Please continue to monitor the Alerts page of this website for the latest updates and advisories: global.rutgers.edu/all-alerts

April 12, 2021 [Link] USCIS Announces F-1 Students Seeking Optional Practical Training Can Now File Form I-765 Online

BEFORE APPLYING:  You must receive an OPT I-20 from Rutgers Global - ISSS BEFORE submitting your application to USCIS. Please review our entire tutorial below before taking any action!  

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.

 

OPT Extensions

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. You must submit a new STEM OPT Extension application to USCIS with new STEM OPT recommended I-20 from Rutgers Global. 

STEM OPT PROCESSING DELAYS
F-1 students who have applied for STEM OPT may face delays in receiving their EADs (employment authorization documents). Therefore these delays can result in loss of opportunities or jeopardize a student’s legal status in the U.S, especially if traveling outside the US and reentering without their EAD and a job offer. 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).

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 STEM OPT to plan well in advance. STEM OPT applications can be sent to the USCIS up to 90 days before the end of the post-completion OPT period. 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 continue working according to their plans. 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 STEM OPT adjudication period as long as they correctly filed in the correct time frame.

Feel free to contact an international student adviser during our advising hours or via email us with any questions or concerns.

Off-Campus Employment Chat Sessions

ISSS hosts chat sessions on CPT and OPT via Zoom. This is an opportunity for students to drop in and discuss their CPT/OPT questions with an International Student Adviser (ISA), as well as connect with other students who are also interested in off-campus employment. Below are the scheduled chat sessions with direct links to the Zoom room. 

Additional Information

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 if they:   

  • Have earned a degree in an eligible STEM field as determined by the DHS-approved STEM CIP code
  • Has not already utilized two STEM extensions and you have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment for the current OPT 
  • 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). Your application must be received BEFORE the expiration of your current EAD card
  • Work a minimum of 20 hours/week in a paid position directly related to their field
  • 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
  • Have not already been approved for 2 previous STEM OPT periods in their lifetime
  • Applies in a timely manner, prior to the post-completion OPT expiring

A Note About Prior Degrees

Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school to fulfill this eligibility requirement. To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the F-1 student must:

  • Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree* (at the bachelor's level or higher) within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension with USCIS
  • The qualifying STEM degree needs to be on DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT extension, rather than at the time that the student received the degree

If pursuing this option, you MUST make Rutgers Global aware of this plan before applying. The I-983 and STEM OPT recommended I-20 are impacted differently by this option. 

Permitted Forms of Employment

  • Multiple employers- Students can work for more than one employer, but all employment must at least 20 hours/week, related to student's degree, and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire- Also knows as contractual work or 1099 employment where an employee performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employment- STEM students can start a business and be self-employed. However, their business must be registered with E-Verify, have proper business licenses, and be related to students STEM field. Students may NOT fill out their own Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students), Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. 
  • Agency Employment/consulting firm- We strongly encourage you and your employer to review the USCIS OPT page related to this topic before completing the I-983. Only the E-verified employer that provides the actual training relevant to the student’s qualifying STEM degree is authorized to sign and complete Form I-983. 

Special Note about Marijuana/Cannabis/CBD Industry

Please note that while there have been advancements in the legalization of marijuana in some states, it is still a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act and use of marijuana in any form is illegal under federal law.

Our office therefore cautions students to be wary of employment opportunities that exist within this industry, as it can potentially be viewed negatively towards immigration. We recommend consulting with an attorney if you have concerns.

Related Resources:

How to Apply for the STEM Extension

Please use our tutorial: 

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.

Additional Resources

STEM OPT FAQs

STEM Extension Reporting Requirements and Important Reminders

Study in the States, STEM OPT

USCIS, Optional Practical Training for STEM Students (STEM OPT)

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.

Additional Resources

Study in the States, Cap Gap

USCIS, Extension of Post Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 Status for Eligible Students under the H-1B Cap-Gap Regulations