies with the requirements of the 24-month STEM rule

Start-Ups

The Department of Homeland Security has also commented that students may be employed by new start-up businesses as long as all regulatory requirements are met, including that the employer:

  • Adheres to the training plan requirements
  • Remains in good standing with E-Verify
  • Will provide compensation to the STEM OPT student commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers. For instance, alternative compensation may be allowed during a STEM OPT extension as long as the F-1 student can show that he or she is a bona fide employee and that his or her compensation, including any ownership interest in the employer entity (such as stock options) is commensurate with the compensation provided to other similarly situated U.S. workers.
  • Has the resources to comply with the proposed training plan

Self-Employment, Work for Hire, and Employment through Agencies/Consulting Firms

The government has commented:

“There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through ‘temp’ agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.. . . Accordingly, DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the (I-983) Training Plan, and the employer that signs the (I-983) Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.”

“Additionally, guidance from the USCIS states: (3rd parties)…may not, however, assign or contract out students to work for one of their customers or clients, and assign, or otherwise delegate, their training responsibilities to the customer or client.”

Volunteer and Uncompensated Activity

The government has commented:

“DHS carefully considered whether to allow volunteer positions to qualify under the STEM OPT extension program but has decided against permitting such arrangements. … Requiring commensurate compensation for F-1 students — which does not include no compensation — protects both international and domestic students and ensures that the qualifying STEM positions are substantive opportunities. . . .”

EAD Errors

What happens if your EAD card has incorrect information on it?

  1. Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
  2. To correct the EAD, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.

Travel and STEM OPT

You can travel during your pending or approved STEM OPT extension period.

Travel after STEM OPT Approval

If your STEM OPT extension application is already approved, you should carry:

Travel with Pending STEM OPT Application

If your STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS, it is okay to travel internationally. This is true even if your post-completion OPT EAD is already expired.

The preamble to the 24-month STEM OPT rule [81 FR 13103 par. 774] states:

“Students on STEM OPT extensions (including those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending) may travel abroad and seek reentry to the United States in F-1 status during the STEM OPT extension period if they have a valid F-1 visa that permits multiple entries and a current Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months. The student’s status is determined by CBP upon admission to the United States or through a USCIS adjudication of a change-of-status petition.”

It is also possible to apply for a new F-1 visa during this time. The Foreign Affairs Manual, which instructs U.S. Department of State officials regarding visa issuance, states at 9 FAM 402.5-5(N)(6)(e)
“As the STEM OPT extension is automatic for the first 180 days following regular post-completion OPT (when the student has properly filed Form I-765), the student may not necessarily have a renewed EAD. Therefore, any students having automatically authorized employment through the OPT extension may not be able to present a valid EAD when they apply to renew their visa. However, F-1 students in this situation can request an updated I-20 from the DSO, annotated for the STEM OPT extension, as well as proof that the I-765 petition was filed in a timely manner. You must confirm that the student’s electronic SEVIS record contains the same information as the updated hard copy Form I-20 before issuing a visa.”

If you do leave, make sure to have a trusted friend or family member monitor your mail in case you receive an update to your application while you are outside of the US.

For reentry to the U.S. with a pending STEM OPT application, you should carry:

Renewing Your F-1 Visa

You can apply for an F-1 visa while the STEM OPT application is pending (up to 180 days pending status). Follow the regular procedures to apply for an F-1 visa outside of the U.S. For the F-1 visa application, plan to provide the documents listed above, as well as proof of financial ability to stay in the U.S. and proof of continuing ties to your home country.

Grace Period

Students who do not exceed 150 days of unemployment and report employment to the ISS as required are automatically granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD.

Within this 60-day grace period, you have the following options:

  • Depart the U.S. Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies and STEM OPT period, you are not eligible to reenter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
  • Request a new I-20 if you will continue at the UW in a new degree program. If you are an undergraduate and will begin graduate studies, your new I-20 will be issued by Graduate Admissions.
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
  • Apply to change status to another visa category.

F-1 Visa Validity

It is OK if your F-1 visa expires while you are in the U.S. during STEM OPT.

Your F-1 status is distinct from the F-1 visa and depends on your maintenance of status, not the validity of your visa – the visa itself is a travel document required for entry into the U.S. It’s important to note that the F-1 visa and the I-20 are separate documents with different requirements. See F-1 Documents for more information.

It is very common for students to remain in the U.S. after the F-1 visa expires; your F-1 status remains valid as long as you follow the STEM OPT rules described on this webpage.

You do need a valid visa in order to enter the U.S. (There are some exceptions for reentry to the US after short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands).

For more information, see our Visas page.

Note: You cannot renew your visa in the U.S.