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STEM OPT FAQs

STEM OPT FAQ Table of Contents

  • Applying for STEM OPT Extension
  • Pending STEM OPT Applications
  • Approved STEM OPT Applications
  • Travel while on STEM OPT
  • Work, jobs, and unemployment
  • Life After F-1: H-1B, Cap Gap and Departure

General Questions / What is STEM OPT Extension?

STEM OPT is an extension of OPT for graduates with U.S. degrees in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields.

You need to submit a STEM OPT application to the government.

 

It looks just like to your OPT EAD Card -- but the dates are longer!

Eligibility is based on your field of study. If you have a degree in Science Technology Engineering and Math, you most likely qualify. Contact the ISS inbox if you have any questions about your specific degree or if you are seeking to qualify for STEM OPT based on a prior degree from another U.S. University.

90 days before your OPT expires.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is the government agency that reviews STEM OPT applications and issues EAD Cards.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") is the government agency that manages the I-983 Training Plan and can ask our office for a copy at any time.

Applying for STEM OPT Extension

ISS Processing Timeline, STEM OPT Appointments, and Receiving your STEM OPT I-20

We recommend that you submit your STEM OPT Extension I-20 Request and supporting documents to our office about 120 days before your current OPT EAD card expires. The earliest you can mail your STEM OPT extension application is 90 days before your current OPT EAD card expires.

Training Plan (Form I-983)

Cover Letter

It’s strongly recommended. The Template OPT Cover Letter serves as a checklist, mayes your application more professional and neat and help make sure you don’t forget anything important.

The Template OPT Cover Letter is in a word document -- if you open it in word you will see that not every line applies to every period as it is a general template. You should update the template to reflect your situation and remove any information that does not apply to you.

Form I-765

This is the form USCIS requires you to submit with your application. This is the government’s OPT application form.

The most recent version is dated 11/04/2015 in the bottom corner. You can get the most up-to-date version here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.

 

Yes. It is highly recommended that you type your form. This helps make sure that USCIS can read your handwriting and limits the risk of a typo on your card.

You can view a sample form here: Sample OPT I-765

The address listed on your form I-765 is the address that USCIS will use to mail your receipt notice and card, so it’s important that this address be accurate and up to date and under your control. If you’re moving, you should use the address of a friend or family member you trust.

 

You can use a friend or family member’s address on the Form I-765, but since this is the address USCIS will use to mail your approved OPT EAD card, you should be sure it’s a person you trust.

Yes, this should be listed on your I-765 in question #11 and you should include a copy of the card in your application.

Form G-1145 authorizes USCIS to send you certain case alerts via text message and email. It’s an optional form that is not required. In many cases, it’s not needed. If you are using an friend or family member’s address on your Form I-765, we do recommend that you include Form G-1145 and that you sign up for online case alerts once you get your receipt notice.

 

Check / Filing Fees

$410. This is payable by check or money order. Payment should be made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

USCIS FILING FEES INCREASE ON DECEMBER 23, 2016 

All applications received by USCIS on or after December 23, 2016, must include the higher fees ($410) or USCIS will reject the application.

The $410 payment should be made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

You can see a sample check here: 

 

You can visit a branch of your bank and purchase a check or money order. You can also get a money order from most U.S. Postal Service Office locations.

https://www.usps.com/shop/money-orders.htm

 

Yes.  But be sure they have $380 in their bank account and make sure the check is written properly.

 

 

Passport Photos

Yes. They need to meet US passport requirements. You should go to a reputable passport photographer. Do not go to Kinkos, Walgreens, CVS, Costco etc.

We recommend that you go to a reputable, professional passport photographer who is familiar with U.S. passport photo specifications and requirements.

Typically, drugstores (CVS, Walgreens) and grocery stores (Safeway, Costco) do not take passport photos that meet U.S passport photo specifications.

Santa Clara University students have reported success with these local passport photographers: 

J Photo Center

3148 El Camino Real Ste 101B Santa Clara, CA 95051

Phone: (408) 735-7979

Website: jphotocenter.com

Foto Express

304 E Santa Clara St Ste C San Jose, CA 95112

Phone: (408) 971-3977

Disclaimer: All resources listed are suggestions and not officially endorsed by Santa Clara University or the Global Engagement Office.

Your passport photos need to have been taken within the last 30 days. If you submit old photos (for example that you used on a prior application), USCIS will issue a Request For Evidence and require you to submit new photos before your application can be approved.

Usually we recommend that you leave it to the professionals. But, if you are confident that you can meet the very specific U.S. government requirements you’re welcome to take your own photos. If you’re very good at it, maybe you should create a start-up company that specializes in passport photos!

Your case will be delayed because USCIS will have to issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) asking you to submit new photos.

Supporting Documents

  • All pages should be 8 ½ x 11 paper.
  • All pages should be single sided.
  • You should not include any staples.

Your application should include copies of:

  • Copies of all prior I-20s
  • Copies of your passport biographical and U.S. visa pages
  • Print out of your most recent I-94 Entry Record 
  • Copies of any other immigration documents you have (including I-797, Approval Notices, prior EAD cards etc)

Our office cannot make copies of your documents. However, you can use the Engineering Design center, Duke’s in the Business School or the copying machines in the library (which accept Flex).

Contact our office our your prior school and try to collect a copy of that missing I-20.

Yes, this should be listed on your I-765 in question #11 and you should include a copy of the card in your application.

