Employment

Employment for F-1 and J-1 students is limited, and working without permission is a violation of status and a deportable offense. F-1 and J-1 students may not work off campus without written permission from International Student and Scholar Advising (ISSA). On-campus employment is permitted with certain restrictions. J-1 students must request permission for on-campus employment via iStart. A Social Security number is required for anyone receiving payment. ISSA can assist you with this process.

ISSA offers workshops every semester that explain the different types of off-campus work permission available to F-1 and J-1 students.

STEM Extension OPT

If you are an F-1 student with a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) major, you may be eligible for the 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT.

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Starting July 1, 2024, International Student & Scholar Advising (ISSA) will implement a one-time STEM OPT-related service fee of $250, payable via the STEM OPT form in iStart, at the time the student is eligible to apply for STEM OPT. The fee will help offset costs for STEM OPT-related services ISSA provides during a time when students no longer pay tuition and fees. These services range from ISSA issuing the I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation to assisting students with fulfilling their STEM OPT reporting requirements.

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Before you apply for STEM Extension OPT and complete form I-765 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), follow these steps:

STEM OPT Eligibility 

Employment Requirements

Application Timeline

Completing Form I-983 Training Plan

While Your Application Is Pending

Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT

Resources

STEM OPT Eligibility

  • Apply for and be approved for 12-month post-completion OPT
  • Qualifying STEM degree
    • Check your major’s CIP code listed on your I-20 and compare it to the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program listing
    • You may use an “unused” STEM degree earned in the U.S. within 10 years of the STEM OPT application.
    • STEM OPT is available twice in a student’s lifetime.

Employment Requirements

  • You and your employer must complete the STEM OPT training plan form I-983.
  • Your employer must participate in USCIS’s E-Verify program.
  • Employment must be paid.
  • Employment must be directly related to the STEM major.
  • Work a minimum of 20 hours/week
  • No self-employment or contract-based/third-party employment

Application Timeline

  • Earliest date to apply is 90 days before the expiration date of your 12-month post-completion OPT
  • There is no grace period between the standard post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. The employment authorizations must be back-to-back and seamless.
  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application within 60 days of the DSO recommendation on the I-20 or by the end of the post-completion OPT (end date listed on the EAD card) – whichever comes first. 

Completing Form I-983 Training Plan

You and the employer must complete the I-983 training plan, and you must submit the form to ISSA with the STEM OPT form (listed under Employment Authorization Requests) in iStart. In September of 2023, the U.S. government made the change to allow electronic signatures on the form I-983.

Step-by-step instructions for completing the I-983 form can be found here.

Tips for Completing the I-983:

  • You do not need to complete page 5 of the I-983, but you should submit it with your STEM OPT I-20 request in iStart.
  • Your immediate supervisor and the "Employer Official with Signatory Authority" may be different individuals at your place of employment.
  • Complete the evaluation on student progress (top of page 5) at the 12-month anniversary of the STEM OPT start date (start date of the STEM OPT EAD card).
  • Complete the bottom of page 5 at the 24-month anniversary of the STEM OPT start date (end date of the STEM OPT EAD card) or at the end of your employment.
  • Complete a new I-983 training plan when you switch employers.
  • The I-983 is kept by your school, but you should always keep a copy as well.

While Your Application Is Pending

  • You can continue to work for 180 days after the post-completion OPT EAD card end date if:
    • You submitted the STEM OPT application within the required timeframe, and
    • USCIS receives form I-765 before the OPT EAD card expiration date.
  • Once your OPT EAD card expires, you will need to renew your form I-9 with your employer. It is recommended that you have your I-797 Notice of Receipt from your STEM OPT application, along with the other required documents, when you do so.

Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT 

  • Report all employment and address changes within 10 days via the STEM OPT Reporting form in iStart to be in compliance with federal requirements. 
  • Report your STEM OPT participation to ISSA every 6 months. See the Dept. of Homeland Security’s STEM HUB for more information about the reporting requirements. 
  • After 12 months on STEM OPT, complete the 12-month self-evaluation (top portion of page 5 of form I-983). 
  • After 24 months on STEM OPT or when you change employers, submit the final self-evaluation (bottom portion of page 5 of form I-983). 
  • Update the STEM OPT training plan, form I-983, with any material changes and submit it to ISSA via iStart within 10 days. Examples of material changes include updated EIN, increase in salary, employer address.
  • If you change employers, you will need to submit a new form I-983 training plan with your new employer and submit it to ISSA.  
  • Report any change in immigration status via the STEM OPT Reporting form in iStart 
    Note: If your Penn State access account is no longer active, you may need to use the “limited services access” link beneath the regular student log-in to gain access to iStart.
  • Do not exceed the number of unemployment days because your F-1 status and OPT authorization will no longer be valid. You have an additional 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT period plus any unused unemployment days from your 12-month OPT period, for a possible total of 150 days. 

Resources