FAQs- STEM OPT Extension


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:  https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf

A list of programs at NC State and corresponding CIP codes as assigned by the state is available here: http://www2.acs.ncsu.edu/UPA/archives/tools/cip/

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 and field of study
  2. It has to be full time (i.e.  at least 20 hours per week)
  3. It must be from an employer who participates in E-Verify
  4. It must be an eligible type of employment (unpaid or volunteer positions, positions with temp agencies and self-employment do not qualify)

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/e-verify

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 STEM OPT extension?

A student may obtain up to two STEM extensions provided that the second STEM extension is for a higher qualifying degree.  For example: if you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in Engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in Engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree (after obtaining regular 12-month OPT for the master’s degree).


Which documents do I need to apply for the STEM I-20 from OIS?

You can find the application instructions on OIS’s STEM OPT webpage. All forms are available on OIS’s Forms Page.

How much is the OIS STEM Maintenance Fee and how can I pay it?

The STEM Maintenance Fee is $200 which is payable by credit card at https://commerce.cashnet.com/NCSUOIS.

What is I-983 Training Plan?

Form I-983 is a formal Training Plan for STEM OPT Students required by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The training plan must clearly articulate the STEM OPT student’s learning objectives and affirm the employer’s commitment to helping the student achieve those objectives.

Where can I find instructions for completing Form I-983?

Step-by-step guidance for completing Form I-983 can be found here: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/i983Instructions.pdf.

Do I need to submit Form I-983 as part of my STEM OPT application to USCIS?

No. A completed and signed Form I-983 (also known as Training Plan for STEM OPT Students) must be submitted to OIS as part of the request to issue a new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation. However, a student or OIS may also be required to submit the I-983 to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and/or USCIS upon request.

Are E-Verify and EIN the same number?

No. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. It consists of four to seven digits. EIN is Employer Identification Number. It’s a nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the purposes of taxation and identification.

You will need to indicate your employer’s E-Verify number on your Form I-765 and EIN on Form I-983.

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

Once we receive the completed application package from you, it will take 10 business days to issue the new I-20.

When should I apply for the STEM OPT extension?

You can apply up to 90 days prior to the end date of your current EAD card. USCIS must have received your application prior to the end date of your EAD card. Your application must also be received within 60 days of the I-20 issuance date (indicated by the date of the OIS Designated School Official’s signature on page 1).

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 24 months after the start date. The dates are set by USCIS, they cannot be changed.

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

The processing time is up to 90 days.

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

USCIS does not allow applicants to pay a fee for expedited processing and guaranteed adjudication by a certain date.  Rather, USCIS does accept requests for expedited processing of petitions filed in a timely manner based on certain criteria. Students may follow the instructions on the USCIS web page to determine if you meet the USCIS criteria for expedited processing and to complete an expedited processing request. OIS is not involved in the processing of any petitions filed with USCIS and any inquiries regarding the expedited processing request need to be sent to USCIS.

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

You can, but it can (and often does) result in a delay of receipt of your EAD card or a lost 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.


What if I have submitted my STEM extension application 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 180 days or until you receive a decision from USCIS regarding your request.

Can I be unemployed while I am on STEM OPT?

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 60 days allotment to be unemployed giving you a total of 150 days of unemployment during your entire OPT time.

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

Yes, any time you are unemployed, whether you’re in the US or outside, counts against your 150 day allotment.

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

Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days.


What happens after USCIS receives my STEM OPT application?

USCIS will send you an electronic 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. 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” (RFE) in the mail. The RFE has a deadline by which you must respond.  If you receive an RFE, please send a copy to OIS and have your  response reviewed by an OIS advisor before sending it to USCIS.

How can I check the status of my case?

Students may use the receipt number (the number begins with three letters followed by 10 numbers such as YSC1234567890) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of their application on the USCIS website.

What should I do when I receive my EAD card?

Review your EAD card to make sure there are no errors and e-mail or drop off a copy of your EAD card to OIS at ois@ncsu.edu 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. If you are not in the NC State area, email a copy of the RFE to OIS (ois@ncsu.edu) and request an advisor’s assistance.

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

Yes, but USCIS will need to be notified of such change (by OIS). Please submit to OIS a new Form I-983 for the new employer and a New Employer form. If your STEM OPT period has already started, you must also submit the final self-evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) for your previous employer. OIS will issue an updated I-20 for you and notify USCIS about the change.


Can I change employers while on STEM OPT?

Yes, but you must report it to OIS within 10 days of changing employers, so your F-1 record in SEVIS can be updated to reflect this change.  To report change of employers, you must submit OIS’s New Employer form,  a new I-983 for your new employment and a self-evaluation (last page of I-983) for your previous employment.

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

Please email a copy of the approval notice of your new immigration status (I-797) to OIS at ois@ncsu.edu, so your F-1 immigration record can be closed appropriately.

Can I work through a staffing agency or a consulting firm during STEM OPT?

Employment through a temp or staffing agency or work for hire where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship (e.g. work as an independent contractor) rather than an employment relationship may not be eligible for STEM OPT. Staffing and temporary agencies may seek to employ students under the STEM OPT program, but only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training experience to the student at its own place of business and they have a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. For instance, a student might possibly receive STEM-related training while working in a staffing agency’s IT department. However, staffing and temporary agencies MAY NOT 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.(USCIS website).

What types of employment am I NOT allowed to do on STEM OPT?

Only employment that represents a bona fide employee-employer relationship is allowed on STEM OPT.  In addition, the duties, hours, and compensation of all STEM OPT employment must be commensurate that of similarly situated US workers in the area of employment. The following types of employment are not allowed under STEM OPT:

  • Unpaid or Volunteer Positions
  • Employment through a temp or staffing agency 
  • Self-Employment

STEM OPT students may only work for an employer enrolled in E-Verify and their employment must be at least 20 hours per week and must be directly related to their degree program which serves as basis for their STEM OPT.

Can I study while I am on STEM 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.


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

Yes, you may travel abroad and seek reentry to the U.S. in F-1 status if you have a valid F-1 visa and a current I-20 endorsed for travel by OIS within the last 6 months.

At the port of entry to the U.S. you will need to have:

  • Most recent I-20 endorsed for travel within the last 6 months*
  • Unexpired EAD
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Proof of employment (e.g. a job offer)
  • Receipt Notice from USCIS that your STEM OPT application is being processed (if available)

That said, international travel while an OPT application is pending should be undertaken with caution. We cannot guarantee that you will have no problems at the port of entry when trying to reenter the U.S. The decision on readmission will be made by a CBP Officer.

*If it has been more than 6 months from the date of the last travel signature on your I-20 (page 2), you will need to request an updated I-20 with a new travel signature from OIS by filling out and emailing to ois@ncsu.edu the Travel Endorsement Form for OPT Students.

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

We do not recommend that OPT students travel during the period after their EAD card issued for the regular 12-month OPT has expired and before they have the new EAD card for STEM OPT.

Which documents do I need when I travel on STEM OPT?

  • Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid EAD card
  • Proof of employment (e.g. a job offer)
  • Most recent I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2 (must be within 6 months on the date of re-entry*)

*If it has been more than 6 months from the date of the last travel signature on your I-20 (page 2), you will need to request an updated I-20 with a new travel signature from OIS by filling out and emailing to ois@ncsu.edu the Travel Endorsement Form for OPT Students.