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F-1 STEM (OPT) Extension

STEM OPT Extension

F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. STEM OPT extensions may only be applied to students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify. 

  • There is a limit of two STEM-OPT extensions during an F-1's academic career. These must be at different education levels.
  • STEM OPT may be based on most recent STEM degree or a STEM degree earned prior in the F-1's academic career in the U.S.
    • Prior Degree: Degree must have been issued by a currently SEVP-certified and accredited educational institution and must have been conferred within 10 years preceding the date the DSO recommends STEM-OPT.
  • STEM degree must be from a currently accredited U.S. college or university that is SEVP approved.
  • Field of Study must be on the CIP code STEM Designated Degree published by ICE (IMPORTANT: please be sure to review the link to ensure the major on your I-20 is eligible under the code listed. If the CIP code for your major has changed over time and you are now indeed eligible based on updated CIP codes, a DSO will review and update this information on your I-20 during the STEM Extension request process).
  • Student must file the I-765 application within 60 days of the date DSO enters the recommendation for STEM OPT into SEVIS. [ For regular post-completion OPT, the student must file the I-765 application within 30 days of the DSO's recommendation.]
  • Please read ALL parts below (1-5) for information about the STEM OPT Extension Process and please see the FAQs as needed in part 6.
  • More information concerning OPT STEM Extension from USCIS can be found in the link here: OPT Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT).

STEM OPT Workshops  

Be sure to first attend one of our workshops to get all your questions answered!

October 11, 2022 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
October 24, 2022 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
November 7, 2022 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
November 22, 2022 2:30-4:30pm *Online Meeting
December 6, 2022
2:30-4:30pm
*Online Meeting
December 19, 2022
2:30-4:30pm
*Online Meeting

*Note, meetings will be arranged via zoom. If you are interested in joining the meeting, please email us prior at isss-students@mail.wvu.edu  by 12pm on the day of the event and send us your full name and student ID number. We will then provide the zoom meeting info in a follow up e-mail.

PART 1: Understand the Different Reporting and Compliance Requirements and Regulations (A-D)

A. Additional Student Compliance Requirements for Employment:

Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students)
  • The form I-983 is completed by the employer and student and establishes a Training Plan and Self-Evaluations
  • It must identify goals for the practical training, including “specific knowledge, skills or techniques that will be imparted to the student, and an explanation on how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer; describe a performance evaluation process; and describe methods of oversight and supervision.”
  • USCIS may request the completed and signed Form I-983 with regard to an I-765 application
  • All fields on the form must be completed, and “n/a” used as appropriate
  • Educational institution may retain either hard or electronic copy of the plan
  • The training experience must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business or worksite(s)
  • Online or distance learning arrangements may not be used to fulfill the employer’s training obligation to the student
  • Please see instructions on how to complete this form here - Form I-983 Overview

In order to qualify for an extension of post-completion OPT based upon a STEM degree, all of the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) must also be met concerning your employment including the following:

  • The job must be directly related to the degree that qualifies the student for the STEM OPT extension. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(4)
  • The job must assist the student in reaching his or her training goals. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(10)(iii)
  • The STEM OPT opportunity must be more than a "job;" the employer must also provide the training described on the Form I-983 Training Plan. The employer should have sufficient resources and personnel available to provide the training specified in the Form I-983 ( 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(10)(i) )
  • The job's compensation and working conditions must be "commensurate with terms and conditions applicable to the employer's similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment." 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(8)

With regular 12 month OPT, you may be able to justify a looser connection between job and degree and find employment and perform duties that relate to your degree, however, for a STEM OPT extension, the regulations require that this connection be much more exact, logical, and precise. Establishing the certainty that the connection between the qualifying job and major meet regulations can sometimes be difficult to prove if seeking employment for the STEM extension where the connection is not readily apparent. 

The information submitted with your I-983 and OPT Employment Updates will help determine if the above regulations are met and if ISSS can place the recommendation in SEVIS in order to provide the updated I-20 for application to USCIS.  Once your request to ISSS is complete and application is sent to USCIS, please be aware that the USCIS has a right to request further evidence or adjudicate the application at their discretion based on information submitted about employment and in SEVIS.

