STEM OPT

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Overview:

  • Length of STEM OPT is 24 months. 
  • Students who completed a degree from the STEM Designated Degree Program List are eligible to apply.
  • Students must have a full time (more than 20 hours per week) paid position with E-Verify employers and complete Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students with their employers. 
  • Students must receive a STEM OPT I-20 from their International Student Advisor.
  • Students must mail their application to USCIS before their Post-completion OPT expires, but no earlier than 90 days before the expiration date. 
  • Students may continue working with an expired Post-completion OPT EAD for up to 180 days while STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS. 
  • There is an enhanced reporting requirement during STEM OPT. Students must report on their employment and address every six months. 
  • STEM OPT is available again at a higher academic level but only limited to twice in a lifetime.

Self-serve Information:

Application Time Frame & Deadlines

  • Students must apply for STEM OPT before their Post-completion OPT EAD expires. The earliest they can mail in their application is 90 days before the expiration date on their OPT EAD card.
  • Students must work with their E-Verify Employer and complete Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
  • Students must have STEM OPT I-20 issued by an International Student Advisor. Allow 5 business days to have this new I-20 issued.
  • Students may continue to work with an expired Post-completion EAD card for up to 180 days while their STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS. However, certain companies may require students to have a valid EAD card at all time in order to keep their employment. 
  • USCIS takes 90 days or longer to process, so act early! 

Form I-983 & Requesting STEM OPT  I-20

See I-983 instruction created by Immigration and Custom Enforcement and a sample Form I-983. Once you complete the I-983, email a copy to your International Student Advisor.

Then complete: STEM OPT I-20 Request. Allow 5 business days for processing.   

Third Party Placement during STEM OPT

According to the 2016 STEM OPT Final Rule, the following employment types are not eligible for STEM OPT:

  • 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

On August 17, 2018, USCIS made an announcement that they have updated STEM OPT page and clarified that “STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. DHS will review on a case-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.”

In order to minimize risk of STEM OPT denial or cancellation, we advise students to avoid working for third party placement companies if possible. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney for your case specific questions. 

U.S. Mailing Address Warning 

  • USCIS will send your Notice of Action (image) and EAD (image) to your U.S. postal mailbox. 
  • Make sure your full name appears on the mailbox of where you currently live. 
  • Thinking about moving within the next 6 months? 
    • U.S. Postal Service will NOT forward government mail, even if you file a forwarding address/ change of address request with USPS.
    • Ask permission from a friend to use their address OR Set up a P.O. Box (available for about $10/month)
  • Sign up for USPS Informed Delivery if available. 

Application Materials

Do not use staples. Use of black and white printing is standard, color copies are not needed. Double sided copies are acceptable.

Students who wish to have their application materials reviewed by International Student Advisor should email copies to them.

Filing Address

  • The filing address depends on the U.S. Mailing Address indicated on the Form I-765.
    • For a non-Washington State address, find the filing address here (Foreign Student section).
    • For Washington State addresses, use:

For USPS

USCIS
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
 

For Non-USPS Deliveries: 

USCIS
Attn: NFB AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034
  • Not sure how to address an envelope? Review a sample

Important Reminders Before Mailing Application

  • Make sure Form I-765, G-1450 OR check and the new I-20 are signed and dated.
  • Before mailing, make a copy of your entire application for your records. International Student Advisors will only save a copy of your STEM OPT I-20.
  • Mail your application within 60 days of the new I-20 issuance or as soon as possible.

What to Expect After Filing 

  • Students should receive an emailed notice or text message with the receipt number from USCIS Lockbox within 2 weeks from mailing.
  • Students should then expect to receive a written notice (NOA) through the mail within 30 days of the receipt of filing at the Lockbox. Students should email a copy of the NOA to their International Student Advisor. 
  • Students should follow the progress of their application by visiting Case Status Online, and entering the receipt number for their case. Students can also create an online USCIS account to track their case and receive automatic status updates by email or text message. 
  • Current processing times for I-765 being adjudicated at USCIS service centers and field offices are also reported on the USCIS website. 
  • If cases are pending for more than 90 days, students should contact USCIS online or by calling the USCIS National Customer Service Hotline at 1-800-375-5283. If students see no updates on their case status after 2 weeks, they should contact their International Student Advisor.
  • Once you receive your EAD, make sure all information printed is accurate.

F-1 Status Maintenance During and After STEM OPT

Reporting Requirement: 

  • Update your physical address and/or mailing address and phone number in the SEVP Portal within 10 days. 
  • Employment changes cannot be updated in the SEVP Portal for STEM OPT students. If you stopped working, have a new or additional employer, have any changes to Form I-983, email a copy of new Form I-983 to your International Student Advisor and complete:  
  • Confirm continued participation to STEM OPT every 6 months by completing: 

For example, if your STEM OPT is approved on January 1, 2018, and you keep the same job with the same employer and you have no address update, your reporting timeline look like this:  

  • On July 1, 2018: submit the STEM OPT participation report webform
  • On December 31, 2018: email a copy the 1-year self-evaluation on Form I-983 (page 5, top part) with your supervisor’s signature to International Student Advisor
  • On July 1, 2019: submit the STEM OPT participation report webform
  • On December 31, 2019: email a copy of the 2-year (final) self-evaluation on Form I-983 (page 5, bottom part) with your supervisor’s signature to International Student Advisor. 

Students who leave their employer before above time frames must complete the final evaluation and email a copy to their International Student Advisor. 

Unemployment:  

  • During post-completion OPT, students are allowed to accrue 90 calendar days of unemployment. After STEM OPT approval, students are allowed an additional 60 calendar days of unemployment for total of up to 150 days. 

After Completion of STEM OPT:

  • Students who successfully complete their post-completion OPT have a 60 day grace period.
  • During the grace period, students can do the following:
    • Depart from the U.S.
    • Change to a different immigration status.
    • Be admitted to a new program of study and request SEVIS Record Transfer.

International Travel during STEM OPT

Students should not depart from the U.S. once their post-completion OPT EAD expire and while their STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS. This can be considered as abandonment of their STEM OPT application and they may not be readmitted into the U.S..

Once STEM OPT application is approved, students may travel outside the U.S. and seek readmission into the U.S. with the following documents:

  • Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future:
    • Countries listed here have a special agreement with the U.S. that allow their citizens' passports to be valid for reentry purpose up to the date of expiration.  
  • F-1 Student Visa:
    • Check the expiration date and the number of allowed entries on your visa. Most visas have "M" (multiple) printed under entries. This means there is no limit on the number of entries for which you can use your visa. If your visa is expired or if you have already used the number of entries you are allowed, you will need to renew your F-1 student visa at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy office outside of the U.S. (preferably in your home country).
    • If you are seeking reentry to the U.S. after traveling back from a contiguous country (Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands) for less than 30 days, you may be permitted to reenter with an expired F-1 visa. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. 
  • Form I-20, endorsed for travel by DSO:
    • I-20s need to be authorized for travel on page 2 by an International Student Advisor.
    • For students engaged in STEM OPT, the signature is valid for six months. To request a travel signature, complete the Travel Authorization Signature Request Webform.
    • We recommend student's I-20 to be up to date showing, "STEM OPT Approved" and their employers name and location printed. Email International Student Advisor to obtain an updated I-20. 
  • EAD (Employment Authorization Document) Card   
  • An employment offer letter or letter of employment from your employer, internship or volunteering site.
  • Evidence of Financial Resources (optional but strongly recommended):