STEM Application Tips

This page contains suggestions for students who have already applied to ISS for their STEM OPT I-20. For information on STEM OPT eligibility requirements, when to apply, and how to request a STEM OPT I-20 visit our website.

What to Send to the USCIS

Updates on Filing OPT Online

We are optimistic that the new OPT online filing system will eventually be an improvement over the paper based filing process. However, there are still many unknowns and we are waiting for additional detail and a better understanding of how USCIS will process applications filed online. Until we have sufficient clarity, we will continue to recommend paper filing. We encourage you to create a USCIS online account and link your paper filed application to your account so you can enjoy many of the benefits of online filing, without the uncertainty.

We expect to continue to recommend paper filing for June 1 and August 31, 2021 graduates. At this time we hope to move forward with recommending online filing for February 1, 2022 graduates and STEM applications filed in early fall. 

If you do choose to file online be aware that:

  • An I-20 recommending OPT/STEM OPT is REQUIRED. You must apply for this first through UB Global.
  • All required documentation (including the I-20 with OPT recommendation) must be uploaded BEFORE the application is submitted.
  • Once your application has been submitted it is no longer editable.

USCIS must receive the following documents before your current EAD expires AND within 60 days of the issuance of your I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation. Do NOT submit your application to the USCIS more than 90 days before your current EAD expires. If you miss any of these deadlines, your application will be denied.

ISS recommends that you submit the following documents to the USCIS:

  • Original Form I‑765.  Don't forget to sign and include all seven pages of Form I-765. Reference the I-765 paper and online filing pages for additional suggestions.
  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance).
  • Photocopy of your diploma or transcripts indicating that you have completed all degree requirements (with the exception of your thesis/dissertation).
    • Your diploma must specify your field of study.  If not, you must include a photocopy of your official transcript.
    • If you are applying on the basis of a degree received from another school, you must also submit your transcript from the previous school.
  • Photocopy of your EAD card(s).
  • Application fee of $410
    • This can be a personal check (from a U.S. bank), a U.S. money order or bank/cashiers check.
    • Personal checks and money orders should be made payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security". 
    • Write the 11-digit number from your I-94 on your check or money order and don’t forget to sign and date the check.
  • Photocopy of your OPT STEM I‑20 – page 1 and page 2 with OPT STEM recommendation. Don't forget to sign and date the Student Attestation section of your I-20.
  • Photocopies of all previous I‑20's. Do not send originals.
  • Photocopies of your current, valid passport (biographic and photo pages) and U.S. visa stamp page in your passport. 
  • Photocopy of the front and back of your newest I-94 Card OR print-out of your electronic I-94.
  • Two (2) identical natural color photographs of yourself, taken within 30 days of your application and not previously used for another purpose. Photo specifications can be found here. If your photos do not meet USCIS requirements exactly, your EAD card will not be issued and your OPT could be denied.
    • In pencil, please write your name and I-94 number lightly on the back of each photo.

USCIS Mailing Addresses

Visit the USCIS I-765 Direct Filing Address for the current lockbox mailing address. Be sure to click on "Foreign Students".

You should use a reliable, express delivery service (e.g. UPS, FedEx) to mail your application so you can track your application and its delivery. Please save your receipt.

ISS recommends that you use a mailing address on your Form I-765 where you can receive mail for 3-5 months after applying for OPT. However, if your mailing address changes after you submit your OPT application to USCIS, you must notify the USCIS, the Post Office and ISS of your change in address within 10 days of the change. Failure to notify USCIS and the Post Office in a timely manner could result in delays in receiving your EAD. To notify the USCIS, use their online Change of Address Form. If you move to a new address, you should also notify the US Postal Service (USPS) using their online form.

USCIS Processing Times

Historically, processing time at the USCIS was estimated to be approximately 12 weeks.  However, processing times vary widely, depending on the time of year and workload at the Service Center to which you send your application. We encourage you to regularly review the processing times found on the USCIS website.

If you submitted your complete application to the USCIS in a timely manner (i.e. before your EAD card expired), then you may continue working for up to 180 days while your application is pending with the USCIS. However, if your application is denied by the USCIS, you must stop working upon the date of denial or risk accruing unlawful presence.

Maintaining Status on an OPT STEM Extension

To maintain status, you must satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • Work at least 20 hours per week in (a) job(s) directly related to your field of study. All employment must be with an E-Verified employer and a separate Form I-983 must be submitted to ISS for each employer.
  • Not exceed the allotted 150 days of unemployment time.  For additional information, read the section titled “Unemployment Limits”.
  • Report your employment and U.S. address information to ISS within 10 days of any change. You must also report any change of employer, Employer Identification Number or employer’s address plus any change or deviation from the training plan outlined on Form I-983, any reduction in compensation not tied to a reduction in work hours, any decrease in the number of hours worked per week, etc. 
    • A new Form I-983 must be submitted to ISS within 10 days of any change in employment details.

Reporting Requirements

To report employment or U.S. Address and contact information, login to the UB Global using your UBIT name and password.  Enter your current residential address on the “Update OPT Student Contact Information” E-Form.  Enter your employment information on the “Add or Update OPT Employment” E-Form.  A new Form I-983 will be required if you are reporting a change in employment details.

