STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions
The STEM OPT program is an extension of the US government DHS F-1 student visa program, which allows STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree graduates to stay 24 months beyond the end of their program to gain industry experience. F-1 eligible students with completed STEM degrees have the option to find employment in their field of study, and DHS requires a 60-day grace period between when a student may qualify for a STEM OPT extension. The program has many requirements and stipulations, so it may be confusing for students and employers trying to verify and maintain legal status.
Here are several frequently asked questions:
If I want to hire an F-1 student in the STEM OPT extension program, do I also have to participate in E-Verify?
Yes, you are required to participate in E-Verify by enrolling in the program and signing an E-Verify MOU (memorandum of understanding.) All F-1 students enrolled in a master’s or doctoral-level degree from an established list of STEM degrees qualify for an extension of their OPT. The entire university can enroll in the E-Verify program, and all qualifying F-1 students in an approved STEM program may legally work. If the whole university isn’t enrolled and only separate departments, each department needs to sign E-Verify MOU documentation. The requirements for E-Verify also apply to employment agencies and consulting firms.
Should a Form I-983 STEM OPT training plan be completed for every student I employ?
Yes, if you as an employer would like to hire any STEM OPT student with a 24-month extension, you will need to create a formal training plan that outlines the learning objectives and how you as an employer will be committed to helping the students meet the objectives in the plan. The I-983 STEM OPT training plan will need to be completed by both the student and the employer.
If a university only processes new hires and federal contract employees through E-Verify, can the university process a STEM OPT student’s extension at a different location of the university that doesn’t use E-verify?
No, when a university wants to employ F-1 STEM OPT students as a federal contractor, they should follow these steps:
- Proceed as usual by verifying employees associated with your federal contract, including new hires and existing personnel.
- The university site where the F-1 STEM OPT student is employed will need to enroll in E-verify and have all new employees run through the system, even if they are not part of the federal contract.
- The university would also have the option to enroll in E-Verify and run all new hires associated with the federal contact through the system.
Are F-1 STEM OPT extension students verified by other entities allowed to use that clearance for part-time work at a university that only uses E-verify for federal contract hires?
No, anyone employing an F-1 STEM OPT extension student must ensure the student is in good standing with E-Verify. All employers with an active F-1 STEM OPT student hire must enroll the location or site where the student is employed into the E-Verify system.
Can I release to my employee their E-verify company ID number so they can file for a STEM OPT extension?
Because F-1 students will need either an E-Verify company ID number or an E-Verify client company ID number to complete Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) to apply for an extension, employers are allowed to release these numbers to qualifying students. Students will not be able to complete Form I-765 without this number.
To file for a STEM OPT extension, my employee needs an E-verify company ID number to complete the form. What should we do if our company doesn’t have one because we’re an employer agent?
Companies using an E-verify employer agent will not have access to a company ID number, so if an employee needs to file an extension, use your company’s E-Verify Company ID number.
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