STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions

Can I continue to work when my 12-month initial OPT is expiring but I have applied for my STEM OPT extension?

If your OPT is expiring soon and you have applied to STEM OPT, please note that current F-1 regulations state that STEM OPT only has to be timely filed with USCIS in order to continue working.

You are eligible to work for up to 180 days AFTER the end date on your initial OPT EAD as long as your STEM OPT application was received by USCIS before your OPT expiration date. If your STEM OPT is not approved within 180 days of your OPT expiration date, you must stop working.

You will need to update your I-9 with your employer once your OPT expires and you are on STEM OPT. If you have received your I-797 receipt, you should use this to update your I-9 with your employer.

If you have not received your I-797 that indicates your STEM OPT is pending: F-1 regulations do not require a USCIS receipt nor that the case be in pending status to continue working. USCIS states that the expired OPT EAD plus your updated I-20 with STEM OPT endorsement should be sufficient in order to update your employer’s I-9 work authorization paperwork.

The IPO recommends that you discuss this with your employer’s Human Resources office or other hiring authority if your initial 12-month OPT is expiring soon and you need to update your I-9 paperwork.

I am a graduate student who has not finished my thesis or dissertation yet. Am I eligible for STEM OPT?

Yes. As long as you have finished all coursework, are still working towards degree completion, and are currently on 12-month OPT, you are likely eligible for STEM OPT. Review the STEM OPT I-20 Request Process to review what academic credentials you need to submit in lieu of a final transcript.

Do I have to report every 6-months, even if there are no changes to any of my information?

Yes, regulations for STEM OPT require you to self-report to your sponsoring institution every 6-months, even if no information has changed. Review the STEM OPT Reporting Requirements for more information. Personal information should be verified and updated in SPIRE. 

I have moved but I have not received my EAD yet, where can I update my address?

The U.S. Postal Service WILL NOT forward mail from the USCIS!  It is extremely important that the address you put on the I-765 application form be valid for the next several months. You can consider using a friend or relative’s address if your name is on their mailbox. You can also consider using the IPO address: IPO, 70 Butterfield Terrace, Amherst, MA 01003 (please note that IPO is not responsible for postage errors that are not the fault of the IPO).

If you need to change your address while your application is pending you must do so directly with USCIS. You should also update your address in SPIRE.

What if I change employers while my STEM extension application is still pending?

Please submit the STEM OPT Extension Employer Reporting E-Form as soon as possible. You may continue to work if you submitted your application to USCIS before your 12-month OPT expired.

Please see the STEM OPT Reporting Requirements for more detailed information on what is required.

What if my current degree is not STEM eligible but my previous degree was, can I apply for a STEM extension?

A previous STEM degree obtained from a U.S. institution can be the basis for a STEM OPT extension if your current employment is in a STEM field. Example: Undergraduate STEM degree. Student then obtains a separate non-STEM Master’s degree. That student is initially only eligible for 12-months of OPT, but if working in a demonstrable STEM field, the student can subsequently apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on previous undergraduate STEM degree. Please contact your IPO advisor if you believe this option applies to you.

If I applied for a STEM extension based on a lower degree, am I eligible for another STEM extension at a higher degree?

You can be eligible for two STEM extensions in a lifetime, i.e. Bachelors and Masters, Masters and PhD, Bachelors and PhD. The degree that serves as the basis for a second lifetime STEM OPT extension, must be at a higher educational level than the degree that served as the basis for the student's first STEM OPT extension.

What if I lose my job, do I have unemployment time?

Yes, you can accrue no more than 150 days of unemployment TOTAL between your Post Completion OPT and your STEM extension. For example, while on 12-month OPT, you use 45 days of unemployment. For STEM OPT, you have only 105 days of unemployment allowed.

I was offered a new position but it is unpaid or under 20 hours a week. Is this ok?

No. All STEM OPT positions must be paid, at least 20 hours/week, related to your degree, and have an I-983. You may have multiple positions while on STEM OPT but each position must meet these requirements.

What is Cap Gap? Am I eligible? How do I get an updated I-20?

Cap gap is the period between the end of OPT/STEM OPT and the start of your H-1B on 10.1. This extension permits some students to work after your EAD expiration and until your H-1B starts. 

Not all students are eligible for and need cap gap if their H-1B is scheduled to begin on 10.1. Please review the Study in the States website for more information.

Should you believe you are eligible and want an updated I-20, please submit the OPT/STEM OPT I-20 reprint E-Form above so we can verify this and provide an updated I-20.

To ensure your change of status to H-1B is applied correctly to your F-1 record on 10.1, please submit our Change of Status E-Form (found under STEM OPT Reporting Requirements) in early October so the IPO can confirm everything is correct.

** If you are no longer a student at UMass after changing your status, your NENS access to UMass systems (access to UMass email, UMass VIP, etc.) will be deactivated 30 days after your new change of status begins. Please plan accordingly.



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