STEM OPT: Frequently Asked Questions

When can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

You can submit your application for the STEM Extension of OPT to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) up to 90 days before your current Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires. You may submit your request for the STEM Recommendation I-20 to the HIO about 2 weeks prior to this date as it takes around 14 business days to process the STEM I-20. You must submit your application to USCIS  2-3 days before your EAD expires as it will take time for it to be entered into USCIS’ system. Please plan accordingly to allow sufficient time for processing by both the HIO and USCIS.

How do I submit the STEM OPT application?

It is a two-part process that is outlined on our website. If you send your documents to your HIO Advisor directly, you will be redirected to follow the application process as there is data that we need to collect through the form. 

Can the HIO review my I-983? I need help filling this out.

The HIO has developed a helpful guide to complete the Form I-983 and you can find instructions for Harvard employment as well as non- Harvard employment (outside employers).

We will review your I-983 after your request is submitted to the HIO. The HIO Advisor who will review your documentation is not a subject matter expert in your field of study so your I-983 and supplemental documentation is only being reviewed for completeness and to ensure maintenance of F-1 status. During our review, we can give you feedback on any missing or incorrect documents.  

I am graduating and am in a STEM eligible program so can I apply for 3 years of OPT?

No, it is not possible to apply for 3 years of OPT. You must first apply for the initial 12 months of regular post-completion OPT. Eligible F-1 students may then apply for the STEM OPT Extension up to 90 days before their current OPT EAD card expires. Please visit the Applying for STEM OPT section of our website for more information. 

How do I get my company enrolled in E-Verify?

Your employer can visit this website for helpful information. The HIO is not directly involved with this process so please work with E-Verify to ensure that your employer is applying correctly.  

I just submitted my HIO application for my STEM I-20. When will I get it?

We request a 14-business day processing time to allow for the substantial review required when recommending students for the STEM OPT extension. Once your STEM Recommendation I-20 is ready, you will receive an email containing your new I-20 and information about next steps. If it has not yet been 14 business days, we respectfully request your patience and ask that you do not follow up.

Can I travel while I am applying for the STEM extension?

You must be present in the US at the time you submit your application to USCIS. Once submitted to USCIS, you may travel using the documents mentioned on the HIO website under Travel on Post-completion OPT, STEM OPT or AT.

I have a lot of travel plans right now and am having trouble finding time that I will be in the US during the duration of my application. What should I do?

If necessary, you can be outside of the US while you submit your I-20 request to the HIO (part 1 of the application). Upon your return to the US, you should retrieve your I-94 document to confirm that it has the most recent entry and states “F-1” for class of admission and “D/S” as the admit until date. This is the I-94 record you will use as part of your application, and it is your responsibility to verify that the information is correct. 

You must be physically present in the US at the time you submit your application to USCIS (part 2 of the application); therefore, you will need to arrange your travel plans accordingly.  

I am working for a start-up; can I do that on the STEM extension?

For any work done on STEM OPT, there needs to be a “bona-fide” employer/employee relationship which is outlined on the Form I-983 Training Plan. The I-983 should document how your employer and supervisor will provide you with training. Your employer must have hiring and firing power over you. 

In some cases, it may be possible to have a board of directors provide you with training. In these cases, there needs to be a point person on the board for this process.  The point person needs to have both hiring and firing power over you, as well as provide you with training, as indicated on the I-983. It is recommended that you consult an immigration attorney to acquire the appropriate documentation explaining the board of directors and how it relates to reporting structure and Form I-983. Please provide a copy of this documentation to the HIO as part of your STEM OPT application as we will want to keep it on file for compliance purposes. 

Often students will report to a US citizen or legal permanent resident cofounder who will complete and sign the I-983 training plan. 

Your supervisor should not be another student on a visa.

If you are thinking about creating your own business, you should consider viewing an informational session held by immigration attorney Mary E. Walsh, a partner at Iandoli, Desai, and Cronin, PC. Please see the HIO website section titled Entrepreneurial Activities.