If ISSS cannot determine a logical connection between degree and the job specifics on the form I-983, ISSS reserves the right to consult with your academic department to help determine if the employment meets regulatory standards and if your degree is required for employer and the work being performed. It will be up to the applicant to submit further evidence to establish the connection between degree obtained and job duties being performed and you will be contacted by ISSS during the request process if a connection cannot be readily established or is not apparent.


B. Additional Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT

Please read more on reporting requirements here -  https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-stem-opt-reporting-requirements  

  • Compliance with reporting requirements is required to maintain F-1 status.
  • Report to DSO within 10 days of a change of legal name, U.S. home address, employer’s name and address and/or loss of employment by submitting the OPT Employment Update (formerly called OPT Compliance Form) and a STEM Participation Report Request with updated I-983.
  • Requirement for validation reporting starts at the beginning of the 24-month STEM OPT extension, occur every 6 months, and ends when the student’s F-1 status expires or the STEM OPT ends. Due dates for the validation report are due within 10 days of each reporting date and an F-1 student on OPT must make a report to ISSS (even if there are no updates) every 6 months from the start date on the STEM OPT EAD.
  • If you end employment early, please submit and OPT Employment Update and a STEM Participation Report Request with final evaluation filled out on I-983.
  • If there has been no updates to the I-983 or to the reported employment, you may use just the STEM Participation Report Request with I-983 to provide your update.
  • Report to DSO within 10 days of starting a new STEM-OPT employment (or updating existing employment) with an OPT Employment Update and a STEM Participation Report Request with a new I-983 that reflects the new employment or changes to current employment.
  • Annual Self-Evaluation (“Evaluation of Student Progress”) is required. This is for student to report to DSO on progress of practical training. Evaluation must be turned in at the completion of 1 year of STEM OPT EAD validity, and no more than 10 days after 1 year of STEM OPT EAD validity by submitting a STEM Participation Report Request with updated I-983 that includes the first self-evaluation on box 1 of the final page of the I-983. 
  • Final Self-Evaluation (second “Evaluation of Student Progress”): Evaluation is due within 10 days of the end of the reporting period at 24 month and can be reported by submitting a STEM Participation Report Request with updated I-983 that includes the final evaluation on the last page.
  • Due dates for self-evaluations are firm and necessary to maintain status. Please note that if you hold multiple jobs, you will need to submit separate updates at 6 month intervals for all employment.
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Material Changes to the Training Plan. Changes must be reported “at earliest available opportunity” to the DSO, and this include any deviations from the plan. Material changes may include, but are not limited to, changes to EIN, reduction in compensation unrelated to reduction in hours, and significant decrease in hours worked per week—including a decrease below the minimum 20-hours per week. A modified plan will need to be submitted by the student to the DSO and can be made by submitting an OPT Employment Update and a STEM Participation Report Request with updated I-983.
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Changes in Employment Status (such as termination, departure, if occurring before end of STEM OPT: Changes must be reported to the DSO within 10 business days.

C. Additional Employer Compliance Requirements and Obligations

  • Must be enrolled in E-Verify
  • Must have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Ensure that the Terms and Conditions of the STEM-OPT opportunity including compensation, duties, and hours are commensurate with those of similarly-situated US workers
  • Employer must sign and attest to the following on the Form I-983:
    • Employer has sufficient resources and trained personnel available at the location specified to provide appropriate training in connection with the opportunity
    • Student on STEM-OPT will not replace a full or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker
    • Opportunity will help the student attain his or her training objectives
  • Employer’s signatory on the Form I-983 must be an individual authorized to serve as “Official Representing the Employer”
  • Site Visits: DHS will conduct site visit at worksites with notice 48 hours in advance. Notice may not be given in instances of an investigation based on a complaint. Investigators will seek to verify employer’s attestations on the Form I-983

D. Additional Employer Reporting Requirements
  • Evaluation of Student Progress (Annual and Final on the I-983): Student is responsible for turning in signed and completed Evaluation of Student Progress on form I-983 with their STEM Participation Report, but employer signatory must also sign the form I-983.
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Material Changes to the Training Plan. Changes must be reported “at earliest available opportunity” to the DSO, and this include any deviations from the plan. Material changes may include, but are not limited to, changes to EIN, reduction in compensation unrelated to reduction in hours, and significant decrease in hours worked per week—including a decrease below the minimum 20-hours per week. A modified plan will need to be submitted by the student to the DSO. See "Reporting Requirements" above.
  • Student and Employer responsible for reporting Changes in Employment Status (such as termination, departure, if occurring before end of STEM-OPT: Must be reported to the DSO within 10 business days. See "Reporting Requirements" above.


