OPT and STEM OPT Best Practices for H-1b and Beyond

Follow these guidelines to be well-positioned for future immigration intentions in the US, such as H-1b or permanent residency, and to ensure a smooth OPT and STEM OPT experience!

Keep excellent records

  • Keep a copy of all job offer letters, and make sure the dates match what you report via your SEVP Portal or your I-983 (for STEM OPT)
    • TIP: You can upload job offer letters and I-983 Training Plans to the ISSS Portal for easy access!
  • If you aren’t able to access your SEVP Portal, don’t worry!  We can help you gain access again, and in a worst case situation, you can submit any updates to us through the ISSS Portal, or by emailing isss@umbc.edu.
  • Keep records of leaving dates, if you choose to leave a position, such as an email exchange with your employer.
  • If volunteering for employment on OPT, make sure to have a letter from the organization where you volunteer confirming the kind of work you are doing, that it is at least 20 hours per week (outside of the COVID pandemic, which removed this minimum hour requirement), ideally how it relates to your degree, and start (and later on, end) dates

 Make sure your documents match

  • Employment Start and End dates are reported in your SEVP Portal, or on STEM OPT via the I-983 form.
  • Make sure these dates exactly match offer letters or letters of separation
  • Your resume/CV should also match exactly – mismatched dates between resume and immigration record is a common source of complication for an H-1b petition

Follow the rules

  • Only work within approved periods of work permission, and make sure the work follows the requirements of that kind of work permission
  • OPT and STEM OPT: work must directly relate to your degree of study – an H-1b also requires you have the specific kind of degree required by that position.  This relationship is verified when changing to H-1b or permanent residency in the US.
  • Employment must be at least 20 hours per week (outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, which removes this minimum requirement)
  • Your SEVP Portal must have accurate contact information at all times – any changes must be reported within 10 days
  • OPT first year only:  SEVP Portal must be kept accurately up to date with employer information.  Changes are required to be captured within 10 days in the Portal.
  • STEM OPT Extension only: Adding a new employer must be done with ISSS via an I-983 training plan for the new employer
  • STEM OPT Extension only: Ending an employer also needs to be updated with ISSS, and an I-983 Training Plan final evaluation (page 5) is required
  • STEM OPT Extension only: Employer MUST be E-Verified

STEM OPT Extension Reporting Requirements

  • Every 6 months from your STEM OPT Extension start date: “Report” – email isss@umbc.edu to confirm that your employer information and contact information are accurate in your SEVP Portal.
  • Every year from your STEM OPT Extension start date: I-983 Evaluation (page 5) due to isss@umbc.edu
  • Leaving a job: I-983 final evaluation (page 5) sent to isss@umbc.edu
  • Reports and evaluations must be completed on time – you should receive a reminder to the email address on record in your SEVP Portal, but mark your calendars as well!

Best Practices

  • These may not seem important now, but taking the time to follow these best practices will make any future immigration processes much smoother.
  • Keep clear, well-organized records of all immigration documents and employment documents.  Electronic records are helpful when applying for H-1b or permanent residency, as these copies will be required but can typically be submitted electronically and do not have to be original.
  • Choose jobs that require your specific degree type for an easier transition to H-1b.  The employer is required to show that you have the specific degree type required for your role during the H-1b process.
  • Make sure to complete STEM OPT reporting requirements accurately. I-983 training plans can be reviewed during the H-1b process.

Why this is important

  • USCIS can choose to deny an application (for example, to change status to H-1b) if these rules have not all been followed.  For example, they can choose to deny if a change in employment or address was reported more than 10 days after the change took place.

Change of status versus consular processing explanation

  • COS: change is done in the US, no new visa acquired.  Need to prove you followed all rules while in the US as part of the process.  Usually takes effect Oct 1 of the application year.  Next time you leave the US, you need to apply for an H-1b visa.
  • Consular processing: Application is only if you and your position qualify under the H-1b rules.  Does NOT consider if you followed all rules while in the US.  Change does not actually take place until you leave the US and get the H-1b visa, so need to have OPT/STEM OPT until that time to continue working.  A great option if your immigration history is complicated, unless travelling and visa applications are difficult, such as for Iranian students.