STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following exhaustive resource is meant to answer some of the most common questions that students have regarding STEM OPT. If you have a question about STEM OPT, it is most likely covered here in one of these three sections:

I. General STEM OPT Questions

II. The STEM OPT Application Process

III. While on STEM OPT

Also, feel free to type key words into your browser’s Control-F or search function to find your question and answer faster. For example, if your queston is about the I-983, key in Ctrl-F, then type “I-983” in the search box.

stem opt general questions

Can I do unpaid work or internships, or be self-employed while on STEM OPT?

Unpaid internships, employment, and volunteer work are not eligible employment opportunities for the STEM OPT extension. Similarly, you cannot represent yourself as both employer and employee on the I-983 form, meaning self-employment is also not allowed.

How many times can I apply for the STEM OPT extension over my career?

You may obtain up to 2 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 OPT for the master’s degree). In this example, if you went on to pursue a 3rd degree in the U.S., such as a PhD, you would not be eligible for a third STEM OPT extension, since the maximum is two lifetime uses. 

I’m having trouble filling out the Form I-983 with my STEM OPT employer. I don’t know what to put. Where can I get help?

The US government agency responsible for the Form I-983 has created a document with detailed instructions on how to fill it out. Those instructions can be found here:

The I-983 instructions cover the vast majority of students’ situations or concerns. 

I’m on regular OPT, but have a pending H-1B petition and a Cap-Gap I-20 — should I still apply for a STEM extension?

The age old question: “To apply for STEM or not?” with an upcoming H-1B is a tough one, and is a personal decision. What we tell students is this: is the cost of the I-765 application fee worth it to you to have two years of STEM OPT time as a backup option in case your H-1B falls through (for some reason)? We can tell you that many many students choose to continue with the STEM OPT process as a backup option, and have seen several end up needing it, especially if the Change of Status is not approved, or if your H-1B petition is denied, rejected or withdrawn (perhaps due to a student being laid off while the H-1B is pending; consider your job stability as well). Also, another question to ponder is this: “Do I even like this H-1B job/employer/boss? Am I okay working here until 9/30?” Having a back up STEM authorization can be useful if you find out that you hate your H-1B-sponsor job/employer/boss and would rather have more options in case you need to jump ship but other employers aren’t willing to sponsor H-1B right away, but still may offer a good opportunity. 

It’s may be good to have options–even if they come at a price. Think about the I-765 fee and the ISSO Service fee as a percentage of your earnings over two years?–the fees most likely represent a small fraction of your possible earnings in the United States, especially if you are in a lucrative field.

Still, some other students choose to forgo this back up option. There’s the ISSO fee and the USCIS processing fee to consider–that is real money that you could save by . Ultimately, this question comes down to a personal choice, and personal tolerance for uncertainty/risk.

Is there a resource list of employers participating in E-Verify?

No, there is no public list of employers participating in E-Verify. Please ask an employer that you are interested in working for on STEM OPT if they participate in E-Verify during the interview process.

My cap gap I-20 has expired. Can I apply for an extension of my cap gap?

No. However you may still be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension as long as USCIS can receive your completed application within the 60-day grace period of the cap gap, as reflected on p.2 of your cap gap I-20. Work authorization is not allowed during this period of time.

What is the STEM OPT extension and how do I qualify?

The STEM extension is 24 additional months of OPT for F-1 students currently engaged in 12 months of postcompletion OPT. In order to qualify, students must have been awarded a degree in a STEM field as it is listed at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved STEM field list and work for an E-Verify employer.

What will be the dates of the STEM OPT extension period?

The period of the STEM extension is determined entirely by your 12 month OPT EAD card end date: the start date for the extension will be the day after your 12 month 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.

Here’s an example:

12 month OPT EAD card end date: July 11th, 2022

STEM OPT Dates: July 12th, 2022 – July 11th, 2024

When should I apply for the STEM OPT extension?

USCIS cannot receive your STEM OPT I-765 earlier than 90 days prior to the end date of your 12 month EAD card, but you can apply for your new I-20 from the ISSO about 90-100 days before the EAD card expiration–this allows ISSO staff some time to process and provide you the I-20 before the 90 day window opens. Your application must also be received by USCIS within 60 days of the STEM OPT I-20 issuance date (indicated by the date of the ISSO’s Advisor’s signature on page 1).

