25 FAQ’s About STEM OPT Extension for F1 Students

Ready to apply for OPT or STEM OPT Extension? Here’s some FAQ’s about OPT and STEM OPT Extension about application, deadline, processing time to unemployment period.

1. What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students in the USA.

To be eligible for OPT students should have been in valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters.

2. What is the deadline to apply for OPT?

The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your course completion date.

The latest date the USCIS will accept your application is 60 days after your course completion date.

Example

  • Your I-20 currently expires on  – Dec/9/2015
  • You can choose an OPT start date as early as – Dec/10/2015
  • you can choose an OPT start date as late as – Feb/7/2016

An I-765 (OPT Application Form) for standard post-completion OPT can be filed up to 90 days before the program end-date and up to 60 days after the program end-date, provided that it is filed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS. Applications for the 17-month STEM extension must be filed before the current OPT expires.

3. What is the Processing Time for OPT and Extension

As per law, EAD cards should be issued within 90 days of the application.  It applies to Initial OPT application and STEM OPT Extension application. On an average USCIS takes about 75 to 90 days to approve and mail the OPT Card.

4. Who is eligible for 12 months OPT?

12 months of OPT is available after completing each higher level degree program.

  • Bachelors – 12 months
  • Masters – 12 months (MS, MBA, etc.)
  • Ph.D. – 12 months

If you complete, all three-degree levels, then you are eligible to get three 12 month OPT Period.

5. I completed M.S. and planning to study MBA. Do I get 12 more months of OPT?

If you complete MS followed by an MBA, you can get only ONE 12 month of OPT. Since MS and MBA are both considered as Masters Degree level.

6. Do I need to have a job to apply for OPT?

A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. You can apply within the allowed time frame of OPT application deadlines.

7. I received a job offer, what should I do next?

After you find a  job, you must inform your university DSO about your new job ( Employer, Location, Salary, Job Type, Title, etc.). This is to make sure you are not going to violate 90 days unemployment period.

I know someone who had a job in OPT but failed to report to the DSO, While applying for STEM OPT Extension, it was denied. As per USCIS, he was unemployed for 12 months. So, make sure to inform your DSO after receiving a job offer.

8. How is 90 days unemployment calculated?

  • After OPT start date, you cannot stay unemployed for no more than 90 days.
  • There are no limits on job location within USA (Hawaii and Alaska counts).
  • If you switch jobs and take a week break, it will count towards 90 days period.

10. I have a new job offer, can I change jobs during OPT period?

  • If you change jobs during OPT, inform your DSO about the new job.
  • DSO can then update your SEVIS record of your new employer.
  • If you don’t update your DSO, then your new employer will not be recorded.
  • While applying for OPT Extension, you may receive an RFE.
  • During OPT, you will be in F1 visa (OPT is considered to be part of the program of study).

11. Is it possible to get OPT in less than 90 days?

  • No premium processing for OPT.
  • Some USCIS service centers can take longer than 90 days to issue your OPT Card.
  • There’s an expediated process, but you have to provide hardship reasons.

12. My OPT application is approved. Can I start working before I receive the card?

  • OPT Card or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT.
  • After graduation, you cannot work until you have the EAD in your hand.
  • You can start working only after the start date on the your EAD Card.

13. What kind of job can I do on OPT?

STEM OPT Extension – 17 Months

  1. OPT can only be extended beyond 12 months (for up to 17 additional months) if you meet the following three conditions:
    • Your degree qualifies as a STEM major (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics).
    • Your employer is e-Verified (E-Verify ).
    • You are currently authorized for OPT and working in a job related to your field of study.
  2. Only one 17-month STEM extension is granted, regardless of additional degrees awarded or level of degrees.
  3. New STEM extension EAD card begins the day after the expiration of the 12-month EAD card.
  4. 17-month extension will be granted as one period. It cannot be split into smaller periods.
  5. It is possible to change employers during the 17 months.  The new employment must meet the STEM extension requirements.
  6. Students whose applications are received before the EAD card expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until they receive the final decision from USCIS on the application or for 180 days, whichever comes first.  It is possible to change employment while the application is pending, as long as the new employment meets STEM extension requirements.
  7. If extension application is denied, the student will still have the 60-day grace period after expiration of the 12-month EAD card.

More information at SEVIS Policy Guidance

STEM OPT Extension Eligibility

  • You must currently be on post-completion 12-month OPT.
  • Verified completion of a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List.
  • The CIP code is found on top of page 3 of the I-20, next to “Primary Major.”
  • Employment Requirements:
    • Paid or Unpaid
    • At least 20 hours per week
    • Directly related to field of study and appropriate to degree level obtained
  • Employer Requirements:
    • Registered with the U.S. Government E-Verify employment verification system
    • Agrees to report any termination of employment within 48 hours to OIS.
  • An additional 30 days of unemployment time will be available during the extension, combined with the 90 days granted during initial 12-month.  The aggregate total allowed is 120 days during the possible 29 months.

Travel while on OPT (and STEM OPT)

Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT and STEM OPT

  • STEM extension OPT I-20 with page 3 endorsed for travel; travel endorsement cannot be more than six months old
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Valid passport
  • STEM Extension, EAD card
  • Job offer letter or statement of employment from company
  • Recent Pay Checks

 What are the eligibility requirements for the 17-month extension of post-completion OPT?

  • The student must have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • The student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree.
  • The student’s employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • The student must apply on time (i.e., before the current post-completion OPT expires).