Maintaining Student Status / STEM OPT Extension

STEM OPT Extension

As an F-1 student on STEM OPT Extension, it is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your immigration status during your stay in the United States. Any violation of the immigration regulations could jeopardize your status and legal stay in the country.

Below are key considerations about maintaining status while on the STEM OPT Extension with links to more information. If you have any questions, contact an international student advisor.

Keep your Immigration Documents Safe and Valid

Passport: Your foreign passport must be valid at the time you enter the US and throughout your studies at CSUF. Failure to do so is a violation of your immigration status. If your passport will expire, contact your country’s consulate or embassy for the renewal procedure.

U.S. Visa: Your U.S. visa must be valid upon entry into the U.S. It can, however, expire while you are in the U.S. as long as you are maintaining your legal status. If your visa is lost or stolen, follow the steps in the State Department Guide immediately so that the U.S. Consulate or Embassy that issued your visa is aware of the issue and can assist you in the future.

I-20: Your I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation on page 3 must be valid at all times. If you lose your I-20, fill out the I-20 Reprint Request form and ISS will reissue your I-20.

EAD Card: Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card is an important document that shows you are allowed to work in the United States and the specific dates from which you are authorized to work. If you lose your EAD card and need a replacement, contact the ISS Office for assistance.

I-94: The Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record" is a critical record that shows that you have been legally admitted to the United States, the class of admission, and the authorized period of stay. It is very important that the information on the record is correct. You can obtain your I-94 by going to the I-94 website. If you cannot find the record, contact ISS for further assistance.

Keep Your Local Address and Contact Information Up To Date

You must maintain a valid local address, phone number and email address with the ISS office at all times. If you change any of the above, you must report this to ISS within 10 calendar days by using the Personal Information Update form. Once the ISS office approves your form, you will receive a confirmation email and full summary of your submission.

Maintain Valid Degree Related Employment

You must work in a paid position related to STEM major or field of study for at least 20 hours per week with an E-Verify employer. No volunteer, unpaid position, no self-employment is allowed during the STEM OPT Extension. Also, work is only permitted on the dates that the EAD is issued. You cannot work before the EAD start date and cannot work after the EAD end date.

Do Not Exceed 150 Days of Employment

Students on post-completion OPT are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment. Students who receive a STEM OPT extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT period. Exceeding this maximum is considered a violation of your F-1 status and can result in a termination of your I-20 or denial of future benefits, such as the H-1B visa.

Report Any Changes in STEM OPT Employment

Changes in STEM OPT employment must be reported to the ISS Office within 10 days. If you fail to report within 10 days, you may be subject to a negative termination.

These changes include:

  • Any changes to your current employer information
  • Any changes to your existing form I-983 training plan
  • End of employment
  • Start of new employment
  • Change of STEM employer

Email iss@fullerton.edu if you need to report any of these changes.

Submit a Validation Report to ISS at 6 Months and 18 Months

You must submit a Validation Report to ISS at the 6 Months and 18 Months milestones of your STEM OPT. This serves as an update on your employment and is required by USCIS for all STEM OPT students. If you fail to report a validation within 10 days of each milestone, you may be subject to a negative termination.

Email iss@fullerton.edu to submit a validation report.

Submit an Annual Self-Evaluation Report at 12 Months and 24 Months

You must submit an Annual Self-Evaluation Report to ISS at the 12 Months and 24 Months milestones of your STEM OPT.

To submit your annual self-evaluation, email iss@fullerton.edu a completed “Evaluation of Student Progress” from page 5 of the Form I-983 Training Plan. The evaluation must be signed by your company signatory who is designated to conduct your evaluations. If you fail to report an annual self-evaluation within 10 days of the milestone, you may be subject to a negative termination.

Limit Any Study to Part Time

If you are on approved STEM OPT, your F-1 status depends on maintaining your employment. If you wish to study, do so only on a part-time basis. If you want to start a full time program at CSUF or another school, you must alert the ISS office that you need to transfer or change your level of education. Doing so will end your work benefit, but will allow you to study full time. There are no options for F-1s that will allow full time study and use of the STEM OPT benefit at the same time; you will need to choose one or the other.

Get Approval before Traveling Outside of the U.S.

If you are planning on traveling outside the U.S., you must have a valid travel signature on the I-20 in order to re-enter the U.S. Fill out the Travel Signature Request at least two weeks before you leave the U.S. to allow the ISS office adequate time to process your request. If you travel outside the U.S. and try to re-enter on an expired travel signature, CBP may deny you entry at the border and you may be forced to return to your home country.

Act Before your Grace Period Expires

You must leave the U.S. or transfer to another SEVP-approved school no later than 60 days after your STEM OPT ends. You can verify your STEM OPT end date by looking at your EAD card. If you exit the U.S. during your grace period, you cannot return in F-1 status because your CSUF I-20 and EAD card will not be valid for re-entry.

To transfer before the deadline, submit a Transfer-Out to Another School form. Processing time may take up to two weeks, so submit the transfer paperwork to the ISS office at least two weeks before your grace period expires.

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