Please continue to monitor the Alerts page of this website for the latest updates and advisories: global.rutgers.edu/all-alerts
Note: ISSS is aware that USCIS announced the ability to apply for STEM OPT online. However, as this process is very new, our office is not yet able to advise on how to file your STEM OPT application online. Students can continue to file in the traditional method of mailing materials to USCIS, as they state on their website this is still acceptable. Applying online would be your choice and without advising.
5/5/2021, Online OPT Application Alert: Do not submit an OPT application online from outside of the US and/or without a SIGNED OPT recommendation I-20. Once you pay the online application fee, the I-765 is considered filed immediately and will result in a denial if you applied from outside the US and without the OPT I-20.
Some F-1 students may be eligible for an extension of their initial 12 months of OPT if they have received a degree in an eligible STEM field or have a pending or approved H-1B application.
OPT PROCESSING DELAYS
F-1 students who have applied for OPT are facing unprecedented delays in receiving their EADs (employment authorization documents). These delays are being experienced across the country and can affect all recent graduates or those looking to receive their degrees in the near future. F-1 students are not permitted to begin working until they get their EADs. They cannot travel outside the US and reenter without their EAD and a job offer. Therefore these delays can result in loss of opportunities or jeopardize a student’s legal status in the U.S. While in previous years, OPT applications have taken an average of 2-3 months to be processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), processing times this year are much longer than in previous years. Recent estimates are that OPT processing times could take as long as 5+ months.
Follow these links for more information on these delays:
-- Check USCIS Case Processing Times
-- Contact USCIS for a status update (if your OPT/STEM application has been pending for more than 90 days)
Once an OPT application goes to the USCIS, Rutgers has no control over the progress of the application. We would like to advise all our students who are considering applying for OPT, to plan well in advance. OPT applications can be sent to the USCIS up to 90 days before the end of a student’s coursework, and for up to 60 days after. This means that with enough advance planning, a student can apply in a timeline such that they receive their EAD card in time and can begin working according to their plans. Please attend a post-completion OPT workshop offered by ISSS to learn more about the process and also review the information on our website. It may also help to inform potential employers about the possibility of a delay in receiving work authorization. Finally, it is important to note that students still have legal status in the U.S. during the OPT adjudication period as long as they filed in the correct time frame.
24-Month STEM Extension +
The STEM Extension is an extended 24 month period of OPT for F-1 students who have earned a degree in an eligible STEM field. This work authorization is an extension of a current period of post-completion OPT.
Eligibility for the STEM Extension
F-1 students eligible for the STEM extension:
- Have earned a degree in an eligible STEM field
- Currently are on an approved period of post-completion OPT, ending within 90 days (i.e. EAD card has not yet expired. An F-1 student is not eligible to apply for the STEM extension during the 60 day grace period)
- Work a minimum of 20 hours/week per employer
- Pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program, as well as other additional STEM OPT Employer Requirements
How to Apply for the STEM Extension
Please use our tutorial:
- Applying to USCIS Online: Preparing Your STEM OPT Application (online)
- Applying to USCIS by Mail: Preparing Your STEM OPT Application (mailing version).
STEM Extension Reporting Requirements
Using our OPT Data Update e-Form via the RGlobal portal, you are required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to inform Rutgers Global–International Student and Scholar Services about:
- All changes of U.S. address, phone number, and email address
- Any legal name changes
- Any change in STEM OPT employer or employment information
- If your employment with any STEM OPT employer is terminated or interrupted, the date of such termination or interruption
During the STEM OPT extension period, updates to employment information require submission of an updated Form I-983 reflecting the change.
There is a 10-day regulatory deadline for reporting each item on the list above. Schools are then required to report this information to DHS via the SEVIS database. Please use the OPT Data Update Form Tutorial for detailed OPT reporting instructions.
In addition, STEM OPT students must complete and submit annual self-evaluations (page 5 of the Form I-983) describing the progress of the training experience. The “Evaluation on Student Progress” must be completed 12 months after the STEM OPT start date; the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” must be completed whenever ending a STEM OPT job and/or at the end of the 24 month STEM OPT period.
Every six months, you must work with Rutgers Global–International Student and Scholar Services to confirm that your record in SEVIS accurately reflects your current circumstance. This is a time sensitive reporting requirement. Please check your inbox for an email from our office requesting OPT verification for DHS reporting every six months and respond as soon as possible to confirm your address and employment information. We have been made aware that the USCIS is asking for students to provide proof of the verification when applying for H1-B or permanent residency.
Students on active STEM OPT will have access to the SEVP portal. However, Rutgers Global - International Student and Scholar Services requires that you continue to submit all OPT information updates using the OPT Data Update e-Form available on the RGlobal portal. Do not report any information via the SEVP portal after you submit your updates via the RGlobal portal. You can still use the SEVP portal to review your information in SEVIS.
Review the Study in the States website for a summary of STEM Extension reporting requirements here.
H-1B Cap-Gap Extensions +
The H-1B cap-gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student’s status is extended to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status on October 1 of each year.
Eligibility for the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
If an international student has a valid EAD card at the time of H1-B application submission, and your application is selected in the lottery, employment authorization is automatically extended. If you have an expired EAD card but is still in your 60-day grace period at the time of the H1-B application submission, and your application is selected in the lottery, legal status to remain in the United States is extended, but employment authorization is not.
How to Apply for the H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
The H-1B cap-gap extension is automatic, so there is nothing to do in order to apply. F-1 students whose employers have filed an H-1B application on their behalf should contact their international student adviser to request a Cap-Gap I-20 if their H-1B application has been selected in the lottery and their OPT is ending before September 30.
If you are eligible, you may also apply for the STEM extension while your H-1B application is pending. An international student whose H-1B application is approved must submit a Close SEVIS Record e-form (via the RGlobal portal) when the new H-1B status becomes active on October 1.