FAQs- STEM OPT 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:  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).


STEM OPT APPLICATION PROCESS

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.

Why does my new I-20 issued for STEM OPT shows the “Current Session Start Date” later than the “Current Session End Date”?

This part is automatically generated by SEVIS and will not affect your STEM OPT application. 

The “Current Session End Date” is the end date of the session you were last registered for. The “Current Session Start Date” for students on active status usually stays blank, but sometimes it shows the start date of the session that follows your final session of enrollment.

Why is the STEM OPT end date on my new I-20 one day more than 24 months from my STEM OPT start date?

This part is automatically generated by SEVIS and will not affect your STEM OPT application. 

If, for example, your STEM OPT start date is 1 June 2017, the STEM OPT end date will show 1 June 2019, even though the approved end date will be 31 May 2019.

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.


TIME LIMITS & DATES

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.


STEM OPT EXTENSION PROCESSING & APPROVAL

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 OPT STEM application is pending?

Yes, but USCIS will need to be notified of such change. Please submit to OIS an updated Form I-983 with the new employer information and two online OPT Employment Validation Forms (one to indicate the end date of your previous employment and one to report the new employment). 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.


MAINTAINING STATUS DURING STEM OPT

What is my status while I am on STEM OPT?

You are considered to be in lawful F-1 status while on STEM OPT as long as:

  • You have employment for  at least 20 hours per week in your field of study and commensurate to your degree level.
  • You employer is E-Verified.
  • You have not been unemployed for more than  150 days during your OPT (including your original OPT and STEM extension).
  • You report to OIS any changes of your legal name, residential address, immigration status or your employment situation within 10 days of occurrence. Submit any changes in residential address information via MyPack. For any changes to your legal name or immigration status, email ois@ncsu.edu. To update your employment information, submit the online OPT Employment Validation Form. When changing employers, you will also need to submit OIS’s Change of Employer form, a new I-983 form for your new employment and final self-evaluation for your previous employment (last page of I-983).
  • You report to OIS every 6 months to confirm that your employment information has not changed.. Submit employment information to OIS using the online OPT Employment Validation Form.
  • You report to OIS any material changes to your I-983 Training Plan by submitting an updated I-983.

For more information on STEM Extension Reporting Requirements, visit the STEM OPT page of OIS website.

What and how do I report to OIS while I am on STEM OPT?

  • You report to OIS any changes of your legal name, residential address, immigration status or your employment situation within 10 days of occurrence. Submit any changes in residential address information via MyPack. For any changes to your legal name or immigration status, email ois@ncsu.edu. To update your employment information, submit the online OPT Employment Validation Form. When changing employers, you will also need to submit OIS’s Change of Employer form, a new I-983 form for your new employment and final self-evaluation (last page of I-983) for your previous employment.
  • You report to OIS every 6 months to confirm that your employment information has not changed OR whenever a change occurs in your employment situation, legal name, residential address, or immigration status. Submit employment information to OIS using the online OPT Employment Validation Form.  Submit any changes in residential address information via MyPack. For any changes to your visa status, email ois@ncsu.edu.
  • You report to OIS any material changes to your I-983 Training Plan by submitting an updated I-983.

For more information on STEM Extension Reporting Requirements, visit the STEM OPT page of OIS website.

If you need to speak to an advisor, email ois@ncsu.edu or call 919-515-2961.

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 Change of Employer form,  a new I-983 for your new employment and a self-evaluation (last page of I-983) for your previous employment. You must also update your employment information using the  OPT Employment Validation Form.

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.

What types of employment am I allowed to do on 24-month STEM OPT?

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

  • Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but each employment must be at least 20 hours per week and directly related to the student’s most recently completed degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Bona fide employer-employee relationship. The new STEM rule requires that students have a bona fide employer-employee relationship for the employment to be eligible for STEM.  This means that employment through a temp or staffing agency or work for hire where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship may not be eligible under the new rule.
  • As of May 10, 2016, unpaid internships  and volunteer work are no longer eligible employment opportunities for the STEM OPT extension. Similarly, students cannot represent themselves as both employer and employee on the I-983 form, meaning self-employment is also not allowed.

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. This means the following types of employment are not allowed under STEM OPT:

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

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.


TRAVEL

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 reentry by OIS within the last 6 months. You should also have proof that you are returning to the U.S. to resume employment (such as employment letter) and your passport must be unexpired for at least 6 months into the future.

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.

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

According to the new 24-month extension rule, while your STEM OPT application is pending, your employment authorization is automatically extended for 180 days and your original EAD is considered unexpired when combined with the I-20 recommending the extension. DHS clarifies this in the preamble to the 24-month rule.

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

  • Updated I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation
  • Receipt Notice from USCIS that your STEM OPT application is being processed
  • EAD issued for your post-completion OPT (even if expired)
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Most recent I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation signed by OIS
  • Proof of employment (e.g. a job offer)

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.

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 reentry)

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 bring or ship the original I-20 to OIS to have a new travel signature added.