STEM OPT Employment Types

In order to qualify for STEM OPT, the employment details for each job you plan to begin must be outlined on a Form I-983 Training Plan. Since the I-983 Training Plan requires a structured employment relationship, supervision, and evaluation, this means that employment conditions allowed under STEM OPT are significantly less flexible that employment permitted under post-completion OPT. If working for more than one employer, each position requires a completed I-983 and must meet each of the below criteria. For more information on the process to change or add employers during STEM OPT, please see Student Responsibilities on STEM OPT

A short comparison of employment conditions permitted under post-completion OPT and STEM OPT:

Employment Permitted under Post-Completion OPT

Employment Permitted under STEM OPT

Allows for unpaid and paid positions Must be a paid position
All jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more Each position must be for 20 hours per week or more
Employer does not have to be registered with E-Verify Each employer must be registered with E-Verify
Must be a position related to the major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20. Must be a position related to the STEM program major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20. You are responsible for drawing a connection between your position and the skills or knowledge learned in your STEM degree. If you applied for STEM OPT based on a previously earned degree, the employment on STEM OPT must be related to that degree’s major field of study.
Allows for employment with a temp agency, contract employment, short-term employment, and gigging You must be paid a salary, and be supervised, directly by your employer. You cannot be paid by a third party or staffing agency, or work at a location other than your employer’s place of business. For more information, please see “The Employer’s Training Obligation: Staffing and Temporary Agencies” on the USCIS Website.
External fellowship payments permitted in an academic environment In an academic environment, you cannot be paid through an external fellowship. For example, you cannot use STEM for a postdoctoral position where you are not paid directly by the host institution.
You must report any employment changes to the HIO using the Post-Completion OPT Reporting Form within 10 days of the change You must not begin work for any new employer without first submitting to the HIO a new, completed I-983 Training Plan for that employer
Allows maximum of 90 days of unemployment over the 12 months of OPT Allows a maximum of 150 days of unemployment over the combined periods of OPT and STEM OPT
Allows for self-employment Does not allow for self-employment
May volunteer or work in an unpaid position Cannot volunteer or work in an unpaid position


The HIO provides general guidance on your OPT/STEM OPT application based on information obtained from reliable sources and reflecting our years of experience in working with students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. Any advice provided to you by our office (as well as the information in this packet) does not constitute legal advice, however. The OPT/STEM OPT application is a personal application for which you are responsible; the application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts at issue in your particular case. The HIO does its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that USCIS may change its interpretation of these policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. The HIO is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.