STEM Extension FAQs

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Relationship to your STEM Degree

My job is not related to my degree, is that a problem for extension? 
Unfortunately it could be a problem. In form I-983, the employee will have to attest that "My practical training opportunity is directly related to the STEM degree that qualifies me for the STEM OPT extension". And the employer will have to attest that "The student’s practical training opportunity is directly related to the STEM degree that qualifies the student for the STEM OPT extension, and the position offered to the student achieves the objectives of his or her participation in this training program;".These are legally binding statements that both the employee and the employer are making to the USCIS, so making inaccurate statements can land both of them in trouble down the road.

I have a degree in Electrical/ Electronics/ Information Systems/ Computers Science - can I do an IT job?
Most of these degrees have enough computer related courses, so it may not be difficult to defend that your IT job is related to your degree. But this is only possible if your employer has a very solid training plan in place that has been tailored for you individually, and in-house full-time trainers, training facilities, and the resources required to stay on top of the administrative and legal work required to maintain the OPTs.

My degree is not IT related, but I am doing an IT job, what are my options?
For example, ff you have a pharmacy degree and are working on pharmacy software, or a math degree and working on a mathematical or computational software, you should be able to say that your degree is related to your work. But that is not the case for most people. Most of us are all doing SAP with a Mechanical degree! If you have a few more months left on your initial OPT, then it is better to sit tight for the time being and see how USCIS is adjudicating the new STEM extension cases. Some of the first approvals will start rolling in by August, and you will have a better idea on what to do. If they strictly enforce this rule, you may not have too many more options other than going back to school and getting a CPT. 

12-month OPT, Looking for Extension

We are actively hiring 12-month OPTs. We will work with you to prepare a training plan tailored to your degree and courses, and bring you into compliance with all other STEM Extension requirements before you apply for your extension through us. Our training plan is prepared with you future H1B application in mind; so we make sure to keep everything consistent from your OPT to H1B to GC. Schedule a phone consultation immediately with one of our experienced recruiters; we have limited openings.

How soon do we need to apply for OPT extension?
Submit the Form I-765up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, but within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record.

I am on 12-month OPT, my employer is not signing I-983, what should I do?
You are strongly advised to find a new employer who meets all the OPT STEM Extension requirements as soon as possible. Do not wait till the last minute; good employers may not accept you if you they have to file the extension immediately. See the next question to understand who is a good/qualified employer. Feel free to schedule a consultations with us; we are hiring qualified OPTs.

I am on 12-month OPT, am I safe if I know that my employer is signing I-983?
Some employers are blindly signing the I-983 forms. Accoording to the USCIS, to qualify for OPT Extension, you must work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities. To qualify, an employer

  • has actually trained you extensively in a classroom based environment
  • has full-time dedicated trainers and mentors that can be mentioned on the I-983, and can prove it if there is a site visit or an RFE
  • has the facilities, resources to show that you spend time at their location before and between client projects
  • has a detailed training plan that is specifically made for each OPT student, and also a corporate training manual
  • has the administrative resources as well as the systems in place to handle all the legal and administrative work, including keeping a documented track of the ongoing supervision, training and mentoring offered as part of the OPT training plan
  • is able to pay to continuously, even between projects, according to a wage schedule that is comparable to similarly situated US workers

We are actively hiring 12-month OPTs. We will work with you to prepare a training plan tailored to your degree and courses, and bring you into compliance with all other STEM Extension requirements before you apply for your extension through us. Our training plan is prepared with you future H1B application in mind; so we make sure to keep everything consistent from your OPT to H1B to GC. Schedule a phone consultation immediately with one of our experienced recruiters; we have limited openings.

Consulting Jobs and STEM Extension

Can I work for a consulting/staffing company and qualify for STEM Extension?
We have addressed this question extensively in one of our other blog posts. You should be able to defend the requirements of OPT Extension if your employer:

  • has actually trained you extensively in a classroom based environment
  • has full-time dedicated trainers and mentors that can be mentioned on the I-983, and can prove it if there is a site visit or an RFE
  • has the facilities, resources to show that you spend time at their location before and between client projects
  • has a detailed training plan that is specifically made for each OPT student, and also a corporate training manual
  • has the administrative resources as well as the systems in place to handle all the legal and administrative work, including keeping a documented track of the ongoing supervision, training and mentoring offered as part of the OPT training plan
  • is able to pay to continuously, even between projects, according to a wage schedule that is comparable to similarly situated US workers

Should I look for a full-time job that is not consulting based?
That would be ideal if you are able to find a regular job. But most regular employees are not willing to deal with the burden of I-983 and the associated requirements. 

Can we do training and marketing remotely?
See the answer to the earlier question on working for consulting/staffing companies. 

