Ask Sophie: My STEM OPT expires in 30 days, what are my options?
Help! My company didn’t register me in this year’s H-1B lottery
Here’s another edition of “Ask Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
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My STEM OPT expires in a month, and my company did not register me in this year’s H-1B lottery.
I’m not sure what options I have now. Help!
— Sleepless in Silicon Valley
I’m so sorry to hear that your employer didn’t register you for this year’s H-1B lottery! Things can feel similar for those who were not registered and their STEM OPT is expiring. Not to worry though! I’ve got you covered. But first, let me dive into a few things you should know, starting with your grace period.
60-day grace period
You get a 60-day grace period when your F-1 STEM OPT expires. Please keep in mind that you cannot work during the 60-day grace period. This grace period is not to be confused with the 60-day grace period typically utilized by people in H-1B status.
The purpose of a student F-1 grace period is to give you time before you must depart the United States to either:
- Continue your education by enrolling in a new academic program at another institution and obtaining a new Form I-20
- Apply to change to another nonimmigrant status for work or another purpose (USCIS recently clarified that it is ok look for a job in B visitor status)
- Apply for a green card through an adjustment of status if you are eligible and don’t plan to travel internationally
- Wrap up your affairs, travel inside the United States and depart the United States
Let me dive into some of the nitty gritty of this list:
Continue your education
The tech job market worldwide can feel tough right now. The number of people laid off in the tech industry so far this year has already surpassed all of 2022, according to Layoffs.fyi. In 2022, 164,511 people lost their jobs. So far this year, more than 183,000 people have been laid off in the tech industry.
Given this, you may want to consider continuing your education as an F-1 student by enrolling in a full-time degree program. Typically, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is available at some universities and colleges. CPT enables an F-1 student who has been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year and has not yet graduated to work, but some programs offer “day-one” CPT.
Keep in mind that working for one year of full-time CPT (more than 20 hours of work per week) means you won’t be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Working part-time under CPT (20 hours per week or less) means you will still be eligible for OPT and possibly another two-year STEM OPT extension if your degree is on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List.
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