These materials are provided solely for informational purposes and are not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.
What is OPT?
F-1 visa holders are eligible for up to 12 months of post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) related to their field of study. They should apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before graduation to ensure that they meet timing requirements.
Do Periods of Unemployment Matter During the 12 Month Period of OPT?
F-1 visa holders on OPT work authorization must not have 90 or more days of unemployment during this period without triggering immigration ramifications of not maintaining proper F-1 status.
When may F-1 visa holders obtain work authorization beyond 12 months?
STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) degree holders are eligible for an additional 17-month extension of post-completion OPT when they work for an employer who participates in E-Verify.
- The student must have a U.S. degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- The student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree.
- The student’s employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- The student must apply before the current post-completion OPT expires.
May an Employer Enroll in E-Verify While an Employee is in the 12 month Period to Obtain Further Work Authorization?
Yes. The process takes just a couple of weeks. The foreign student can work with her Designated Student Official and obtain the necessary endorsed I-20 form for further work authorization.
What should employers and students know about requirements for the additional 17 month period of OPT STEM work authorization?
- Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week for an E-Verify-enrolled employer in a position directly related to the student’s STEM degree.
- STEM students may work multiple jobs related to their STEM degree, but all the employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Students on an OPT STEM extension are allowed to volunteer, incidental to their status.
What must a student do after being granted the 17-month STEM extension?
- The student must provide updated personal and professional work information to her Designated School Official within 10 days.
- Additionally, these students must send a validation report to their DSO every six months, even if no changes, starting from the date the OPT STEM extension starts and ending when the student’s F-1 status ends or the OPT STEM extension ends, whichever is first.
What do Employers Need to Know about STEM and E-Verify I-9 Employer Verification?
- Applicable regulations permit an F-1 student who has timely filed an application on Form I-765 for a 17-month STEM extension of his or her post-completion OPT, and whose OPT EAD card has expired, to continue working while that application is pending, for a period of up to 180 days.
- The expired EAD card and the USCIS receipt notice showing a timely filing of the STEM extension application, combined with an I-20 updated to show that the DSO recommended the STEM extension for a work authorization period beginning on the date after the expiration of the EAD, is the equivalent of an unexpired Employment Authorization Document under List A for completing Form I-9.
- This combination of documents satisfies the Form I-9 requirements for 180 days (or less if the application is denied beforehand). The 180 days begin to run on the expiration date of the previous EAD. If the 17-month STEM extension is approved, the student should receive a new EAD reflecting the 17-month STEM extension within the 180-day period.
- The employer must update an individual’s I-9 will need to be updated when the STEM extension is approved in order to document the continuity of the work authorization.
What Happens When an F-1’s EAD expires?
The F-1 holder is granted a 60 day grace period before having to leave the U.S. During this time, as long as she is the beneficiary of a timely filed application package requesting change of nonimmigrant status (such as to H-1B), she may remain in the U.S. while it is pending.
What is Cap-Gap Relief?
The government recognizes that many F-1 visa holders graduate in May, but that, due to the Fiscal Year H-1B quota, their H-1B start dates may not be until October 1 of the year following graduation. F-1 visa holders who are beneficiaries of a timely filed H-1B visa petition requesting an October 1 start date, but whose EADs expire after the H-1B case is filed, are allowed to continue to work during the period after the EAD expires through September 30.