In terms of a deadline, USCIS must receive your I-765 application prior to the end date of your 12 month EAD card. 

the stem opt application process

Can I begin working on STEM OPT before I receive the Employment Authorization Document?

This is a little bit different from when you were on regular 12 Month OPT. The answer is: yes, you may start working for your STEM OPT employer (or continue working) as long as USCIS has received your STEM OPT I-765 application before your 12 Month OPT EAD end date. In visa language, such a petition has been “timely filed”. 

Though it may feel strange to work on an expired 12 month OPT EAD, this is one of the nice features of a pending, “timely filed” USCIS request for STEM OPT students: your legal F-1 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.

Sometimes, employers think this 180 day period is an “Automatic Extension of an EAD” and may tell you you don’t qualify for it–that’s not correct. The 180 day period is not based on an automatic extension of the EAD, but is instead granted on the basis of a timely filed I-765. The auto extension of EAD is something completely different that is not relevant to F-1 students. You can share this text with your employer if they are still confused. 

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

If you wish to change employers while your STEM I-765 petition is pending with USCIS, you’ll need to get a new I-983 from the new employer, then submit a new STEM OPT I-20 application to provide the additional details we need (you don’t need to pay the fee a second time, however). Then, separately, you’ll email the advisor who issued and signed your first STEM recommended I-20 1) your Receipt # and 2) an updated Page 3 of the I-765 showing the new employer details. After all that is done, the STEM advisor will issue the new I-20 and attempt to send it to USCIS (with the Page 3 of the I-765) on your behalf before they process your request. 

There is some risk to changing an employer with a petition pending: the risk is, if the documents don’t reach USCIS before they process, they go in, try to find you via your old employer’s E-Verify #, see you no longer work there, and then they deny your STEM request (because to them, they think you don’t have a STEM employer)–then you’d have to re-file if you receive the denial notice in time, or leave the U.S. if you are no longer eligible to re-file. This would be a rare outcome, and students mostly accomplish a change of employer while the STEM EAD is pending without issue, but any time a case becomes more complex, there are additional chances for hiccups in the process.

Do I need a job offer to apply for the STEM extension?

Yes and this job offer needs to meet the following requirements:

• It has to be directly related to your degree level and field of study

• It has to be full time (i.e. more than 20 hours per week)

• It must be from an employer who participates in E-Verify

• It must be an eligible type of employment (unpaid or volunteer positions and positions with temp agencies do not qualify)

How can I check the status of my STEM OPT I-765 case?

You may use the case 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 the application the USCIS website.

Remember, average processing time for I-765s is around 90 days. “Average” or the median, means that some applications will be less than 90 days, and some will likely take longer. 

How long will it take for USCIS to process my STEM OPT extension I-765 and issue the new EAD?

The average USCIS processing time for STEM OPT I-765s is 90 days.

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

Once we receive the completed application package via webform from you, it will take 10 business days to issue the new I-20. This processing time frame does not include shipping time.

I need help filling out the STEM OPT I-765. Where can I find it?

The ISSO is pleased to share a resource that we developed to help STEM OPT students complete the I-765: the STEM OPT I-765 Materials Guide.

This detailed, page-by-page, item-by-item guide provides tips and recommendations on how to complete this lengthy petition.

I received my STEM OPT extended I-20 but also have a Cap Gap/pending H1-B. The I-20 indicates Oct. 1st as the STEM start date rather than the day after the end of my EAD for 12 months OPT. Is this an error?

If you have a pending H1-B and a Cap Gap I-20, but still applied for STEM OPT as a back up, the STEM OPT start date on your I-20 will automatically default to October 1 because of the H1B fiscal year Start Date. This is a known issue and is unfortunately not something that the ISSO has control over.

To counter this, the ISSO automatically issues students in this unique situaton a letter to use with your new I-20: you will need to include a copy of this special letter with your STEM OPT I-765 application, requesting USCIS to use the actual STEM dates. 

I sent in my STEM OPT I-765 and go an RFE — now what?

Receiving an RFE, or a “Request for Evidence” on a STEM OPT application isn’t the end of the world, but you do need to act immediately. Please scan a copy of your RFE and send to the ISSO ( so an advisor may review it and help you prepare your response. Please make sure to include your name and SEVIS ID number in the e-mail.