PART 2: Actions You Will Need to Take BEFORE Applying for STEM OPT

Ensure the following are completed or are true before submitting a STEM OPT Extension application.
  • Submit an OPT Employment Update. To do so, please login to your student request portal, go to "Requests and Documents", and choose the OPT Employment Update Icon.  Please answer all questions and provide information for all fields. Once finished, please be sure to click "Submit".
  • Graduated from WVU with a STEM degree (the CIP code must match the one on your I-20, however, if the CIP code has changed over the course of your studies and does not currently match, a DSO will update the CIP code on your I-20 during their review and when the newly updated I-20 is provided to you for application to USCIS).
  • Currently on a 12-month post-completion OPT and working in a job directly related to their field of study. You must be currently employed at a job that meets regulations (please see above).
  • Have a job with an employer registered with the E-Verify Employment Verification System
  • Have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during the 12-month post-completion OPT
  • Understand that you must submit a STEM Participation Report Request every six (6) months from the start date on your newly issued STEM OPT EAD card concerning residential address, email, and phone number - even if the information has not changed. If it has changed or ended, an OPT Employment Update request may also be required.
  • Understand that you must submit a Form I-983 at various stages during your employment as explained above with a STEM Participation Report.
  • Understand that you must inform ISSS immediately upon termination of STEM employment with an OPT Employment Update request stating the end date of employment and also a STEM Participation Report with final evaluation filled on on the form I-983 for the employment.
  • Understand that you will need to submit a new I-983 to ISSS through a STEM Participation Report for any new or additional STEM employment once approved and also provide a OPT Employment Update about the new or additional employment. ISSS will still need to assess and review if the new/additional employment meets U.S. regulations as outlined above before we can add the employment to your SEVIS record or send the updated I-983 to USCIS if your application is still pending.
  • Understand that ISSS is able to provide you with general guidance, however, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on our website or informational packets, do not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, the USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. The ISSS office at WVU will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.

PART 3: How to Request an I-20 with Recommendation for STEM OPT by ISSS (Required before application to USCIS)

  • Please note that ISSS does not guarantee turnaround times; however, we strive to complete each request in the order that it is received and within 15 business days or within government deadlines You should plan for and expect at least 15 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed.
  • IMPORTANT: Do not file the Form I-765 online or through mail with USCIS until you have received your updated Form I-20 recommending STEM OPT from the WVU ISSS office. Doing so will prove problematic and may lead to rejection or denial of your STEM OPT.
  • If choosing to file online with USCIS, you should proceed with the online application process very carefully. The system allows you to submit your application online without all required evidence, which can lead to requests for evidence and additional difficulties. This means you must be very careful to ensure that everything is included before submitting the online application. Failing to submit all required documents or submitting your application to USCIS without the proper I-20 with recommendation from ISSS will lead to USCIS denying your application or a possible request for evidence. 
  • The general guidance that follows for a request for the I-20 and application to USCIS is not intended to be legal advice. It is simply general suggestions and directions for how you might proceed when completing the online or paper form I-765 application and Part 3 is intended to explain how to request an updated I-20 for application to USCIS from our office.
  • Students graduating with degrees in "STEM" fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual. Students are eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM extension up to 90 days before expiration of the regular 12 month OPT. NOTE: Students cannot apply for the STEM Extension during the grace period (after the end date of the regular 12 month OPT). 
Steps To Request the Updated I-20

  • You must currently be employed at a job/position that meets current U.S. STEM OPT regulations for employment. To request an updated I-20 with OPT recommendation from ISSS, please follow the steps below and start by collecting the documents listed in each step that need to be submitted to ISSS via the request link below. 
  • Please be advised: The request must be made and completed prior to your current EAD card expiration.  We cannot process after this date and please be mindful of processing times. USCIS must also receive your application by the date of your EAD card expiration.
  • Once an advisor is able to review your documents, they will reach out via email with any questions, concerns, or to let you know the status of the request. 
  • Please note: you will later mail or file online your complete application to USCIS after the new I-20 is issued from ISSS for STEM extension. 

To make a request for an updated I-20 and recommendation in SEVIS for the STEM Extension in order to file with USCIS, please click on the following link to be directed to the student request portal > (STEM OPT Extension Application). 

