STEM OPT

Eligibility

Am I eligible?

You must:

  • Currently be on Post-Completion OPT
  • Hold a degree listed on the official STEM Designated Degree Program List  (Not sure? Contact your IO advisor)
  • Have a paid job or job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify
  • Work 20+ hours/week in a position directly related to your field of study.  You may work for multiple employers, but each job must be 20+ hours/week, paid, and at an E-Verify employer.
  • Apply before your current Post-Completion period of OPT expires.

Your employer must:

My department changed CIP codes. Can I apply for STEM?

There is an administrative process that departments must go through to change the CIP code. Once the CIP code change has been approved, the registrar updates the CIP code based on the parameters of the approval. After the registrar updates the CIP code, the IO will update the CIP codes in SEVIS. You may request a new I-20 with the updated CIP code. Please request a reprint for your I-20. In the request, please choose Other from the drop down and explain that your CIP code changed in the area provided.

**Please note that your CIP code can only be updated if you are active in SEVIS in the program with the updated CIP code. For example, if you were in Economics and are currently on OPT in Economics, we can update your CIP code.

If you have completed your program and/or completed your OPT for the new STEM eligible degree, we will not be able to change your CIP code in SEVIS. Contact your IO advisor for guidance. **

Once the CIP code has been updated, you may meet the CIP code requirements for STEM eligibility.

Can I apply for STEM OPT more than once?

Potentially.  You are eligible for STEM OPT after the completion of a STEM-eligible degree and period of Post-Completion OPT.  If you complete another STEM-eligible degree at a higher academic level, you may apply again. 

Can I apply based on a previous STEM-eligible degree?

Potentially.  If you earned a previous STEM-eligible degree in the U.S. within the last ten years, and your current degree is not STEM-eligible, you may be able to apply for the STEM OPT extension.  Please contact your IO advisor for more information. 

Application Process

The IO is implementing a new software system as of March 15, 2019. All requests will be processed through the new portal. If you are applying for CPT for Spring or Summer 2019, you will use the portal. Watch your email for information on how to access the portal. We will accept paper requests through April 1, 2019.

When do I apply?

  • You may apply up to 90 days before your current EAD card expires. USCIS processing takes 3-4 months.
  • USCIS must receive your application before the end of your current period of OPT/your current EAD card expires. 
  • Once you receive your STEM OPT receipt notice, you may continue to work (for up to 180 days) after your first EAD card expires. 

How do I apply?

1. Submit your complete application to the IO

If you are not in the Evanston/Chicago area, please email your IO advisor.   If you are in Evanston/Chicago,please come to walk-in hours.  Processing time takes 10 business days.  

2. Pick up your materials from IO and prepare your application for USCIS
  • Pick up your new I-20 with your STEM OPT recommendation I-20s. 
  • Not in Evanston/Chicago? Create an account in eShipGlobal and we will mail you your packet.
  • You will receive a packet containing two I-20: one to keep and one to send to USCIS with your STEM OPT application. Sign page 1 of each I-20.
  • Make a photocopy of your I-765.
3. Mail your application to USCIS
  • Mail your application to USCIS within 15 days (or else it will be rejected!)
  • Send your application to either the Phoenix or Dallas USCIS office, depending on your current U.S. state of residence.  Please check with your IO advisor to see where you should mail your application.  DO NOT E-FILE your application!
4. Wait...
  • After 2-3 weeks, you will receive a receipt notice in the mail.  You may track the progress of your application on the USCIS website. Please note that USCIS does not regularly update the steps and most students see their status as 'initial review' until it jumps to 'card production.'
  • After 3-4 months, your will receive your new STEM OPT EAD card.  Make a copy or take photos of both sides of your new EAD card.  Do not lose it!

Application materials checklist

The following items need to be reviewed by the IO. Items marked with an asterisk (*) also need to be submitted to USCIS:

  1. STEM OPT Extension Form (For IO only. DO NOT SEND TO USCIS.)
  2. Completed Training Plan Form I-983 (For IO only. DO NOT SEND TO USCIS.)
  3. *Completed Form I-765 (download from uscis.gov and print single sidedSample STEM OPT I-765
  4. *G-1145 Form-USCIS.GOV
  5. *Copy of I-20 issued for first period (12 months or less) of Optional Practical Training (or) a copy of I-20 from institution other than NU with STEM field.
  6. *Copy of I-20(s) from previous U.S. Institution
  7. *Copy of ANY I-20(s) with CPT Authorization
  8. *Copy of your Northwestern transcript (order yours here
  9. *Copy of Diploma
  10. *Copy of I-94 Record Retrieve most recent I-94
  11. *Copy of Passport Bio Page
  12. *Copy of F-1 visa stamp
  13. *Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 6 months
  14. *Personal Check, Money Order, or Cashier's Check made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current fee)  Sample check
  15. *Copy of any previous EAD Cards (front and back)

 

After all documents are reviewed, you will receive a Extension OPT Recommended I-20 signed by your international student advisor. This new I-20 then needs to be submitted to the USCIS along with the above documents.

Maintaining Status

Unemployment

  • 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 responsibility 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 immigration 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 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
  • 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.

