STEM OPT: Maintaining Your Status

While on the 24-Month STEM OPT extension, the rules for maintaining your status are different from during your program of study and slightly different than during Post-Completion OPT. During your program of study, your status is based on your program start and end dates. On OPT and the STEM extension, your status is now based on your OPT start and end dates (as found on your EAD). It is important to follow the rules of OPT so you can continue to maintain your F-1 visa status. We would recommend you carefully review information on the DHS Study In the States website for in depth information about the STEM OPT Extension as well as the information provided below.

As a reminder:If you have timely filed your STEM OPT application and have received an I-797 receipt notice from USCIS, you may remain in the United States and continue working while waiting on a decision from USCIS until the application is approved, denied, or 180 days passes.

To maintain your status on STEM OPT, you must:

  • Work 20 or more hours per week per employer
  • Work in your major field of study
  • Maintain a up-to-date I-983 training plan with your employer
  • Update our office of any changes to your employment, address, or contact information within 10 days
  • Submit validation reports through Atlas every 6 months
  • Not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment

Work 20 or More Hours Per Week, In Your Field of Study

Work on OPT should be directly related to your major field of study-- this means you should be able to connect your employment to the core classes for the degree you completed at IUPUI. There are many types of allowable employment while on STEM OPT, however remember that unpaid positions and self-employment are not acceptable forms of employment for the STEM extension.

  • Paid Employment

    You may work for pay while on the STEM OPT extension. Note: Working at least 20 hours per week on OPT is considered full-time employment by DHS.

  • Multiple Employers

    While multiple employers is allowed on the STEM OPT extension, it can be more difficult. You must have a valid form I-983 on file for all STEM employers and you must work at least 20 hours per week at each STEM employer.

  • Employment Through an Agency or Work for Hire

    SEVP’s Study in the States website states that “the employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience” and that you must have a “bona fide” employer-employee relationship with the company providing the training. If the company that employs you is not the company providing training and oversight to you, the opportunity may not be a good fit for the STEM extension.

    As a result, OIA recommends speaking with your employer to discuss being hired directly rather than working through a staffing or consulting agency. Applying for a STEM OPT extension while employed by a staffing or consulting agency could carry some risk, OIA cannot guarantee that USCIS will find your employee/employer relationship to be a bona fide relationship, thus approving your application.

Maintain a Valid, Up-to-Date I-983 Training Plan With Your Employer

During the STEM extension, students must maintain an up-to-date training plan that has been signed by both the student and the employer. You will also complete a self-evaluation on page 5 of your I-983 at set points throughout your STEM extension. You should submit an updated I-983 through Atlas any time...

  • You change employers. You will submit a final self-evaluation on your previous employer's I-983 and a new I-983 for your new employer.
  • At the 12 and 24 month mark. You will submit self-evaluations (pg 5) on your progress at the 12 and 24 month marks during the STEM extension.
  • Any time there are material changes to the training plan. If information about your employer, your position, or the agreed upon training plan change, you should submit an updated copy to OIA within 10 days of the change. You must obtain updated signatures on the I-983 when updating for material changes.

Update OIA With Changes to Your Employment, Personal Information, and STEM Reporting

Even while on OPT and the STEM extension, you must update OIA with any changes to your local address, email, and telephone number. Your IU email account may be deactivated if you are not actively enrolling in classes, it is highly recommended that you report a personal email address so that important communications from OIA reach you while on OPT. You can update your local address and contact information through the Personal Information app in One.IU. You must report any changes to your address within 10 days of the change.

You will still use the  "OPT Employer Information" e-form under F-1 Practical Training to report changes in your employment . You must report any changes to your employment within 10 days of the change.

The following can help you decide how to properly complete the OPT Employer Information e-form in Atlas.

  • I am adding a new employer

    Select this option if you are reporting a new employment. You should also use this option if you are changing employers (ending one employment and beginning another).

    If you have a pending STEM extension application and you have changed employers, you should carefully follow the instructions in the e-form and approval email to ensure our office can update your application with USCIS.

  • I am updating information from a previously reported employment

    If you need to update any information about your previously reported employment you should select this option. Use this option to report changes in work address, changes in hours above or below full time (20 hours per week), changes in supervisor, your employer has changed their name, ect. You only need to report the employer name and what information needs to be updated. You should NOT select this option if you are changing employers completely.

    Note: if you work for multiple employers and are ending employment with only one, select this option and provide the end date of your current employment.

  • I'm completing a STEM OPT validation check-in

    Students on the STEM extension must "check in," or submit validation reports, every 6, 12, 18, and 24 months during the STEM extension. This validation report is completed by selecting this option in Atlas and confirming the information requested in the e-form. Remember, at the 12- and 24-month marks you will also submit a self-evaluation on your I-983.

  • I have ended my employment and I am currently unemployed

    Select this option if you you need to report you have ended all employment and are currently unemployed. Remember, all changes to employment, including ending your employment, should be reported within 10 days of the change.

  • How do I explain how my employment is connected to my field of study?

    In the e-form, you will need to explain how the work you do for your STEM OPT employment is directly related to your major field of study. We recommend being able to make connections with the core classes you took in your degree program.

    SEVP released guidance on September 27, 2019 requiring schools to collect and report information regarding the connection between a student's OPT work and their degree program. In that guidance SEVP provided these examples of the paragraph explaining how a student's work is connected to what they studied: 

    1. Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering: "I work full time as an Electrical Engineer at ABC Corp., a government contractor. In my job, I analyze client requirements for electrical systems and provide them with cost estimates of such systems. My work requires understanding of electrical circuit theory, which I studied in-depth at the University of ABC."