If you previously reported employment to ISS and are no longer working for that employer, you must report your end date of employment.  To do so, first enter your previous employer’s information on the “Add or Update OPT Employment” E-Form.  Then, on the same E-Form, enter your new employment details.  You can report up to three employers on the same E-Form.

Submit the 6-Month Report

Students on the OPT STEM Extension must submit a report to their school every six months.  If a 6-Month Report is not submitted before the deadline, there could be negative consequences in the future. Therefore, it is imperative that you not only maintain employment, but that you report it to the ISS office and submit the required 6-month report before the deadline.

  • To submit the 6-Month Report, log in to UB Global using your UBIT name and password and choose the E-form titled "STEM OPT Report".

Submit the 12-Month and Final Evaluations

In addition to the 6-Month Report, the student and the student’s employer must complete a performance evaluation every 12 months, and at the end of the employment period.  To submit an Employment Evaluation, log in to UB Global using your UBIT name and password.

  • Choose the “STEM OPT Report "E-Form and select the appropriate reporting deadline (12 or 24).
    • If you choose 12 Months, the E-Form will prompt you to upload a copy of your 12 Month Evaluation Form. 
      • This is the top portion of page 5 of the I-983.
    • If you choose 24 Months, the E-Form will prompt you to upload a copy of your Final Evaluation Form. 
      • This is the bottom portion of page 5 of the I-983.
  • If you are changing employers: You will also be prompted to upload the evaluation form when reporting an end date on the "Add or Update OPT Employment" E-Form.
  • If your immigration status has changed, you can upload the evaluation when you complete the "Change of Status Notification-OPT" E-Form.
  • If you are leaving the U.S. before the end date on your EAD and will not return to continue your OPT, then complete the "Departure Form for Students on OPT" E-Form. You will be prompted to upload the evaluation as a part of that form.

Report any change in your immigration status

(e.g. change to H-1B) by completing the "Change of Status Notification" E-Form in UB Global.

Report any employer non-compliance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

If you believe that your employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-Month STEM OPT regulations or the Form I-983 Training Plan, contact the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at sevp@ice.dhs.gov or the Department of Homeland Security.

Unemployment Limits

Students on an OPT STEM Extension are permitted to be unemployed for 60 days in addition to the 90 days allotted for Post-Completion OPT. The maximum period of unemployment allowed is therefore 150 days during the entire OPT period. Each day of unemployment (including weekends) is counted towards the 150-day requirement for students on an OPT STEM Extension. Time spent outside the U.S. counts as unemployment unless the travel was work-related or during an official leave from one’s job. Therefore, to maintain your F-1 status, you must update your employment history and report any changes in employment to ISS as soon as you accept a new job offer or as soon as any changes occur.

If you exceed 150 days of unemployment, the Department of Homeland Security could automatically terminate your SEVIS record. This means that your F-1 status and employment authorization will no longer be valid, and you will have to leave the U.S. immediately. Possible consequences to remaining in the U.S. after the 150-day deadline without a job include denial of future immigration benefits, accrual of unlawful presence, detention and deportation.

Acceptable Types of Employment

Any employment you choose while on the OPT STEM Extension must meet the following conditions:

  • The employer must participate in the E-Verify Program.
  • You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • Your work must be directly related to your STEM program of study.
  • Any/All employers must complete a Form I-983.  
  • You must be employed by the employer that signed the Form I-983 and that employer must provide the practical training experience. Self-employment and volunteer/unpaid employment are NOT permitted on the OPT STEM Extension.

Documents to Prove Employment

We recommend that all students keep documentation to prove that they were employed while on OPT. You can find a list of common documents used to prove employment for both paid and unpaid positions on our Maintaining Status While on STEM OPT page. You will not be required to submit this proof of employment to UB, but it may be requested by USCIS if you are applying for future immigration benefits.

Travel While on OPT

There are many factors to consider before deciding to travel while on OPT. Before making any travel plans, we recommend that you review the Travel While on OPT page of our website.

Be sure to check the Travel Endorsement Signature on page 2 of your OPT I-20. This signature is valid only for 6 months. To request an updated I-20, log in to UB Global using your UBIT name and password, and click "Students Currently Approved for OPT", then "OPT Travel Validation Endorsement Request". Please submit your request at least 10 business days before you plan to leave the U.S.

How long can I remain in the U.S. after my EAD expires?

All students on OPT have a 60-day grace period after their EAD expires.  You are permitted to remain inside the U.S. during those 60 days to prepare for your departure, apply to change your status (if eligible) or begin a new degree program.  If you are not admitted to a new degree program or do not submit a change-of-status application before the end of the 60 days, you must leave the U.S. 

During your 60-day grace period, you may not work.

What happens if I violate my immigration status?

If a student on OPT fails to maintain their immigration status, as explained above, the student will violate their immigration status. Status violations are serious and can result in the accrual of unlawful presence. It is extremely important that you adhere to all reporting deadlines, understand your obligations as an F-1 student on OPT, and follow all state and federal laws. If you have questions about status violations while on OPT, please contact ISS.