STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions
The STEM OPT benefit provides a 24-month extension (for a total of 36 months on OPT).
- Am I eligible to apply for STEM OPT?
- When should I apply for STEM OPT?
- Can I continue working while my STEM OPT application is pending?
- Can I travel outside of the United States while my STEM OPT application is pending?
- What if I am unemployed at any time?
- How do I apply for STEM OPT? What Documents do I need to submit?
Am I eligible to apply for STEM OPT?
To be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension,
- Your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Your work must be directly related to the academic major indicated on the I-20.
- The I-20 used to authorize your initial period of OPT must have been based on a BS, MS, or PhD degree in a STEM-eligible field.
The following Caltech majors do NOT qualify for STEM OPT:
- Business Economics and Management
- History and Philosophy of Science
- Independent Studies Program
- Political Science
- Social Science
When should I apply for STEM OPT?
Your STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS before your current EAD expires. However, you cannot apply earlier than 90 days prior to the current EAD end date. Your application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the date ISP signed the STEM OPT I-20. USCIS processing times may take more than 90-days. Your new EAD for STEM OPT will be mailed by USCIS.
Can I continue working while my STEM OPT application is pending?
Yes! Once your STEM OPT application has been received and accepted by USCIS, your employment authorization is automatically extended 180 days beyond the expiration date of your initial EAD (Employment Authorization Document). Once you have received your new STEM OPT EAD, your OPT is extended to the expiration date printed on your new EAD.
Can I travel outside of the United States while my 24-Month STEM OPT application is pending?
You must have a valid (unexpired) I-20, issued for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. You should also travel with your official Receipt Notice, showing that you have properly filed the STEM OPT application. You may need to present your current EAD, if it is still valid upon your date of reentry to the United States. If your EAD has already expired and your application is still pending, please consult with ISP before departing the United States. Travel is still possible, but ISP may have further instruction and advice for you prior to departure.
What if I am unemployed at any time?
When you are on the approved STEM OPT period, you are permitted a maximum of 150 days of unemployment, including any days of unemployment during the original 12-month OPT period. If you are nearing 90 days of unemployment, contact ISP to discuss what options are available to you. You must have an employment offer in order to apply for STEM OPT.
How do I apply for STEM OPT? What documents do I need to submit?
The application process is basically the same process as applying for the initial 12 months of OPT, but with one additional form (Form I-983 Training Plan) and a new fee of $410. See ISP's STEM OPT Application Procedures.
Am I required to do anything else?
Yes! As always, you are required to report to ISP your current U.S. residential address, your employer, and a new Form I-983 to reflect any updates to your U.S. employment.
Address Reporting Requirement
Notify ISP within 10 days of any change to your U.S. residential address (where you live, if in the United States).
Employment Reporting Requirement
- New Employment or Change in Employment
- Form I-983 is required for each new employer or change within employment
- Notify ISP within 10 days of any change in employment, including if you become unemployed
- 12-Month Reporting
- Self-Evaluation Page of Form I-983 must be submitted to ISP at the completion of 12 months on STEM OPT
- 24-Month Reporting
- Final Evaluation Page of Form I-983 must be submitted to ISP at the completion of 24 months on STEM OPT, or upon completion of work for the employer, whichever is sooner