FAQs for STEM OPT
I’m trying to complete my STEM OPT application. Do I still need handwritten signatures on my I-765 and I-983 forms or can they be digital signatures?
You still need to have a handwritten signature with a pen--not a digital or electronic signature. We do not need an original form I-983, but we do need a copy of the hand-signed document for our records.
I’m currently working remotely on OPT but am outside of the United States due to the current situation. Can I still apply for STEM OPT from outside of the US?
You must be physically present in the US at the time you submit your OPT application. Current guidance from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement provides no confirmation that applying from outside the United States is permissible despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to process STEM OPT I-20 requests while our office is physically closed. If you haven’t yet applied for STEM OPT but plan to do so, we strongly recommend that you apply as soon as possible. Please also know that once you receive your new OPT I-20 from NYU, USCIS must receive your complete OPT application within 60 days of when your OPT I-20 was issued and before your current OPT expires. Please note that US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement will continue to develop guidance on issues such as this at ICE.gov/Coronavirus.
I am on STEM OPT and have been put on furlough. Is furlough considered unemployment that will then count towards my maximum unemployment days?
USCIS has not provided any guidance on this till now. They could potentially interpret any days the employee is on furlough as contributing to days of unemployment, therefore we believe it safest for students to try to secure some other work consisting of at least 20 hours per week in their field of study to prevent the accrual of further potential unemployment days. Remember that any other work you may be able to secure must be paid and at an e-verified employer (in addition to the position being in your STEM field of study and appropriate to your level of study).
If I am coming close to reaching my unemployment limit while on STEM OPT, will I get additional time due to the current situation? What happens if I reach my unemployment limit and I can’t go home because of travel restrictions?
USCIS has not provided any guidance on this till now. Therefore, we recommend you continue to adhere to the current rules on maximum days of unemployment. If you are unable to leave the US due to travel restrictions, please schedule an online advising appointment so that we can discuss your options.
Will time spent working remotely outside the United States count towards my unemployment limit?
During the current COVID-19 crisis, the US government has indicated that remote employment may be counted for STEM OPT purposes as long as a student’s employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. See this guidance from the US government for further details.
I will be completing my STEM OPT soon. I am concerned that I will not be able to leave the United States before my 60 day grace period ends. What options exist for me?
US government guidance has indicated that there is not currently any flexibility on extending the grace period for F-1 students. Students in F-1 status who have not yet accrued 150 days of unemployment during the post-completion and STEM OPT time period have up to sixty days after their STEM OPT end date to remain legally in the United States. This sixty days is also referred to as your “grace period.” If, however, you wish to see if you can extend your time in the United States even further, one option would be the cap gap extension. If you are currently on STEM OPT and you have an employer interested in sponsoring you for an H-1B work visa, you may be eligible to apply for a Cap Gap Extension. If this option is not possible for you, we encourage you to schedule an online advising appointment to discuss whether changing from F-1 to another status in the United States may be a viable option for you.
I have a 24-month STEM OPT application pending with USCIS and have a new job. What do I need to do?
You must first submit this change to our STEM OPT Reporting Form in order to report that you've ended employment and are now adding new employment. This must happen within 10 days of the changes, and you must be prepared to upload several documents to our reporting form. For more information, review how to change employers with a pending STEM OPT application.
I completed an eligible STEM degree and am working as an unpaid intern. Am I eligible for the STEM OPT extension?
No, the regulations for the 24-month extension require that students have an employer/employee relationship and be earning the same wage as a similar US worker. The US government has specifically stated that unpaid internships and volunteer work do not qualify for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.
I completed an eligible STEM degree and am self-employed. Am I eligible for the STEM OPT extension?
No, the regulations for the 24-month extension require that students have an employer/employee relationship. Students cannot sign the Form I-983 as both the employer and the employee. If you are working for a start-up company you may be eligible if the company is enrolled in e-verify and there is someone else in the company who is your employer and can complete all of the necessary confirmations on the Form I-983.
I completed an eligible STEM degree and work for a consulting firm or staffing agency. Am I eligible for the STEM OPT extension?
The regulations for the 24-month STEM OPT extension indicate that this is not sufficient for the extension as the training and supervision typically occurs with a company that is not the student’s employer. Students who work for a consulting firm or staffing agency should discuss their situation and eligibility with their employer to determine if a true employer/employee relationship exists in which the employer signing the training plan is also the employer that provides the practical training experience. Students should keep documentation of the justification for how the employer/employee relationship meets the requirements of the STEM OPT extension regulations. USCIS might ask for additional evidence of this relationship and justification during this application process or any future USCIS applications. This is a new regulation and we are still waiting for additional guidance from the US government on how this portion of the regulations will be interpreted.
I have a prior degree in a STEM field from another US institution and am currently on post-completion OPT for a non-STEM degree from NYU. Am I eligible for the 24-month STEM extension.
You may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension if your employment meets all of the other eligibility requirements and you did not previously complete a STEM extension based on that degree. In order to be eligible, you must have earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in an eligible field at an accredited and US government-certified school within the last 10 years. You will need to provide all old I-20s to show that the degree was in an eligible field as designated by the CIP (or major) code. If you do not have an I-20 with the prior degree CIP code, speak with an OGS advisor regarding documentation you can provide to show eligibility. Your employment on the STEM OPT extension must be directly related to the STEM degree you previously completed.
I have a prior degree in a STEM field from a school outside the US and am currently on post-completion OPT for a non-STEM degree from NYU. Am I eligible for the 24-month STEM extension?
No, the regulations require a student to complete a STEM degree in an eligible field from an accredited and US government-certified US institution. Students are not eligible for the extension based on a degree earned outside the US.
Is there a minimum number of hours I need to work for each job I have while on STEM OPT?
Yes, each job you work while on STEM OPT must be at least 20 hours per week.
My employer address has changed, do I need to submit a new I 983?
Yes, you must report a material change such as change in EIN number, job responsibilities, supervisor name or email, employment address by submitting the STEM OPT reporting form and uploading a new I 983 form.