Once you are logged in, please go to "Requests and Documents" and select the STEM OPT Extension Application icon to begin. Please fill out all required info and answer all of the questionnaires. You will then need to provide to us via uploaded documents:

  1. completed I-765 (this is a fillable PDF document; it is best if you fill it in and then print for legibility).  Be sure to use the form located on the USCIS website for the most current/appropriate version. If the wrong version is used, USCIS will deny the application, possibly resulting in a loss of F-1 status.
  2. Copies of all of your STEM degree related I-20s
  3. Copies (in color) of your passport bio data page*, visa page**, and most recent admission stamp (see notes * & ** below.
  4. copy of your electronic I-94 (or front and back of old paper version). To obtain an electronic copy, please visit: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home and click on "Get most recent I-94" in the navigation bar at the top of the page.
  5. copy (in color) of your valid OPT EAD card(s) (front and back)
  6. Letter size copy (in color) of earned Diploma from your STEM Designated degree that you will be utilizing for application to USCIS.  For a list of the CIP codes for STEM Designated Degrees from ICE, please visit:  STEM Designated Degree.
  7. A fully completed and signed copy of the Form I-983 (All fields on the form must be completed - use "N/A" as appropriate.) For instructions on completing this form, please navigate here - Completing the Form I-983
  8. Submit a copy of the Employer Verification Form and signed by your employer or representative of your employer. 
*A note about photocopies of biographical page(s) of the passport (with expiration date): If your passport will expire within 6 months from the time of filing your STEM OPT application with USCIS, you should renew it at an embassy or consulate of your country before you submit your STEM OPT application. If you have filed and waiting for passport renewal, please submit proof of renewal to ISSS so we can work on your request, but please note that approval of a fully submitted application to USCIS without a valid passport is up to the discretion of USCIS and we strongly recommend having a renewed passport prior to application.

**A note about the photocopy of the most recent visa page: the visa can be expired and/or of a different visa category other than F.

Once you are finished, please be sure to click "Submit".

  • Our OPT Specialist/DSO will then review your request and documents within 15 business days and will contact you via mix e-mail once the request is complete with further information about accessing and printing your updated I-20 with the recommendation recorded on page 2 and with further directions for application to USCIS.
  • Please Note: A student who has filed an application in a timely fashion for a 24-month STEM OPT extension through USCIS may work for the STEM OPT employer while the STEM extension application is pending, for up to 180 days beyond the expiration the prior post-completion OPT EAD. 
  • Due to recent US Department of Homeland Security guidance, we cannot send or give I-20s to extended family members, friends, or third parties. They must sent or given directly to the primary beneficiary (F-1) or dependent (F-2). 
  • Electronic I-20 issuance is now standard: Your updated I-20 can be accessed electronically and DHS has confirmed that an electronically signed and issued I-20 from a DSO is acceptable for application for the STEM Extension as long as the applicant has printed and signed/dated the updated I-20 in ink before sending it with the rest of their application.
Pick up, Domestic Mail, and Express Mail is Optional:
Electronic Delivery (Standard) - Issuance of the I-20 via electronic means for use in application to USCIS is now standard practice and is accepted by federal government agencies.  You will be notified via your MIX email about how to access, print, and sign your I-20 once your request is complete.  You still must print and sign your form I-20 once received electronically.

Print Copy (Optional)  -  If you need an original copy, please e-mail isss-students@mail.wvu.edu and provide your student ID and reason for the need for a paper copy. With electronic issuance of the I-20 now standard, other government agencies or entities should know to accept the electronically issued copy. Employers should accept it as well, but we do acknowledge that some employers' policies may require an ink signed copy.  Please provide evidence of this request from an employer with your e-mail. Otherwise, you will be directed to use your electronic copy

Print Copy Domestic Mail (Optional) - If you wish to have the I-20 sent to you via domestic mail (no expense to you), please send us an email requesting this option to isss-students@mail.wvu.edu after you receive indication that your electronic I-20 is ready to access. Please be sure your mailing address is current by using a Contact Information Update Request and provide your student ID, and you must also provide a reason and evidence why you require a print copy when electronic copies are now standard (see above).  Otherwise, you will be directed to use your electronic copy.  