There is a mistake in my EMPLOYERS NAME on page 2 of my I-20. What should I do?

When you submit your request for a STEM I-20 by filling out the application request webform, the ISSO will reflect your employer’s name and address exactly as it is reported to us. We won’t necessarily catch your typo and fix it. If you have made a typo and need us to correct it, submit an Employer Update via the ISSO webform, with the understanding that you may need to pay for a new shipping order. 

Note: If your Employer has a long name, the entire name may not be reflected on page 2 of your I-20. This is due to a character limit on the Form I-20 itself. In this case, you can either:

1. Enter your employer’s “Business Name” OR

2. Leave the name as is, with the understanding that your employer’s complete name has been properly reported within the SEVIS system. It doesn’t matter too much either way, as long as the E-Verify name is entered correctly on your I-765.

Scenario 1:

A common situation where this occurs is with students who work for’s HR asks students to put the employer name as “ and its affiliates and subsidiaries”. However, this name exceeds the I-20 character limit, and will appear cut off on the I-20. In this case, we recommend students enter “” for the I-20 purposes, as long as they enter the longer name on their I-765 for the Employer’s Name as it appears in E-Verify.

This will not cause a problem. The main question is “Can the government tell who you work for?” and in the vast majority of cases, it is clear, even with minor differences between a company’s business name and the E-Verify name. 

Scenario 2:

Another common situation where this occurs is when students forget to add “Inc.,” “Ltd.,” “DBA,” (which stands for ‘Doing Business As’) to their STEM OPT application, or students provide inconsistent names across the STEM OPT application. When this happens, the ISSO will default to the name entered on the STEM application for the field “Company Name of Current Employer”. 

As long as you enter the name per E-Verify on your I-765, whether you want to get a new I-20 to reflect your omission of “Inc.” “Ltd.” etc or not depends on you–it’s not a matter of concern for your overall STEM Extension application, as long as USCIS can tell who you work for by the I-765. Note that you may need to pay for a new shipment order if you request a non-critical update to your Employer’s Name, especially if the error is the result of inconsistent info or a typo made on your application. 

What is E-Verify? What is my company’s E-Verify Number?

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 general information about EVerify here: All potential STEM OPT employers must participate in E-Verify.

If you are a student applying for the STEM OPT extension, to find out your employer’s E-Verify number for your I-765, contact your STEM OPT Employer’s Human Resources team to get the number–they are the best source to give you the correct information. Do not attempt to look up the E-Verify number from some other source (i.e. Googling it) as this could result in a wrong or outdated number of your I-765.

Also, it’s very important to note that an E-Verify # and an EIN # are two different numbers–don’t mix them by accident!

while on Stem opt

Can I change employers while on STEM OPT?

Yes, you may change your employer after your STEM OPT has been authorized. You must report any change of employer or employer address within 10 days. If you change your employer, you must update the ISSO through our Employment/Address Update Reporting Form. You will need to submit a new I-983 every time you change your employer. You will also need to submit a final self-evaluation report (on Page 5 of the I-983) each time you end employment by submitting an OPT STEM Extension Validation Reporting Form (the same form is used for both).

Note: If you change your employer while your STEM extension application is pending, you must first send an email to with subject line ‘change of employer while STEM OPT pending’. You should then apply for a new I-20 with the new employer’s information following the instructions above. The ISSO will then issue a new I-20 and inform USCIS of the change. The ISSO will mail the new I-20 to the address you provide on the online request form. 

Can I travel outside of the US during my STEM extension? What if my STEM extension is pending?

Yes, traveling outside of the U.S. while on an approved STEM extension is permitted. You must have the following documents to reenter the US or apply for a new F-1 visa:

  1. A STEM OPT I-20 signed on page 2 by an ISSO advisor within the last 6 months;
  2. A Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD);
  3. A passport that is valid for at least six months in the future;
  4. A valid F-1 visa stamp (except for visits solely to Canada or Mexico less than 30 days, Canadian citizens, or those wishing to apply for a new visa);
  5. A job offer letter/proof of employment.