Mail and Mailing

Where to mail your application depends on the address you list on your Form I-765 and which method of mailing you prefer. If your I-765 lists a home address in California and you’re using a courier service (like FedEx or UPS) you mail your application to:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Attn: AOS

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S

Suite 100

Phoenix, AZ 85034

You can review mailing instructions here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses

 

You can mail your application up to 90 days before your program end date

We recommend that you use a courier service like FedEx. In most cases, 2 day delivery is sufficient. This should cost about $15

Pending STEM OPT Applications

It usually takes about 90 days. If your case has been pending for longer, please contact ISS. Do not call USCIS directly.

As you know from attending an OPT Workshop, you should NEVER EVER contact USCIS directly! This will delay the processing of your case. If you have questions, please contact ISS.

Please contact ISS. Please provide a copy of your receipt notice. Do not call USCIS directly.

Within a few weeks of filing, you would have gotten a receipt notice in the upper left corner there is a receipt number (it usually looks like WAC-16-XXX-XXXXX). You can use this number to check the status of your case and sign up for case alerts on the USCIS website.

https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/

Please contact ISS and include a scanned copy of the RFE in your email. Do not respond to this notice without contacting our team for guidance.

USCIS is moving cases around to different offices to manage their workload in advance of the new STEM OPT regulation. This is normal and nothing to be worried about. We do not think this will delay any applications and expect cases to be approved within 90 days.

Approved STEM OPT Applications

Please immediately contact ISS clearly outlining the error. We will work with you to get this fixed as fast as possible. Do not contact USCIS directly.

 

Check your card for typographical errors. If there are not errors, upload a copy of your card and report your employment to our office via our  section.

Work, jobs, and unemployment

Yes, but all employment must be reported via our OPT Reporting Portal.

Just the information requested in the OPT Reporting Portal (start and end dates, job title, hours per week, employer name and address etc). We do not need a copy of your offer letter.

  • Starting or ending a job.
  • Taking a new job.
  • Leaving an old job.
  • Changes to your employer’s name or address.

From the day that your OPT EAD card is valid, you have 90 days to find a job. If you’re having a hard time, please contact our office.

You can only accept an unpaid position if the lack of payment does not violate U.S. Labor Laws. Generally speaking if you’re doing work that benefits a for-profit company in any way, your work should be compensated.

 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has a convenient 6 point test to help you determine if the position you are offered is allowed to be unpaid or if payment is required.

Remember, it is illegal for international students to accept employment that violates U.S. labor laws.

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

  • Final day of work in current job
  • New job
  • Change of work address
  • Company changes name

Report all employment to our OPT Reporting Portal. We use this to keep your SEVIS record up to date.

Yes.  You are required to notify our office every time you have any change in employment.

Report all employment to our OPT Reporting Portal. We use this to keep your SEVIS record up to date.

 

Yes. You may work part-time. You need to work at least 20 hours per week to be considered “employed” for OPT purposes.

 

 

  • Jobs that are related to your field of study.
  • You can work full or part time.
  • You can work for short or long duration.
  • You most likely cannot work in an unpaid job or internship.

Your job duties should be related to the content of the classes and degree. If you have questions, you should contact ISS to request an advising appointment.

On the day that your OPT EAD Card becomes valid.

Unemployment is calculated from the day that you stop working to the day that you start a new job. Weekends count.

The valid EAD Card is how you prove you’re allowed to work. While your extension application is pending, your I-797C receipt notice and I-20 will show that you've applied for your STEM OPT Extension and show that you're allowed to stay and continue working while the case is pending.

Travel while on STEM OPT

When you are properly maintaining your status and have all of the required documents. It is recommended that you have a job, but it is not required.

Most likely yes. To get back in the U.S. you will need to carry the required documents.

You can travel as long as you have all the required documents. It is recommended that you have a job, but it is not required. If you do not have a job, you should be prepared to answer questions about your travel outside the U.S. and you should understand how much unemployment time is left in your record.

We don’t recommend it and ICE agrees with us. If your case is approved while you’re outside the U.S. you will need to have the EAD card in your hand to get back in the U.S. Also if USCIS needs extra documents to approve your case and issues a Request for Evidence (RFE)

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Valid EAD card
  • Valid I-20 with
  • Valid travel signature (these are only valid for 6 months)

We recommend that you have employment reported into SEVIS and that you carry proof of employment (such as paystubs, your offer letter or an employment verification letter)

 

Maybe.  You should have the newest version of the I-20 form and your I-20 should have a valid travel signature.

https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2015/06/coming-soon-a-redesigned-form-i-20

 

Maybe. Travel signatures are valid for 6 months while in post-completion OPT.

We don’t recommend it and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agrees with us. If your case is approved while you’re outside the U.S. you will need to have the EAD card in your hand to get back in the U.S. Also if USCIS needs extra documents to approve your case and issues a Request for Evidence (RFE)

https://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel

4-6 weeks before your planned travel.

If you have all the required documents, no!

If you are missing any documents, you should make an appointment to collect a travel signature or meet with an Advisor.

No. The EAD Card is what proves you are allowed to work. The I-20 does not have to be updated each time you change jobs. However, you do need to report your employment to the  so we can update your SEVIS records.

For students in post-completion OPT, we recommend collecting a new I-20 for a few reasons:

  • To get the updated version of the I-20
  • When you apply for STEM OPT
  • If you need proof of continued status for Cap Gap 
  • If you are planning to apply for a new visa stamp

For more FAQs, see our pages on H-1B, Cap Gap and life after F-1