Express Mail (Optional) - For express mail (student pays expense), please follow the directions below. Please note: Do not go to the DHL or FedEx sites directly. Please be advised of the above and electronic copies are now standard and accepted by all government agencies.

  1. Log into internationalservices.wvu.edu to check the status of your STEM OPT application. Once the status shows, "Request Completed" you can request express mail. Do not pay for shipping before your status shows "Request Completed."
  2. Go to  https://study.eshipglobal.com and click on "Student Sign up" to create an account. When you are logged in, click on "Receive documents from university." Search for West Virginia University (or click on the state). Choose "International Students & Scholars Services (ISSS)." Fill out the required information, choose shipping preferences, and submit payment. 
  3. Once you have completed step 2, please be sure to email our office at isss-students@mail.wvu.edu to let us know that you have chosen express mail and we can then download the shipping information.

PART 4: Apply for the STEM OPT Work Authorization Card (EAD) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).


Please note: Although our office works diligently to avoid errors, it is ultimately your responsibility to check your I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation for errors before sending it to USCIS and ensure it is delivered to USCIS in a timely manner.

Along with most of the documents listed above for your application for an I-20 with Recommendation for OPT, you will also need to prepare the following to send to USCIS while we are processing your STEM OPT Extension application if mailing your application, but please note that online filing may also require these documents: 
  • You must obtain  two (2) identical color passport photos of yourself taken within 30 days of the filing of the OPT application to USCIS. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched. Please print your name on the back of the photos in pencil. 
  • I-765 Fee
    • Check or money order for the correct amount, made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” 
                 OR   
    • complete the form  G-1450 to use a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Make sure the card has enough money to cover the fee. USCIS will reject your OPT application if the card is declined and  will not attempt to process your credit card payment a second time. 
    • Payment is to be made at the time of application to USCIS, not before. Please wait until your I-20 is ready and you have assembled your application materials to send to USCIS before reviewing payment options to send with your application.
  • ISSS will process your request for the updated I-20, however, you will need to either mail or file online your application package. You will send the application package to the Regional USCIS Center in your residential location responsible for adjudicating your extension request if mailing it. USCIS will adjudicate your application and (if approved) send you a new EAD card. More information about where to send your application once the I-20 is updated will follow in an e-mail from ISSS when Part 3 above is complete.
  • If mailing your application, we also suggest that you send your STEM OPT application to USCIS via  https://study.eshipglobal.com or with a service that provides tracking or guaranteed delivery dates.
  • Since ISSS does not have access to create an account to file online through USCIS, we cannot advise on online filing and the format.  You will need to utilize the information and directions provided by USCIS for online filing and you can find the link here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765
  • As long as USCIS receives your application within 90 days prior to the expiration of your current post-completion OPT EAD card and within 60 days of the date ISSS issues the Form I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation, you may continue working for up to 180 days while you are waiting for USCIS’ decision on your STEM OPT extension. 
  • Please allow at least 2-3 months for the EAD card to be mailed back to you. 
  • If you must move before you receive your card in the mail, you must immediately :
    • Contact the USCIS office where you filed your application, using the customer service telephone number or directions to contact USCIS you will find on your receipt, and provide them with your new address AND  
      • update your address with ISSS here - Change of Address . 
      • Please note: The U.S. Postal Service will not forward your EAD card to your new address.
    • Typically, the student should contact USCIS about errors, concerns, or address updates. USCIS will not talk to a P/DSO about a student case.
    •  USCIS Contact Center: https://www.uscis.gov/contactcenter.

PART 5: After you Have Been Granted the STEM OPT Extension from USCIS

IMPORTANT: Please remember that your obligation to strictly comply with US Federal Regulations does not stop with the issuance of the STEM OPT Extension EAD card. In order for your SEVIS record to be kept up-to-date and your visa status valid throughout the STEM OPT Extension period, you must pay special attention to the following requirements:

  1. Unemployment Reminder.  Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT period and any subsequent 24-month extension period. Employment that is not reported to ISSS and exceeds 150 aggregate days for STEM OPT, may result in auto-termination of your SEVIS record by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  2. Provide a scanned copy of your EAD card with an OPT Employment Update or a STEM Participation Report Request during a standard update to report employment or submit a new OPT Employment Update with the card as soon as you have it. You must notify ISSS of any change in your contact information or immigration status throughout your STEM OPT Extension. Please see reporting requirements above.
  3. If you move to a new address, it is important that you complete and forward a new Change of Address Form to our office. This action must be taken within 10 days of moving to the new address.
  4. You must submit an STEM OPT Employment Update every  six (6) months concerning residential address, email, phone number, and employment updates - even if the information has not changed. If it has changed or ended, a OPT Employment Update request may also be required along with a final I-983. Please see reporting requirements above.
  5. You must submit a Form I-983 for each of the reporting deadlines/changes as mentioned above in sections "Student Reporting Requirements" and "Employer Reporting Requirements."
  6. Understands that you must inform ISSS immediately upon termination of STEM employment with an OPT Employment Update request stating the end date of employment and also a STEM Participation Report with final evaluation filled on on the form I-983 for the employment.
  7. Submit a new I-983 to ISSS through a STEM Participation Report for any new or additional STEM employment and also provide a OPT Employment Update about the new or additional employment. ISSS will still need to assess and review if the new/additional employment meets U.S. regulations as outlined above.
  8. If you need to travel outside of the U.S., you must be sure to obtain a travel signature from ISSS. A travel signature from our office is good for up to six months. Please contact our office at least 2 weeks in advance in case you need the signature re-validated. Travel Endorsements on the STEM OPT I-20 can be issued electronically and you can request a Travel Endorsement by logging into your student request portal, going to "Requests and Documents", clicking on the Travel Endorsement icon, provide the required info and documents, and remember to click "Submit" when complete.

    For further information, please see STEM/OPT Travel Scenarios document.

  9. If you change visa status (e.g. F-1 to F-2), please provide ISSS with a copy of your approval notice through an immigration status update request by logging into your student request portal, going to "Requests and Documents", clicking on the Immigration Status Update icon, provide the required info and documents, and remember to click "Submit" when complete.
  10. If you have completed your OPT and/or plan to return to your home country and discontinue OPT, please e-mail us at isss-OPT@mail.wvu.edu to let us know and confirm in your e-mail that you are finished with OPT or ending your OPT and returning to your home country. We will then need to work to complete your SEVIS record as required.

Additional Information Concerning Worker's Rights: Know Your Rights (Wilberforce Pamphlet) from the Department of State. An information pamphlet describing your rights while working in the United States.


Disclaimer: Please understand that ISSS is able to provide you with general guidance, however, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on our website or informational packets, do not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, the USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. The ISSS office at WVU will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.

PART 6: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the 24-month STEM extension of OPT?

A. The STEM Extension allows F-1 students who have received a degree in specific fields listed as science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, to apply for a one time, 24-month extension of their regular OPT period. Students cannot apply for 24 months of OPT up front. 90 days prior to expiration of the first OPT period (12 months), students file an application for the 24-month OPT extension and will be able to continue employment for up to 180 days while the extension application is pending.

Q. How do I apply for the 24-month extension?

A. Students graduating with degrees in the STEM list will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT. Within 3 months of the end of that first OPT period, if all criteria are met, students can apply through ISSS for the 24-month extension of OPT (instructions here).

Criteria for the 24-Month Extension:

  • Employer must be enrolled in E-Verify (see information links below)
  • Current degree is in one of the STEM fields.
  • Student must have maintained F-1 status while on OPT
  • Apply within 3 months of the current OPT end date
  • The employment must be traditional, paid employment
  • See additional information

Q. What is E-Verify?

A.  E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. 

Q. Can a student change employers if the STEM extension application is pending with USCIS?

A. Yes. However, if the STEM extension period has started, the new employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The student must report the change in employment to his or her International Student Advisor by e-mailing isss-OPT@mail.wvu.edu. The International Student Advisor must update the student’s employer information in SEVIS and issue an updated I-20 with the new employer information (including EIN). The International Student Advisor will then email a copy to USCIS.

Q. Are there any other requirements during the 24-month extension?

A. In addition to filling out the STEM OPT Employment Update and/or OPT Employment Update every six (6) months for changes in address or employment (see reporting requirements above), students working on the 24-month STEM extension of OPT who wish to travel outside the U.S are also required to have a current (no older than 6 months) International Student Advisor signature on their I-20’s prior to their travel. Please see above for further reporting and compliance requirements.

Q. What is the F-1/H-1B “cap-gap”?

A. Cap-gap occurs when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization expire in the current fiscal year before they can start their approved H-1B employment in the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. 