F-1 regulations and government guidance and practice are mixed on whether students can travel outside of the US if you are in your 180-day period of interim employment while your STEM extension is pending, and your prior 12 month EAD is already expired. If you are traveling outside of the US under these circumstances, first understand that you are taking a risk of being denied re-entry. The ISSO cannot quantify this risk, and CBP (and airlines) have discretion. Secondly, you also would want to carry the documents mentioned above (substituting the expired regular OPT EAD for the “Valid EAD”), as well as the receipt notice you received proving your I-765 for your STEM extension was filed in a timely matter (I-797). Even this may not guarantee re-entry. For this reason, the ISSO conservatively does not recommend travel after the 12 month EAD has expired and while the STEM EAD is still pending.

Note: Travel at any time while in F-1 status carries some risk. The risk (especially for delay) increases for individuals on OPT if your F-1 visa has expired and a new one is required in order to reenter the US. Travel during the “cap-gap” period may not be possible if your EAD card has expired. Consult with your employer/immigration attorney if you have plans to travel and have approved an approved Cap Gap I-20.

Can I work for more than one employer while on STEM OPT? Is there a maximum number of hours I can work?

You may work for more than one qualifying employer while on STEM OPT, but all employment must be related to your most recently completed degree program, all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify and complete reporting requirements (i.e. I-983s), and you must work a minimum of 20 hours a week for each employer.

There is no maximum number of hours that can be worked while on STEM OPT, but because there is a minimum, it may be difficult to work for more than 2 employers.

Example 1: Possible, but Tiring

For example, if you work for two qualifying STEM OPT employers, at a minimum, you would need to be working 40 hours per week. For three employers, you’d be working a minimum of 60 hours weeks, and for four qualifying employers, you’d be working a minimum of 80 hours per week etc–and that’s a lot of time spent working. 

Example 2: Not Possible

Most students ask about working for multiple employers on STEM OPT in the context of part-time work. For example, they work 40 hours per week with Employer A, and want to do 5 hours per week of side hustle with Employer B. This particular scenario would not be possible, since the student would need to work a minimum of 20 hours with Employer B, per STEM OPT regulations. 

I accidentally forgot to submit one or more STEM Report(s)(on-time)? What should I know?

Oh no! You forgot to submit a STEM Report (6, 12, 18, or 24 month), or submitted a report to our office more than 21 days from the due date–what happens next?

Unfortunately, there is no way to make a STEM report retroactively. SEVIS does not have a mechanism for this. During the 42 day window for reporting, which includes 21 days before the due date, and 21 days after the due date, a button appears in a STEM OPT student’s SEVIS record:

After 21 days after the due date, the button shown above simply disappears. To repeat, even a DSO has no ability to report if you’ve missed the deadline.

This leads us to the next question students ask: what happens if I missed a report (or several)?

The ISSO cannot predict what the exact consequences will be. Technically, failure to report is a violation of STEM OPT rules and regulations, but our office will not terminate your STEM OPT for such a lapse. If any consequences occur, they will occur in a future H-1B or green card petition, when the government will ask for proof that you submitted all relevant STEM reports in a timely manner. If that situation arises for you, you obviously won’t have proof that you submitted on time (and our office won’t have that either). A screenshot of your SEVP Portal will show a missed report, and so will your SEVIS record. If you receive a Request for Evidence for a USCIS petition related to a failure to report, you may want to hire a competent immigration attorney to assist you with responding to the RFE in a strategic manner. The ISSO cannot advise on this, as we cannot give legal advice.

The uncertainty surrounding the failure to report is one major reason why students should be diligent about their reporting dates (we recommend circling them on a calendar or setting a reminder for yourself). In the end, students who fail to report must accept their mistake and hope that it does not come back to cause issues. This is a tough pill to swallow, but reflects the reality of the situation.

I lost my job. Can I be unemployed while I am on STEM OPT?

Sorry to hear that!

Yes, students on STEM OPT may be temporarily unemployed. 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 to be unemployed giving you a total of 150 days of unemployment during your entire OPT time.

Looking for a new job? Remember that alumni have access to the Career Center’s services.

I reported my latest STEM OPT validation using the ISSO’s webform a few days ago, but in my SEVP Portal, it still says the validation is “Past Due” — what’s going on?

First off, please note that it takes our office up to 10 business days to process a validation report request. Students should keep that in mind and submit their reports as early as 21 days before the actual due date. 

Secondly, even after we’ve processed a validation report and entered it into SEVIS, it may take a few days, or even weeks, for that data to backfeed into your SEVP Portal. In short, that “Past Due” message might linger in your Portal, even long after your validation report was correctly made–that’s nothing to worry about and is a data migration slowness issue. Eventually, it will update. 