Why is the name of my program on my I-20 mismatched from my diploma and transcript? Will this cause an issue?

The major listed under Program of Study on page 1 of your Form I-20 is delineated by the Classification of Instructional Programs code (CIP code), administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Every program of study at a university is assigned a CIP code and is used for many different reasons.  CIP codes are needed for reporting and compliance for the university as a whole—not just for international students. CIP codes are determined by the individual Harvard school as well as a cross-university committee. These codes are based on the curriculum of the program and learning outcomes. At times, the name of the major listed for the CIP code is not an exact match to the name of the program at Harvard University.  

This likely will not cause an issue during your STEM OPT application. However, if USCIS has questions about the program of study on your I-20, you may be sent a Request for Evidence (RFE).  If you receive an RFE, please inform your HIO advisor so that we can help provide a response. 

Do I upload the I-983 to my US Citizenship and Immigration Services online application?

No, this is a compliance document. The HIO and your employer will keep copies of the I-983, and you should as well for your own records.  In very rare cases, the University is asked to provide a copy of the I-983 to a government entity.  Otherwise, the form is generally used as an internal compliance document and is not sent to USCIS.

How much do I need to get paid?

You must be paid as “similarly situated US employees. It is not possible to only work for equity while on the STEM OPT Extension. Your company should be familiar with Department of Labor laws and minimum wage requirements of the state in which you will work.  

You will need to work at least 20 hours per week for your employer and payment should be reflected accordingly. 

Can I leave my job when I am applying for the STEM extension?

You can change jobs while you are applying for the STEM OPT extension, but you should plan to have another STEM eligible employer lined up if your application has not yet been adjudicated by USCIS. When USCIS processes your application, you will need a valid employer that meets the STEM OPT requirements. Your start date can be in the future and there can be a gap between employers, provided you have not exceeded your unemployment time.  

To change employers after your application has been submitted to USCIS but while it is still pending, you will need to submit the F-1 STEM OPT Reporting Form. You cannot start with your new employer until the HIO has issued you an updated I-20 and the start date on the I-20 has arrived. Your HIO advisor will ask you to sign your I-20 and email a copy to them. For pending STEM OPT applications, the HIO must also send a copy of your updated I-20 showing the new employer to USCIS so it can be added to your file. You should also upload a copy to your pending application in your online USCIS portal. 

How can my application be approved on time if it takes 3-5 months to receive approval? Can you make the application go faster? I want to be able to travel and continue working.

If you submit your STEM OPT application to USCIS in a timely manner (i.e., before your current OPT EAD expires), your OPT is automatically extended for 180 days beyond your current end date. You must present the I-797 receipt notice from your STEM OPT application to your employer to continue working beyond your EAD end date. 

There is a Premium Processing service available to expedite an application with USCIS, but there is a substantial fee associated with this service. You can request premium processing by including Form I-907 in your online USCIS application. Please note that there is not necessarily a need for this service—once you are issued a receipt number after timely filing your application, you can continue to work for 180 days. You can also travel with your expired EAD card and the I-797 receipt notice as explained on HIO’s website in the travel section.

Who should be my supervisor on my I-983?

The HIO can only provide general guidelines regarding reporting structure. There must be a bona fide employer/employee relationship in which the student/employee is provided with training in the student’s major area of study.  

The supervisor should not be another student on a visa. 

This can be a challenging issue for students who are creating their own start-ups. There must be a reporting structure that supports a training environment as detailed on the Form I-983 Training Plan. There must be a supervisor with hiring and firing power over the student who is requesting the STEM OPT extension. If a student has a co-founder who is a US citizen or legal permanent resident, it is recommended that the student report to this individual. If this is not possible, the student should report to a point person on the Board of Directors. 

If you are thinking about creating your own business, you should consider viewing an informational session held by immigration attorney Mary E. Walsh, a partner at Iandoli, Desai, and Cronin, PC. Please see the HIO website section titled Entrepreneurial Activities.

Can my supervisor on my I-983 be one of our partners who is not based in the US?

