STEM OPT- Maintaining Status


  • You may accrue no more than 150 days of unemployment during your entire 36 months of OPT.   This means you receive an additional 60 days for STEM plus any of the 90 days you did not use during your first period of OPT
  • To count as “employed” a student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of reported employment
  • Unemployment Caution: SEVIS records will automatically terminate for students who have no employment reported for 150 days. Be sure that you have made alternate plans and communicated them to the IO before your record is terminated

Student Reporting Requirements 

  • You must report any changes (in address, employer, name or status in the US) within 10 days.  Please see the OPT Reporting Survey  page for more information.
  • You must complete the OPT Reporting Survey every 6 months during STEM Extension OPT, even if nothing has changed.
  • You must submit the I-983 self-evaluation (page 5) after 12 and 24 months of your STEM Extension OPT.  Please email your self-evaluation to your IO advisor.

Changing Employers During STEM

  • You may change employers during STEM, if your new employer is E-Verify AND your new job is directly related to your field of study at Northwestern.
  • If you change employers, you must submit a new (signed and completed) Form I-983 to your IO advisor and request a new I-20 within 10 days of starting any new employment.

Keep Records of Your Employment

It is your responsbility to keep records of your employment.  You may be asked about these records in the future (especially if you apply for an H-1B, green card or other US immigraton status).

Examples of records to keep:

  • offer letters
  • contracts
  • payroll stubs

Traveling Overseas During STEM

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.  Need a new I-20?  Email your IO advisor
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp or plans to renew yours
  • Current passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • 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, first EAD card and all other required documents

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.