    2. Bachelor's degree in Business: "I work full time as a Loan Officer at a mortgage company, Happy Homes, where I meet with clients and evaluate, authorize and recommend approval of loan applications. On a daily basis, I use the knowledge I gained in my credit analysis, sales and marketing classes that I took as part of my major program of study."

    3. Master's degree in Music: "I am working at a hospital playing the harp in patient rooms. I also conduct hands-on harp beginner workshops for long-term patients. On average, I work at the hospital 35 hours a week. My duties directly utilize the skills and knowledge I acquired from my coursework and degree in music therapy."

    4. Master's degree in Kinesiology: "I am working 25 hours a week in a health food store as a consultant for Self-Made Inc., designing and teaching exercise classes that are incorporated into a customer's overall nutrition and exercise plan. My designs and customer instruction draw upon my studies and classwork in exercise therapy and physical reconditioning."

    5. PhD in Computer Science: "I am employed as a Computer and Information Research Scientist at ABC Research Institute. I work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that designs experiments to test the operation of various software systems. My work builds on research in complex algorithms and machine learning, which I studied as part of my dissertation."

    What you need to include in your explanation:

    SEVP stated that they want a paragraph explaining the connection between your studies and your OPT work to include the following information:

    • Your job title
    • Your employer name (the company where you work)
    • Your academic program/major
    • The average number of hours you work per week, or statement that you are full time
    • An explanation of how your job directly relates to what you studied - your regular duties at work should be mentioned and connected to what you learned during your academic program 

    Please note--there is a 1000 character limit for these paragraphs, so you need to keep your answer concise.

Accrue No More Than 150 Days of Unemployment Across All OPT Time

Students on the STEM OPT extension can be unemployed for up to 150 days of their entire OPT period. This includes any unemployment you accrued during your first year of OPT. Students will still accrue unemployment days even if they exit the United States. 

If you near your 150th day of unemployment while on OPT, it is best to make plans to depart the United States, apply for a change of status, or make preparations to begin a new degree program. Take action early enough so that by the end of the 150th day of unemployment, you have another option already in progress. If you are unemployed for more than 150 days, you are considered to be out of status.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I travel during my STEM OPT?

    Yes, but it can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind. Please feel free to discuss your plans with an international student advisor at OIA before you travel.

    If you are traveling while on STEM OPT, you are advised to carry the following:

    • Your I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
    • A valid F-1 visa stamp
    • A passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the United States
    • A valid OPT (EAD) card
    • A job offer or confirmation letter. If you are traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.

    Individuals with a Cap-Gap Extension

    The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) strongly recommends that you not travel during your cap-gap extension. USCIS may consider your application to change from F-1 to H-1B as abandoned and deny the change.

  • What is the SEVP Student Portal?

    The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Student Portal is a "student view" of information in your SEVIS record. Be advised that while you can use the Student Portal, its functionality is very limited. You must still use Atlas for your employment and other reporting obligations while on OPT. OIA updates your SEVIS record with any changes as required by law. Information you provide in the SEVIS Student Portal could potentially be incorrect based on your situation and cause you problems in the future. If you have questions or need assistance accessing the SEVIS Student Portal, please email 

  • Will my International Student Insurance continue while I’m on STEM OPT?

    If you already have IU International Student Insurance through IUPUI, it will expire at the end of the period of insurance coverage. The last day of coverage for Spring/Summer insurance is July 31, and the last day of fall insurance coverage is December 31.  Typically, students who will not register for classes will use the insurance offered through their employer. If your OPT employer does not provide you with insurance coverage and you would like information about other options, contact

    If you register for classes at IUPUI any time during your OPT period, you will be billed automatically for IU International insurance. If you would like to request exemption from mandatory student insurance enrollment, you must complete a Health Insurance Exemption Request in Atlas.

  • Can I take classes or start a new degree program while on STEM OPT?

    If you begin study at another education level, your STEM OPT authorization is terminated with the notification of a new degree program in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) or with a transfer of your SEVIS record to another institution. You are supposed to work full time while on STEM OPT.

    If you are pursuing full-time work in your major field of study and wish to take a class or two, there should not be a problem with this, provided that you do not begin a new education level.

    If you plan to begin a new academic program on a full time basis at IUPUI, you will need to fill out the e-form called “New Program I-20 Request” in Atlas.

    If you wish to transfer to another college or university in the United States, you must also fill out the "Transfer Out Request" e-form request in Atlas.

    These e-form requests must be submitted before you begin a new program, and the OIA approval for these requests must be granted no later than the end of the 60-day grace period following completion of OPT. OPT will automatically terminate on the day your SEVIS record is transferred to a new institution or the day your new program (at IUPUI) begins or your actual OPT end date, whichever is first.

  • Can I volunteer as a form of employment on the STEM OPT Extension?

    Unpaid employment or volunteer work is not able to meet your employment requirement while on STEM. You may volunteer for things truly volunteer (like a a place of worship or hospital), however, you should NOT record this volunteer work in your employment history. Volunteer work should not be reported in the SEVIS Student Portal or to OIA as it is not considered employment under the STEM guidelines.

  • What if my employer sponsors me for an H-1B?

    If you are an F-1 student whose employer has sponsored you for an H-1B work visa and your work authorization will begin October 1st, you may qualify for the Cap-Gap extension.

    Learn more about the Cap-Gap extension »