No, all employment on the STEM OPT Extension and all information on Form I-983 must be US based employment and for a US entity.  

My program is the MBA program at Harvard Business School. It was recommended that I include information from my college’s Registrar. Where do I upload this documentation?

In your online USCIS portal, you may either combine these letters into the same PDF as your diploma or wait until after you submit the I-765 and upload the letters to “unsolicited evidence.” You may obtain the two letters required as part of your application by emailing the HBS Registrar. You will receive a letter from the Dean as well as a personalized letter explaining which of your courses are STEM based. 

I submitted my application to USCIS. What happens next?

You will receive 3 pieces of mail:

  • I-797 Notice of Receipt
  • I-797 Notice of Approval
  • Employment Authorization Document

Before receiving the I-797 receipt in the mail, you should be able to immediately view a PDF version in your online USCIS portal account. 

You may receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) in the mail. If you receive one of these, please contact your HIO Advisor.

Can I continue to work while my STEM OPT application is pending?

Pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12 (b)(6)(iv), a person granted OPT may continue to work for up to 180 days following the expiration of the original OPT, as long as the STEM extension is properly filed and is pending with USCIS. This regulation only applies if the STEM extension was filed and received by USCIS (as documented on the I-797 Receipt Notice) prior to the expiration of the original OPT authorization.

What proof should I give to my employer to continue working while my STEM OPT is pending?

While your timely filed STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS, you can provide your employer with a copy of your I-797 receipt notice to continue working after your current EAD expires. You will receive a PDF version of the receipt notice in your online USCIS portal before receiving the official I-797 notice via U.S. Postal Service mail. Your employer can access information about the documentation required for completing the I-9 process with F-1 students.  

How much unemployment time do I have? 

You have a total of150 days of unemployment time during the entire 36-month OPT period – 90 days for your initial period of post-completion OPT and an additional 60 days for your STEM OPT Extension. Please note that international travel while on OPT required by your employer, and regular vacation days allowed by your employer, will not count as part of the 150 days of unemployment.

What should I do after I receive my EAD?

As soon as you receive your new EAD card, check it for accuracy. Review all the information (biographical information, start date, end date) displayed on the card. Contact your HIO advisor immediately if there are any discrepancies, especially if the time period you requested is different from the time period on the card. 

You will need to provide a copy of your new EAD to your employer’s Human Resource department or other I-9 representative.

Can I travel outside the US while my STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS?

You can travel abroad and re-enter the US using your expired Post-Completion OPT EAD card and the original I-797 Receipt Notice for your timely filed STEM OPT application. This only applies during the 180-day period of authorized employment while your STEM OPT application is pending. Please refer to the HIO website’s travel page for a full list of documents required during the various stages of OPT and STEM OPT.  

Can I travel outside the US once my STEM OPT application has been approved?

International travel once the STEM OPT extension is approved is permitted provided you have ALL required documents listed below

Please note that the EAD contains the statement “not valid for reentry;” this means that you cannot use the EAD by itself to return to the US.  You must have the following documents in addition to your new STEM OPT EAD card:  

  • Your unexpired passport—your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your date of re-entry to the US;  

  • Your most recently issued Form I-20, signed on page 2 by an HIO advisor. The signature must be less than six months old at the time of re-entry to the US. You may submit the HIO’s Travel Signature Request Form if you need a new signature;  

  • Your unexpired F-1 visa stamp inside the passport (Canadians do not have/need a visa). If your F-1 visa stamp has expired or will be expired at the time of your re-entry to the US, you will need to renew your visa before returning;  

  • Your job offer letter or a letter of resumption of employment that confirms employment for the period of your approved OPT; 

My STEM OPT application has been pending for 3-4 months. What should I do?

STEM OPT approvals can take 4-5 months, so at this point there is no need to be concerned. 

