OPT and STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions

If you do not find answers to your questions below, please feel free to contact ISSS at uaf-isss@alaska.edu to set up an advising appointment.


General Questions​

Yes, you are eligible to apply for another 12-month period of OPT after changing to a higher degree level. This does not apply to a second degree at the same level, for example a second Master’s degree completion if you used OPT after the first Master’s.

You may use OPT while you are still in your degree program as follows:

  1. Part-time while school is in session (pre-completion OPT).
  2. Full-time during annual vacation periods (pre-completion OPT).
  3. FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS ONLY: Full-time after you have completed all course requirements for the degree and have a thesis requirement remaining (pre- or post-completion OPT).

Periods of pre-completion OPT used will be deducted from the total allowable period of 12 months. Part-time OPT will be deducted at one-half the full-time rate.

If you did not use the ISSS mailing address when you submitted your application, and instead used your current address as the return address on the Form I-765, you should do the following immediately:

  • Call the National Customer Service Center (NSC) at 800-375-5283 to report your change of address to USCIS. Be sure to explain that you need to change the return address on your Form I-765.
  • Update your address information through your USCIS online account if you filed your Form I-765 online.
  • Notify ISSS of your address change via email so that your address can be updated in SEVIS.

You do not need to have a job offer before applying for OPT.

You need to have a job or a job offer from an E-Verified employer before applying for STEM OPT.

For regular post-completion OPT, the employment does not have to be paid employment. You will be considered employed if you are interning or volunteering in a position directly related to your major field of study, or you are self-employed. You have to be engaged in any of these for at least 20 hours per week to count as “employment” for the purposes of OPT. If you will work in an unpaid position, you should make sure it is a bona fide volunteer or intern position, within the Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act.

For the 24-month STEM OPT extension, employment must be traditional paid employment. Self-employment, volunteering, or unpaid positions are not allowed.

No, you may not begin OPT employment before you receive your EAD from USCIS. You must have your OPT card to start your employment. Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the U.S.

Regarding STEM OPT, students who filed their STEM OPT application in a timely manner (i.e. their STEM application was received by USCIS before the expiration of their post-completion OPT) may continue employment while the STEM OPT application is pending, until a final decision is made, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

Yes. Immigration regulations require you to have employment while on post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. You are only allowed to have a total of 90 days of unemployment in your 12-month period of post-completion OPT. If you apply for STEM OPT and your application is approved, you are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment during STEM OPT. This is in addition to the 90-day maximum period of unemployment that students are allowed during the initial period of post-completion OPT.

Maybe. There are two types of extensions that may be available:

  1. 24-month STEM OPT extension for those in certain fields, discussed in STEM OPT Extension Information.
  2. H-1B Cap Gap extension. Where a cap-subject employer has applied for the H-1B and OPT will end before the H-1B start date. Cap gap extension covers this period as long as OPT ends between 1 April and 30 September and H-1B authorization starts 1 October.

If a cap-subject employer has applied for the H-1B and STEM OPT ends before the H-1B start date, the H-1B cap gap extension covers this period as long as STEM OPT ends between 1 April and 30 September and H-1B authorization.



International travel while an OPT application is pending can be risky. If you must travel and you have an OPT application pending, you must have the following documents to return to the U.S.: a valid passport, a valid F-1 visa, an I-20 signed for travel by ISSS staff within the last 6 months, and Receipt Notice I-797 showing USCIS is reviewing your OPT application.

Please know that if your application is approved while you are out of the U.S. you will be expected to have your OPT card and proof of employment upon entry to the U.S. in addition to the above-mentioned documents.  

If your post-completion OPT has not expired, you can travel as usual on your approved OPT. If your OPT has expired and your STEM OPT application is still pending, we strongly recommend you do not travel outside the U.S. If you must travel you should take the following documents with you: a valid passport, a valid F-1 visa, an I-20 signed for travel by ISSS staff within the last 6 months, OPT EAD, Receipt Notice I-797 showing USCIS is reviewing your STEM OPT application, proof of employment in the U.S., and a copy of your Form I-983 (Training Plan).

You will need your I-20 that has been signed for travel by ISSS staff within the last 6 months, an OPT or STEM OPT card, a valid passport, a valid F-1 visa, and proof of employment. Students on STEM OPT should also take a copy of their Form I-983 (Training Plan).



You will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate and apply for a new F-1 visa. Please discuss your travel and visa application with ISSS as the consulates often change the requirements for visa applications for students on OPT.

If you are going to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands you may be able to take advantage of the automatic visa revalidation. See more information at the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs  and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Information Center.

The risk of denial of an application for a renewed visa stamp for OPT and STEM OPT is somewhat higher than when you were enrolled in your degree program. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant must intend to leave the U.S. at the end of the program, and if the embassy official is not convinced of your intention to leave, the visa application will be denied. You do have to be careful to demonstrate non-immigrant intent. However, it is possible and many students on OPT and STEM OPT receive new F-1 visas.