Additional Requirements of STEM Extension OPT

Maintaining Status & additional considerations

While you are on STEM OPT, your status is F1 and it is your responsibility to maintain this status. This involves the following:

  • You must work in a job that meets the employment requirements (listed below).
  • You may not accrue more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month period of OPT.
  • Ensure that you have the documents you need to travel (listed below).
  • Complete the reporting requirements (explained below).
  • Employment during the 17-month extended period must be paid and must be related to the field of study in order to qualify. Self-employment and volunteer positions will not qualify as valid employment for OPT purposes during the special 17-month OPT extension.
  • The special 17-month extension of OPT is only available to each student one time. A student who is approved for a 17-month OPT extension can never apply for it again. Example: If you use your STEM extension after your MS degree, but then complete a PhD, you would only be eligible for post-completion OPT, even if your PhD is in a STEM eligible field. However, you would be eligible for regular post-completion OPT (12 months)

After STEM

You will have a 60 day grace period after your STEM Extension during which you may prepare for your departure or change to another status.

You may be eligible for the Cap-Gap if you are changing to an H-1B visa with an October 1st start date.

Reporting requirements

Reporting requirements are very strict during the 17-month OPT extension. Failure to meet these reporting requirements will result in the termination of your F-1 status and EAD card.

  • You must report your change of residential address, legal name, employer name, employer address, and/or loss of employment to the International Office within 10 days of the change by submitting the Post Completion OPT Reporting Survey.
  • You are required to submit the above survey, every 6 months, even if there has been no change.
  • Your employer is required to report to the International Office within 48 hours in the event of your termination or departure from your job by e-mailing intoff@northwestern.edu.

Employment requirements

  • Employment must be paid and must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • Change in employer is possible as long as the new employer is enrolled in E-Verify and you report this change via the OPT Reporting Survey within 10 days of the change.
  • Multiple employers, contract work or work through an employment agency are all permitted so long as the employers are enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Self-employment is permitted as long as your business is enrolled in E-Verify, you have the proper required business licenses, and your business is related to your degree program.

Travel restrictions

Remember that your status is still F-1. In order to re-enter the U.S. you must have:

  • Valid EAD card
  • I-20 with travel signature (no more than 6 months old) with current employer information listed on 3rd page of I-20
    Note: if you do not have this document, complete OPT Reporting Survey and email IO Advisor with completed Document Mailing Request to receive most up-to-date I-20.
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp, unless you will be able to use Automatic Visa Revalidation. It is possible to renew the F1 visa stamp during STEM OPT.
  • Current passport, valid at least six-months after the date of last entry
  • We also strongly recommend that you have a job offer letter from a current or future employer. Days abroad do not count towards unemployment if time is excused by company or travel for business.

Employment authorization is automatically extended while a timely-filed 17-month extension application is pending. While the application is pending, international travel is not recommended since you will not have a valid EAD card in your possession.