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While on STEM OPT

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students currently on approved OPT and STEM OPT. As an F-1 student on STEM OPT, you continue to be under Northwestern University's sponsorship. As such, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so that you will remain in valid visa status.

Therefore, it is important that STEM OPT students are familiar with the following guidance and OPT reporting requirements. On this page you will find information related to:

Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT

Overview of reporting requirements while on STEM OPT

Update your STEM employment or student personal information within 10 days of the change via Northwestern’s OISS Portal for alumni. Compared to your 12-month OPT period, there are additional requirements while on STEM OPT. Details of these requirements are outlined below.

The following information must be reported in the SEVP Portal during the STEM OPT period of authorization within 10 days of any changes or reporting deadlines:

  • Your residential address
  • Your phone and email address

The following information needs to be reported in the OISS Portal for alumni. Students on STEM OPT must report employment changes in the OISS Portal for your advisor to verify the I-983 training plan information.

  • Report any changes in your employment information including job title, address changes, employment end dates in the OISS Portal using the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request in the OISS Portal.
    • You must submit a new I-983 training plan for every new employer and every change to your I-983.
  • Material Changes to your I-983 using the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request in the OISS Portal (see below for details)
  • Validation Reports every 6 months using the STEM OPT Validation request in the OISS Portal (see below for details)
  • 12-Month Evaluation I-983 using the STEM OPT Validation request in the OISS Portal (see below for details)
  • Final Evaluation I-983 at the end of each employment using the STEM OPT Validation request in the OISS Portal (see below for details)
  • 24-Month Final Evaluation I-983 using the STEM OPT Validation request in the OISS Portal (see below for details)
  • Email your OISS advisor to report the following changes:
    • Date of exiting the U.S. if you leave the U.S. and will no longer pursue employment on STEM OPT
    • If your visa status changes while on STEM OPT

STEM OPT Data Validation Report - Every 6 months

While on STEM OPT Extension, you are required to submit data validation reports 6, 12, 18 and 24 months after the STEM OPT Extension start date.

Every six months you will need to submit a STEM OPT Validation request in the OISS Portal to confirm that your record in SEVIS accurately reflects your current circumstances. All students on the STEM OPT Extension will receive email notifications when it is time for you to submit your STEM OPT validation report. In the STEM OPT Validation, students are required to confirm this information:

  • Legal name.
  • Residential or mailing address.
  • Employer name and address.
  • Status of current employment.
  • Submit the annual evaluation at the I-983 12-month validation period, and the final evaluation at the I-983 24-month validation period

STEM OPT Extension students must report any change in the above information, including any loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.

A note about email reminders from SEVP: 

SEVP Portal users will receive a reminder via email 30 days before any validation report is due.  The email reminder will be sent to the email address in your SEVP portal account.

12-month annual evaluations

  • You must submit Form I-983 page 5 “Evaluation of Student Progress” each 12 months and/or any time you leave an employer. You submit this in the OISS Portal for alumni by using the STEM OPT Validation request. The top portion is for the first 12 months. The Final Evaluation (bottom portion) is for 24 months and every time you leave a position.
  • Your employer must review and sign the self-evaluation to attest to the accuracy.
  • Your F-1 record may be terminated if you fail to submit your evaluations.
  • Check your STEM start date and mark your calendar for each 12-month interval of your STEM Extension for your reporting deadlines. You will receive emails from SEVP reminding you of your validation and evaluation timelines as well.

Reporting material changes to an existing Form I-983

Students on F-1 STEM OPT must report to their OISS Advisor any material changes to, or material deviations from, the student's formal training plan. These changes must be reported via an updated Form I-983 submitted in the OISS Portal for alumni by using the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request.

As outlined in the form I-983 overview, material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s EIN.
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.

Reporting requirements when changing employers

If you change employers while on the STEM OPT Extension, the new employer must be enrolled in E-Verify before you can begin to work. 

You must report any new employer via the OISS Portal with a new I-983 within 10 days of starting work for your new STEM OPT employer by submitting the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request. 

When leaving a job or employer, you must submit your final evaluation on your form I-983 (page 5) for that employer and report your employment end date by submitting the OPT/STEM OPT Employer Update request at the OISS Portal.

While on STEM OPT, what information do I need to report via the SEVP Portal?

F-1 students participating in STEM OPT need to update the following via the SEVP Portal:

  • Physical home address
  • Mailing address
  • Telephone number

Unemployment while on STEM OPT Extension

While on the STEM OPT Extension, you receive an additional 60 days of unemployment time in addition to any of the 90 days you did not use during your Post-Completion OPT, for a total of 150 days maximum unemployment days during the entire 36 months of OPT (12 months standard post-completion OPT + 24 months STEM OPT).

Unemployment Caution: 

SEVIS records may automatically terminate if no employment has been reported for 150 days.

International travel while on STEM OPT

Can I travel overseas while on STEM OPT Extension?

Yes. Remember that your status is still F-1. 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 2nd page of I-20.  Need a new I-20? Request a Reprint through the OISS Portal.
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp or plans to renew yours. Canadians are not required to have an F-1 visa stamp.
  • Current passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future unless your passport country belongs to the Six Month Club
  • Job offer letter (highly recommended, but not required)
  • You may travel overseas while your STEM Extension is pending, as long as you have your receipt notice, post-completion OPT EAD card, and all other required documents.

