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OPT / STEM OPT Application - A Comprehensive Guide for 2024

It's OPT season — have you applied for yours yet? If you haven’t, there's no need to worry because we've got you covered! This guide will break down the steps necessary to apply for OPT / STEM OPT, a list of documents you need for the application, and insights about the process. So, whether you're applying for your OPT for the first time or considering a STEM OPT extension, let's walk through the important aspects of this valuable opportunity. 

The OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a temporary employment authorization granted to international students. The STEM OPT is an additional 24-month extension of the OPT for those who earned a degree in one of the STEM fields.

This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to apply for OPT / STEM OPT, a list of documents you need for the application, and insights about the process.

OPT - Application Essentials

  • Valid passport ID page and F-1 Visa

  • G-1145 and I-765 form

  • I-94 entry record

  • The latest I-20, and all previous versions

  • Passport-sized photos taken within the last 30 days

  • Application fee of $410 (Premium Processing is optional, at an additional fee of $1,685)

  • Photocopies of any previous CPT/OPT/EAD applications

OPT - Application Steps

  • Request a new I-20 from your institution.

    • *Some schools may require a separate OPT application form.*

  • After receiving your new I-20, forward all materials/documents to the USCIS.

  • Await the I-765 receipt from USCIS, confirming your submission.

  • Monitor your application's progress online using the number on your I-765.

  • Patiently wait for your EAD card and promptly address any RFEs (Request for Evidence) if issued.

First-Year OPT - Work Guidelines

  • Engage in at least 20 hours of work per week, which can include unpaid internships or volunteer positions.

  • During the initial 12 months of OPT, you cannot exceed a total of 90 days of unemployment to qualify for a 24-month STEM Extension.

  • After your OPT application period ends, you have a 60-day grace period to either leave the U.S., transfer to another institution, or switch visa categories.

Navigating Changes During the Application Process

  • Changing employers is allowed if they meet OPT criteria. Inform your international student office promptly of any changes.

  • Remote work is possible if it aligns with your field of study and OPT rules. Report your remote work arrangement details to your international student office.

  • Returning home is an option, but ensure all paperwork is in order and be aware of potential visa re-entry requirements.

STEM OPT - Application Insights

  • Apply for your STEM OPT extension within three months before your initial OPT expires.

  • Following your extension application, your work authorization is extended for 180 days given that there are no employment gaps.

  • Ensure your STEM OPT extension role is directly related to your major and verified through Form I-983, in collaboration with your employer and educational institution.

STEM OPT - Application Insights

  • Verify that your employer is E-Verify compliant.

  • Ensure that your training program meets all specified criteria.

  • Complete Form I-983 to outline your training plan thoroughly.


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