If I am outside of the US on STEM OPT, and am 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 unemployment allotment for STEM OPT students.

So…your Change of Status H-1B is approved — what happens next?

If you have a STEM Report due prior to the H-1B effective date, you must submit that report using the ISSO’s STEM Reporting Form. If your H-1B has already been approved: congrats, you are all done with F-1 visa status! 

Sometimes, former students with a recently approved H-1B ask, “I’m done? That can’t be–what do I need to do now?” And the answer is “nothing“–at least in terms of the ISSO and your F-1 status. That’s right: you don’t need to do anything with our office. There’s no need to report your H-1B approval, no need to contact our office etc. No information needs to be reported. In fact, letting us know about this information is basically a waste of your time, since there’s nothing we do with it (except tell you “congrats” and delete your email). 

The reality is that USCIS will close your F-1-associated SEVIS account automatically after your Change of Status H-1B is approved and the effective date has arrived. You’ll still have access to a shell version of the SEVP Portal for up to 6 months, but you don’t need to do anything with the Portal anymore. If for some reason you insist on checking the Portal (even though it no longer applies to you), you’ll be greeted by bizarre warnings that reflect that your Portal is no longer up-to-speed — these can be ignored. In fact, you should ignore the Portal completely. You are on H-1B now after all, and the Portal is an F-1 system. 

Sometimes former students with a recently approved H-1B ask us questions about their new H-1B visa status (“how do I maintain my H-1B status?” “What do I need to travel on my new H-1B status?”). We cannot answer those. We can only answer questions about the F-1 or J-1 visa programs. Now that you’re on H-1B, you should direct any and all visa-related questions to your new visa status sponsor — the employer sponsoring your H-1B.

In short, while the ISSO is happy for you that you’ve secured an H-1B, your relationship with our office once your H-1B is approved is essentially over, at least in terms of visa advising. You are still welcome to send us a “hello” letter or postcard from time to time if you wish though — we love those!

What are my reporting requirements while I am on STEM OPT?

Reporting while on STEM OPT is generally much more complicated than it was when you were on regular OPT, but we are here to help. Check out this part of our website for a detailed breakdown of reporting requirements.

There are two basic “methods” of reporting: the SEVP Portal is one method for certain information, and the ISSO webform is another “method,” depending on the information that needs to be reported. 

What is my immigration status if I am on STEM OPT with a pending H-1B petition?

Congrats on the H-1B!

If you have a receipted or approved H-1B petition with a request for a change of status with a 10/1 Start Date, your F-1 status and OPT authorization will automatically extend if your employer has filed a timely H-1B petition and USCIS has officially receipted or approved the petition. If you require a Cap Gap I-20, you may request one using the Cap-Gap Extension Request Form. Note: Cap Gap extensions are based on how far along your H1-B is in the process; a filed petition is different from a USCIS receipted or approved petition.

Please note that ISSO will NOT be able to update you on the status of your H-1B application. Therefore, you should forward all of your inquires about your H-1B status to the immigration attorney helping you with the H-1B application.

What is the SEVP Portal and how do I use it on STEM OPT?

Most prospective STEM OPT alumni will already be familiar with the SEVP Portal from their 12 Month OPT period. But just to review: the SEVP Portal is a US government tool that allows students to make certain changes and updates directly to their SEVIS record. Students are invited to create a SEVP Portal Account within 14 days of when their 12 Month OPT EAD card is approved, and will receive an auto email from providing a link to create an account.

STEM OPT students keep their SEVP Portal access from the 12 Month OPT period, but there are some key differences for the extension period:

  • STEM OPT students must continue to use the SEVP Portal to report changes to personal contact info (phone, address etc.)
  • However, unlike regular OPT students, STEM OPT students cannot report their Employer Information or Updates on their own. Click the link below to learn how to report Employer Updates while on STEM OPT.

Click here for Student Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT

Will I have to pay taxes while on STEM OPT?

It depends. Generally, U.S.-based employment is subject to all federal and state taxes, unless exempt under certain country tax treaties. Employment is not subject to Social Security Tax if a student has residency in the U.S. for less than five (5) years, but determining residency for tax purposes is a complicated matter and you need to ask a tax professional to confirm your status. For your reference, please consult IRS Publication 519 at