Can I travel overseas if my original 12-month EAD is expiring soon and my 24-month STEM OPT extension is still pending?

Please contact your OISS Advisor for guidance on your situation. If there are any problems with your application and you are outside of the U.S., you may not be able to respond to USCIS in a timely manner, which could delay processing of your EAD.

If your STEM OPT application is denied while outside the U.S., and your original OPT EAD has expired, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status and will not be able to reapply.

My F-1 visa has expired while I am on STEM OPT. What do I do?

If you are traveling abroad and your F-1 visa has expired, you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. (Canadians are exempt from this requirement). When going to your visa interview, bring the documents below:

  1. Valid passport (at least 6 months in the future)
  2. Valid STEM OPT I-20 with travel endorsement from an OISS advisor within the past 6 months
  3. STEM OPT EAD Card
  4. Proof of current STEM OPT employment (employer should match employer info listed on the I-20)
  5. Evidence of sufficient funds (e.g. a bank statement, a letter from a sponsor or a job offer letter)

Check the U.S. Department of State website for the most up-to-date information about obtaining a visa and specific requirements at the local U.S. embassy or consulate.

Practical matters

Health insurance while on STEM OPT

After you graduate from Northwestern and your NU-SHIP coverage ends, we strongly recommend you obtain health insurance coverage for your entire OPT/STEM OPT period. Due to the high cost of medical care in the United States, it is very risky to be inside the country without health insurance coverage. 

If you are employed full-time during OPT/STEM OPT, you might receive health insurance as a benefit of your employment. However, it is important to note that U.S. employer-issued health insurance policies often do not cover medical evacuation or repatriation, which are essential coverages for any non-citizen living in the U.S.

If you do not receive employee health insurance, we highly recommend you obtain your own health insurance. There are several companies that specialize in health insurance for international students and offer services in several languages. We recommend speaking to a representative about the plan coverage and asking any questions you may have before purchasing an insurance policy for yourself and any dependents.

What U.S. taxes am I subject to while on STEM OPT?

It depends on how long you have been in the United States. 

Generally, foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status who have been in the U.S. more than 5 calendar years become resident aliens for U.S. tax purposes if they meet the “Substantial Presence Test” and are then liable for Social Security and Medicare taxes in addition to applicable federal, state and local taxes

Students participating in OPT/STEM OPT often reach the five year mark while on OPT or STEM OPT. 

For additional information see the OISS resources on U.S. Taxes. Those employed by Northwestern University should consult the NU Human Resources Tax Information for Foreign Nationals.

Ending STEM OPT, departing the U.S., & Changes of Status

While on STEM OPT, you continue to hold F-1 status sponsored by Northwestern University and your F-1 record remains active in SEVIS. It is extremely important that you notify your OISS advisor of any changes to your immigration status.

If you are planning to leave the U.S. permanently

You must notify OISS before you leave the U.S. and submit a final employment evaluation from page 5 of the Form I-983 within 10 days of ending your employment. You can submit your evaluation and employment end date by submitting the OPT/STEM OPT Employment Update at the OISS Portal.

If you change to another visa status in the U.S.

If you change to another visa status in the U.S.such as H-1B, E-3, G-4, TN, etc. or obtain Permanent Resident status, you must report this change by submitting a Report Change of Status request in the OISS Portal. You will also need to submit a completed final employment evaluation from page 5 of the I-983 within 10 days of changing your status.

What is the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension?

"Cap-Gap" refers to the period of time between the official end-date listed on the OPT or STEM OPT EAD card and the official start date of an H-1B filed as a Change of Status.

The cap-gap OPT extension is the period in which an eligible F-1 student's status and employment authorization under OPT is automatically extended to bridge the gap in immigration status and employment authorization between the end of F-1 status (OPT end-date) and start of H-1B status. The student must not have violated the terms or conditions of his or her F-1 status to qualify for the cap-gap extension.

To qualify for the "H-1B cap-gap extension" you must be in valid F-1 status, and you must be the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that meets all of the following:

  • Has been timely filed
  • Requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year
  • Requests a change of status (cap-gap extension does not apply to Consular filed H petitions)

The cap-gap extension is added to a student’s SEVIS record as a result of a pending Change of Status application to H-1B. The end date of the OPT must be after April 1.

The cap-gap extension appears on a student’s I-20. To request your I-20 reflecting the cap-gap extension, submit a Cap-Gap Extension request in the OISS Portal.

Travel while on cap-gap is generally permitted if these conditions are met:

  • The change of status request to H-1B is approved
  • Re-entry to the U.S. is before October 1 or the date the H-1B employment begins
  • The student is otherwise admissible to the US, has a valid I-20 with travel signature reflecting the cap-gap extension, and has a valid F-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from this requirement)

 For more information about travel or other details during the Cap-Gap Extension, please visit this USCIS page.


Disclaimer Statement

The Northwestern University Office of International Student & Scholar Services (OISS) offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT processes and requirements as a courtesy to NU students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. However, any advice provided to you by our office does not constitute legal advice. While OISS exercises best efforts to provide you with the most current guidance, please be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time.  OISS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS.  For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.