STEM OPT Employment Types
In order to qualify for STEM OPT, the employment details for each job you plan to begin must be outlined on a Form I-983 Training Plan. Since the I-983 Training Plan requires a structured employment relationship, supervision, and evaluation, this means that employment conditions allowed under STEM OPT are significantly less flexible that employment permitted under post-completion OPT.
A short comparison of employment conditions permitted under post-completion OPT and STEM OPT:
|Employment Permitted under Post-Completion OPT (up to 12 months)||Employment Permitted under STEM OPT Extension|
|Job must be related to major on your I-20||Job must be related to a qualifying STEM degree major on your I-20|
|Employer does not have to be required with E-Verify||Each employer must be registered with E-Verify|
|Allows for paid employment or unpaid training||Requires paid employment as specified on the I-983 Training Plan|
|No I-983 STEM OPT Training Plan required||I-983 Training Plan is required to apply|
|Allows for multiple employers||Allows for multiple employers, but for each new employer, you must submit new I-983 Training Plan to the ISSO and obtain an updated STEM OPT authorization on your I-20|
|OPT is not employer-specific or job-specific; you can easily change employers||Allows some change in employer, but for each new employer (or change in job) you must submit new I-983 Training Plan to the ISSO and obtain an updated STEM OPT authorization on your I-20|
|For active OPT, all jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more||For active STEM OPT, each job must be for 20 hours per week or more|
|Allows maximum of 90 days of unemployment over the 12 months of OPT||Allows a maximum of 150 days of unemployment over the combined periods of OPT and STEM OPT|
|Allows for self-employment, employment with a temp agency, contract employment, short-term employment, gigging||I-983 Training Plan requires a bona fide employer/ employee relationship, with supervision, evaluation and training|
STEM Major Related
All employment on STEM OPT must be related to your STEM major field of study and commensurate with the educational level of your degree. If you applies for STEM OPT based on a previously earned degree, the employment on STEM OPT must be related to that degree’s major field of study.
Employment during STEM OPT must be paid as outlined on the I-983 Training Plan. Unpaid internships, volunteering, community service work, and unpaid research are not valid employment types on STEM OPT.
You must work at least 20 hours per week per employer while on active STEM OPT. If your employment drops under 20 hours per week, it may count against your unemployment time.
You may work for more than one employer on STEM OPT, but each employment occurrence must be related to your stem STEM field of study, and must be for at least 20 hours per week. Each separate STEM OPT employer must provide an I-983 Training Plan. If you have any change of employer, a material change in your employment with the same employer, or the addition of a new employer, you must submit a new I-983 Training Plan to the ISSO and must obtain a new STEM OPT authorization on your I-20.
Established Employer/Employee Relationship
During my STEM OPT, you must be formally employed by an organization that will monitor your progress and fulfill the Department of Homeland Security’s reporting requirements. Contract work, work for a temp agency, and self-employment for a sole proprietorship, may not meet the employer/ employee relationship requirements outlined in the I-983 Training Plan attestations.
See US DHS’ clarification about use of third-party placements for STEM OPT, detailing the employer’s training obligation and the use of staffing or temporary agencies for STEM OPT employment.