Your OPT employment and all other F-1 benefits are extended for 180 days while the STEM OPT application is pending. You should download a copy of your STEM OPT application receipt through your online USCIS portal account. You should also receive a hard copy of the I-797 Notice of Receipt in the mail. While your timely filed STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS, you can provide your employer with a copy of your I-797 receipt notice to continue working after your current EAD expires.  If your STEM OPT application isn’t approved after 5 months, you may check in with your HIO Advisor. In the meantime, continue to check on the status of your case via the USCIS tracking tools.

Can I renew my visa?

You can apply for a new F-1 entry visa with the following documentation: 

  • Expired Post-Completion OPT EAD card and the original I-797 Notice of Receipt issued by USCIS in response to your STEM OPT application (only if your application is pending); 

  • New STEM OPT EAD (only if your STEM OPT has been approved); 

  • Proof of employment

  • I-20 with travel signature no more than 6 months old

Follow the regular procedures to apply for an F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad.  It is very common for students to apply for a renewed F-1 visa while on OPT/STEM OPT, so if you have all the required documents, the embassy/consulate should not be confused by your application. 

Can I work remotely?

You can work remotely if that is indicated on your Form I-983 Training Plan. If working remotely, you should enter the “Employer Site Information” in section 5 as the physical location where you are working. For example, enter your home address if working from home, or enter the address of a coworking space if using a shared office space. You must continue to show that your training and supervision as outlined in the Form I-983 can be accomplished remotely, and that there is a bona fide employer/employee relationship with your company.

Can I work remotely from abroad?

 An essential requirement in maintaining your F-1 status while on STEM OPT is that any employment you engage in must be for a US-based employer. The employer must be enrolled in E-Verify and your employment must meet all STEM OPT requirements (specifics are on the HIO website). Additionally, the “spirit” of OPT is for F-1 students to gain practical training experience in the US.   You are always required to report a physical U.S. address for yourself and your employment to the HIO during the OPT and STEM OPT periods; SEVIS functionality does not permit the HIO to enter international addresses for your physical location or your place of employment in your SEVIS record.  

Current SEVP guidance indicates that “Students participating in OPT or STEM OPT may work remotely as long as they continue to comply with the regulatory requirements regarding practical training...” You must closely consult with your direct supervisor, HR, and your employer’s immigration attorney about any plans to work remotely from abroad to ensure that: 

  • You are in compliance with any employer policies that may be in place.

  • I-983 on file with your HR and HIO must reflect your STEM employment and training, including site(s) of employment activity. 

  • You can access necessary data and applications.

  • You will continue to be on US based payroll and maintain your benefits (health insurance, short/long term disability, retirement contributions, etc.) while you are abroad. 

  • There is a plan in place should any kind of USCIS site visit pertaining to your employment occur. 

  • You understand what you will need to do to remain compliant should the employer plan to sponsor you for a future US employment-based visa, such as H-1B, TN, E-3, O-1, L-1, etc.

We also recommend that you confirm all plans for remote work abroad with your direct supervisor, HR, and employer’s immigration attorney in writing and obtain their written approvals before you finalize any plans to depart the U.S. 

International travel is permitted while on STEM OPT. The regulations are silent about exactly how long you can be outside of the US while on STEM OPT, so the HIO recommends that you exercise good judgement if you will be abroad for extended periods of time and proceed as described above.   You must always maintain a complete and accurate Form I-983 on file with the HIO. Also, you are required to report any changes within 10 days.  

What type of visa am I on now that I have changed to the STEM extension?

You continue to be on the F-1 student visa sponsored by Harvard for your period of post-completion OPT as well as your period of STEM OPT. If you need to renew the visa stamp inside your passport at a US embassy or consulate abroad, you will need to complete a new F-1 visa application. For additional information on that process, please visit the HIO website

Can my employer apply for H-1B for me while I am on STEM OPT?

Yes, your employer can submit your name for registration in the H-1B lottery while you are on STEM OPT. If you are selected in the lottery, you should be in touch with your attorney and/or employer about the timing of transitioning to an H-1B visa.  

Once your timing of transitioning to the H-1B visa is decided, you will need to update the HIO so that we can make the appropriate adjustments to your F-1 immigration record. To end your F-1 status while on STEM OPT, you will need to complete the final evaluation at the bottom of page 5 on the Form I-983 with your employer and submit evidence of your status change via the HIO reporting page. Evidence of your status change may include the I-797 Approval Notices and/or I-94. 