An F-1 student in a cap-gap situation does not have to leave the United States and return at the time his or her H-1B status becomes effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year. The F-1 status of students is automatically extended when the student is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition for the next fiscal year (with an October 1 employment start date) filed on his or her behalf during the period in which H-1B petitions are accepted for that fiscal year.

The automatic extension terminates when USCIS rejects, denies, or revokes the H-1B petition.

If the H-1B petition filed on behalf of the student is selected, the student may remain in the United States and, if on post-completion OPT, continue working until the October 1 start date indicated on the approved H-1B petition. The student may benefit from this provision only if he or she has not violated his or her status.

Q. H-1B Cap-Gap Procedure

A. To obtain this “automatic” extension indicated on the I-20, the student will have to notify our office (ISSS) that they are eligible for the extension and may request a new I-20 showing the extension, which is typically automatically added as a notation in the SEVIS record once approved. Provide ISSS with the following:

  1. Your OPT I-20
  2. Your OPT (EAD) card (front and back)
  3. Your H-1B Receipt or Approval notice
  4. Your current mailing address 

You may scan the above documents and email the scans to isss-OPT@mail.wvu.edu

Q. TravelNow that I’ve turned in my OPT application, can I travel outside the United States while I wait for the EAD?

A. While application is pending: Traveling during this time is not recommended as it is risky. USCIS may request for additional evidence while you are away. Also if USCIS approves your application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to renter the U.S. Like a request for further information, the EAD card will only be sent to a U.S address.

A. After application is approved: In order to re-enter the United States you must have the following: EAD authorizing OPT, valid passport, a current F-1 visa stamp, I-20 signed within the last six months, AND job offer letter or proof of employment, with salary or bank information.

Q. I want to leave the United States for a short time while my OPT application is pending, but I may return before the EAD card arrives. I have another valid visa type such as a tourist visa (B-2) that is valid for 10 years. Can I just enter the United States with my tourist visa, then start work with the EAD once it arrives?

A. No. If you intend to continue working with OPT, never enter in any other immigration status except F-1. If you leave the United States and re-enter in B-1/B-2 status, you are considered to have abandoned your F-1 status and your OPT will end!

Q. What documents do I need to re-enter the United States during post-completion OPT?

A. See Below
  • I-20 Form recommending OPT and endorsed on the travel line by ISSS within the last 6 months
  • EAD authorizing OPT
  • valid passport
  • a current F-1 visa stamp
  • Job offer letter or proof of employment
  • And proof of financial support

Q. What if I have applied for the 24-month extension but I have not yet received the EAD, can I travel out of the United States and return in F-1 status?

A. No, USCIS advises against tourism travel while you are waiting for the approval of the 24-month extension. Please travel at your own risk.

Q. The visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I want to travel outside the United States during the OPT period. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy?

A. If you are going to Canada or Mexico, and staying for less than 30 days, you may re-enter the United States with your expired F-1 visa stamp, your I-94 card, a valid passport, your EAD card, an I-20 that has been signed by ISSS within the last 6 months, AND your job offer letter or proof of employment as long as: 1) you do not apply for a visa while in Canada and 2) you are NOT a national of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba or North Korea.

However, if you are traveling elsewhere, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and request an F-1 visa renewal. Research the visa application requirements on the website for the U.S. Embassy abroad where you intend to apply. It is impossible to renew an F-1 visa inside the United States.

Q. In what ways is my application to the embassy for a new visa stamp affected by post-completion OPT?

A. The risk of denial of an application for a renewed visa stamp for OPT is somewhat higher than while you are in your active student program. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant show intent to return to the home country at the end of the program, and if the embassy official is not convinced of your intention to return home, the visa application could be denied. However, the majority of students do not have problems with the visa renewal process during the OPT period.

Q. Do I still need to get the travel line on my I-20 signed by ISSS during the year of OPT and the STEM extension period?

A. Yes! During the initial OPT and STEM periods, students must have the travel line signed every six months. Please contact our office at least 2 weeks in advance in case you need the signature re-validated. Travel Endorsements on the STEM OPT I-20 can be issued electronically and you can request a Travel Endorsement by logging into your student request portal, going to "Requests and Documents", clicking on the Travel Endorsement icon, provide the required info and documents, and remember to click "Submit" when complete.

For further information, please see STEM/OPT Travel Scenarios document.