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Frequently Asked Questions about the US OPT STEM Extension

Jennifer ArandaOriginally posted on February 14, 2017; updated February 14, 2017

Frequently Asked Questions about the US OPT STEM Extension

Can I work for a start-up company on the STEM OPT Extension?

Yes you may provided the company you will be working with can meet the following conditions:

  • Meet all regulatory requirements and there will be a bona fide employer - employee relationship; 
  • Will remain in good standing with E-Verify;
  • Have the resources to comply with the proposed training pland ans will adhere to it during your Post-completion OPT period;
  • Provide you with compensation commensurate to that provided to U.S. workers who are similarly situated. 

Can I be self-employed to participate in the OPT STEM Extension?

Under the new STEM rule implemented on May 10, 2016, the employer that signs your Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan must be the same entity that will employ you and provide the practical training experience.  You will not be allowed to engage in activities that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship, including but not limited to:

  • sole proprietorships;
  • employment through "temp" agencies;
  • employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire i.e. consulting firms.

Can I engage in volunteer work?

No.  DHS intends to protect both you as an international student and domestic students to ensure that the qualifiying STEM positions are substantative opportunities.   All employment must be paid and commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.  According to DHS, this rule protects both international and domestic students and ensures that the qualifying STEM positions are substantive opportunities.

Can I have multiple employers?

Yes but each employer must:

  • Employ you for at least 20 hours a week;
  • Register with E-Verify;
  • Comply with all the reporting requirements in Form I-983.

Can I change employers while my OPT STEM Extension application is still pending with USCIS?

It is not recommended as it complicates and may delay the adjudication process. 

Can I travel outside the United States if I have already applied for the STEM Extension but have not received my EAD?

The USCIS advises against tourism travel while you are waiting for the approval of the STEM extension.

Does my school have to sign my I-20 during the STEM OPT Extension period?

Yes. During the initial OPT and STEM periods, you must have the travel line signed every six months. If you intend ot take your OPT and extension work outside the state, make sure you report that and make timely arrangements to mail your original I-20 for endorsement.

If you aren't eligible to apply for the STEM OPT Extension, there may still be other options to work while studying in the United States as an international student.

Authors & Contributors

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.

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