I am working full-time at my employer. Can I also help my friend who created a start-up?

Any and all employment done while on STEM OPT must meet the criteria outlined on our website. Even if you have a full-time employer that meets the STEM criteria, any additional/concurrent employment will also need to meet these criteria too. You are not permitted to be self-employed or work on your own start-up while on STEM OPT. 

Can I travel outside the US with a pending H-1B application?

You will need to contact your employer, firm, or attorney to understand your travel limitations.

I was just approved for an H-1B, and I want to maximize my work authorization time by staying on STEM OPT before I switch. What should I do?

You should be in touch with your employer, firm, or attorney regarding any of the nuances of your H-1B application since the HIO is not sponsoring your H-1B visa.  

For you to remain on STEM OPT, your employer will file your H-1B petition via consular notify. Upon receipt of your I-797B approval notice, please send a copy to your HIO Advisor. Your HIO Advisor will need to make sure your F-1 status remains active in SEVIS, so it is important to keep in touch. 

Once you are ready to switch to H-1B, you will need to complete the final reporting requirement for STEM OPT. This is the final evaluation at the bottom of page 5 of the I-983 that you will need to complete with your supervisor. You’ll also need to scan a copy of your H-1B approval notice and I-94 showing H-1B status. You’ll use these documents to complete the HIO STEM OPT reporting form. You’ll pick “I am ending my STEM OPT early.” 

Each time I travel on OPT or the STEM extension, I am sent to secondary inspection. Can you fix this?

This has been a common issue with Customs & Border Protection (CBP) for many years and it is not necessarily problematic. It is our understanding that CBP officers at primary inspection have very little time to spend with each visitor who is entering, so if they have any questions for you, they will just send you over to secondary inspection. Most frequently, this happens to students on OPT or STEM OPT because cross-departmental government databases do not update or interact dynamically.  

You can confirm your SEVIS status but logging into your SEVP portal and bringing a printed screenshot from the student side of your portal showing that you have an active record. You can also submit a request to have your portal reset if you are unable to login.

Please be sure to use our F-1 STEM OPT Reporting Form when you need to make any updates/changes or report your participation every 6 months. 

It is also possible to file an inquiry through DHS Trip. You can learn more here: You will receive a redress number that you can then add into your future airline reservations.  

How do I change employers?

You can change employers while on STEM OPT by reporting the change of employer to the HIO so that we can update your SEVIS record with the new employer information. All employers must meet the STEM OPT criteria even if you have already been approved by USCIS. Please select the option on our reporting page that applies to where you are in the application process.  

  • You will need to complete your final evaluation of Form I-983 (page 5) with your current/previous employer.  

  • You will need to provide a new Form I-983 completed and signed with your new employer. 

Once I have been approved for the STEM extension, can I switch to an employer that does not meet all the requirements?

No, even after your STEM OPT application has been approved by USCIS, each and every employer you plan to work for must meet the requirements of the STEM OPT extension. For example, if you switch employers, the new employer must also be enrolled in E-Verify, have an EIN, and you must work at least 20 hours per week, etc. This does not change once USCIS has reviewed and approved your STEM OPT application.

How early can I report my 6-,12-,18-, and 24-month validations?

The HIO can report your STEM OPT participation in SEVIS only up to 30 days before the report is due. Therefore, we ask that you do not submit the application more than 40 days in advance of your reporting deadline. Additionally, the HIO requires 14 business days to process all STEM OPT reporting so please plan accordingly.

I’ve submitted my report to the HIO. I haven’t heard anything, and I want to be sure that I have reported on time. Should I be worried?

No, an HIO staff member will contact you if anything doesn’t look quite right. Upon submission of your report via the reporting forms, you will receive an email confirmation as an automatic reply.  You may rest assured that you have fulfilled your reporting requirement as of the date the HIO receives your reporting submission.