Changing Employers during OPT

Can I change employers during OPT?
Yes, you are allowed to change employers. 

We are actively hiring 12-month OPTs. We will work with you to prepare a training plan tailored to your degree and courses, and bring you into compliance with all other STEM Extension requirements before you apply for your extension through us. Our training plan is prepared with you future H1B application in mind; so we make sure to keep everything consistent from your OPT to H1B to GC. Schedule a phone consultation immediately with one of our experienced recruiters; we have limited openings.

I have an RFE for my OPT extension, can I change employers now?
Yes, you are allowed to change employers. You will have to provide a new I-983 to your DSO and obtain a new I-20. Then respond to the RFE with a letter explaining that you changed employers, submit a new I-765 with your new employment information, along with the old I-765. You don't have to pay the fee again.

Payroll and Extension

Do I have to be paid during the 12-month OPT?
It is not required, you can be unpaid.

Do I have to be paid during OPT Extension? What happens if I am not paid?
Yes, you are required to be paid. With the new rules, your employer has to pay all employees consistently, according to a wage policy that pays commensurate with similarly situated US workers. Paying percentage will not work, because different employees in the same LCA region will end us with different wages, which will create a problem. Your employer is not required to document your pay in form I-983, and gaps in pay might create issues if there is an RFE for OPT extension, or down the road when you apply for H1B. 

How long can I be unemployed during OPT?
During the first 12-month OPT: 90 days max
During 17-month extension: Another 30 days, total 120 days
During 24-month extension: Another 30 days, total 150 days

H1B and Extension

How will OPT extension impact my future H1B application?
In the past, the USCIS did not have a detailed record of your OPT employment when you apply for H1B. But now, you are documenting your employer, wages, location etc. and submitting it to your DSO. This document can be requested by the USCIS as part of an RFE wither for OPT, or in the future when you apply for a H1B. So any statements that you make today should be consistent in the future too. And the same applied for your employer as well. So any missteps by your employer in other cases can come back to impact your case. So be very careful in choosing the right employer. 

My H1B has been approved. Should I apply for an extension?
If your H1B has been approved, and your current OPT ends before October 1st, you will qualify for cap-gap. Your DSO should be able to approve your cap-gap until Sept 30th, and you can move to H1B on October 1st. But if your current employer terminates your employment in the meantime, you will be out of status. You should only apply for an extension if you are not sure about your employment.

My H1B has been picked in the lottery. What should I do about the extension?
It is better to move to H1B than be on OPT. So if it has been picked, and you have time left on your OPT, go ahead and apply for premium processing now (it can be done by sending in the premium request and $1225 fee), and you will know the status of your approval in 15 days. You may be able to avoid OPT extension altogether. 

17-month to 24-month Extension

I got an RFE asking me to apply for 24-month OPT with I-983. What should I do?
Nothing to panic. Even if you applied in March or April, any application that was not processed by May 10th was automatically issued an RFE. As long as your employer meets the OPT STEM requirements as we discussed in the earlier questions, you should be able to get an approval.

What is the deadline to apply for the additional 7-month extension?
Two conditions (1) have to apply before Aug 8th 2016 (2) You should have at least 150 days left on your 17-month extension by the time you apply for the 7-month extension.

Does it always make sense to apply for the additional 7 months?
If the additional 7 months takes you past April 1st 2017, it will help you qualify for cap-gap on your next H1B application. Otherwise, it might sometimes make more sense for you to not apply for the extra 7 months, since it involves a lot more scrutiny now, and potentially later when you apply for a H1B.

OPT Denial

If my extension is denied will I have to go back to India?
Students who do not exceed 90/120 days of unemployment are granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the EAD (Employment Authorization Document). Within this 60-day grace period, you have the following options: 

  • Depart the U.S. Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies and OPT period, you are not eligible to reenter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
  • Reenroll in your school and request a new I-20 for a new degree program. 
  • Enroll in a new school and transfer your SEVIS record to a new school. CPT is an option you should seriously consider.
  • Apply to change status to another visa category.

Can I apply for H1B if my OPT is denied?
Yes you can, if your status is valid until the H1B start date, which will be October 1st. 

Does multiple change of employers result in denial of opt extension ?
No, it should not. If you have not properly reported your employment changes, or had more than the allowed amount of unemployment, it could potentially cause issues. 

We are actively hiring 12-month OPTs. We will work with you to prepare a training plan tailored to your degree and courses, and bring you into compliance with all other STEM Extension requirements before you apply for your extension through us. Our training plan is prepared with you future H1B application in mind; so we make sure to keep everything consistent from your OPT to H1B to GC. Schedule a phone consultation immediately with one of our experienced recruiters; we have limited openings.

Schedule a phone consultation to discuss your OPT and Training needs

Our experienced staff will call you at the time of the appointment.