STEM OPT-for Employers

F-1 students with degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their Post-Completion OPT work permission.

Employer Requirements

Employers of F-1 students on STEM OPT Extensions, or who wish to support an employee preparing an application for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension must meet the following requirements:

  1. Enrolled in E-Verify electronic eligibility verification system
  2. Must attest that:
  • They have sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity.
  • The STEM OPT student will not replace a full-or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.
  • The opportunity assists the student in attaining his or her training goals.
  • The terms and conditions of the STEM OPT opportunity, including duties, hours and compensation, will be commensurate with those provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.

Compensation, Duties and Hours of STEM OPT Employee

  • Must be commensurate with those provided to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers.
  • If employer has no more than two similarly situated U.S. workers, employer looks at other employers of similar size and industry in same geographic area.
    • Employers can use resources such as local associations and national wage surveys
  • STEM OPT workers must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Training Plan (I-983)

On the Form I-983, the employer must describe:

  • Student’s role with employer
  • Goals and Objectives of work-based learning
  • How employer will provide oversight
  • How employer will measure and assess student’s acquisition of new knowledge and skills.

Employers may use existing training programs as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements.

For hiring departments at Northwestern, the following information will be helpful to you when completing the I-983 (NOTE: This information is specific to Northwestern University only)

NU FEIN: 362167817
Full Time Employees: 9,823
NAICS Code: 611310
E-Verify Number: 297964

Evaluations

Students will provide his/her Designated School Official (DSO) from the university with a self-evaluation of his/her STEM OPT experience once per year, the employer is required to attest to its accuracy.

Reporting Requirements

Employer and student must report material changes to or deviations from the training plan. Material change includes, but is not limited to:

  • Change in the Employer Identification Number (EIN) resulting from corporate restructuring
  • Reduction in compensation or significant decrease in the hours per week

A method for reporting these material changes is currently being developed and will become available in summer 2016.

A student on a 24-month STEM OPT Extension is required to report:

  • To DHS: changes in name, address, and employer’s name and address
  • To DSO/School: every six months regarding validity of SEVIS information, including legal name, address, employer name and address, and the status of current employment.

Site Visits

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may conduct site visits.

  • Advance notice -48 hours unless triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance.
  • Site visits will be limited to checking information related to STEM OPT employment, including attestations made by the employer on the approved Training Plan.
  • Only federal employees, not contractors, will conduct site visits.
  • ICE will use phone and email to verify some information and ensure compliance –site visits not necessarily required for every investigation.

FAQs

As an employer, what do I have to do to be eligible to accept STEM OPT students?

As an employer, you must be enrolled in and remain in good standing with the E-Verify electronic eligibility verification program, as determined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to have international students apply for and be granted a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Am I required to pay FICA taxes (payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare contributions)?

It depends. Under current tax laws, if your STEM OPT employee is exempt from payroll taxes, you save an amount equal to 6.2 percent of the STEM OPT participant’s salary up to the taxable wage base and an additional 1.45 percent of the total salary that would have been your contribution to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. STEM OPT participants generally are not subject to FICA taxes or Social Security and Medicare contributions until after the first five calendar years that they hold an F-1 nonimmigrant status, but many STEM OPT participants will already have accrued such physical presence and thus will be subject to FICA taxes.

Do I have to create a new Training Plan for a student who begins a STEM OPT extension?

You may use an existing training program or policy to meet certain Training Plan requirements, as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements. However, if using an existing Training Plan, it is important to ensure that it meets all applicable specifications and that it is customized for the individual STEM OPT participant’s qualifying degree and goals and objectives for learning.

What types of changes to my STEM OPT student’s Training Plan am I required to report to their DSO?

You are only required to report material changes to your student’s DSO. Material changes include significant changes, such as any change to your Employer Identification Number resulting from a corporate restructuring, a reduction in compensation that is not due to a reduction in hours worked or a significant reduction in hours per week that a STEM OPT student will be engaging in the practical training, including a decrease below 20 hours per week.

In the case of material changes, both you and your student must sign the modified version of the Training Plan and file the updated version with your student’s DSO as soon as possible.

Am I required to provide a mentor to my STEM OPT participant?

No. Employers are not required to provide a mentor to STEM OPT participants. However, each employer must describe on the Form I-983 how the STEM OPT participant will be supervised and evaluated.

Will I be notified before a site visit from DHS?

In most cases, DHS will provide 48 hours of notice to employers before a site visit. However, if a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations is the reason for the site visit, DHS may conduct the visit without warning. DHS may also request information from you to determine the need for a site visit.

What if my STEM OPT student stops showing up for their training or is terminated?

If an employer terminates a student, you are required to notify the DSO within five business days. If a student does not show up for their training or leaves before the end of the authorized period of STEM OPT, you are required to notify the student’s DSO and must do so within five business days after the fifth consecutive business day that the student has not reported for their practical training without your consent (if applicable), or within five business days of the date you know that the student has left the practical training opportunity (whichever occurs earlier). Please notify us by emailing intoff@northwestern.edu.