Even if your employer’s H1B petition was selected for review by USCIS in the H1B “lottery,” it may be advantageous to apply for STEM OPT extensions, where appropriate.
F-1 students who have completed U.S. degrees in designated science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) disciplines are eligible for extended periods of OPT. In addition to the standard 12-month OPT period following graduation STEM graduates may request 17 months of additional OPT, for a total of 29 months.
Deadline for Requesting STEM OPT Extension
STEM OPT extension applications must be filed during a student's 12-month stay in OPT. It is not sufficient to file while s/he is in the 60-day grace period that otherwise automatically follows expiration of the initial OPT period. Moreover, STEM OPT extensions filed after the OPT expiration date will not be granted simply because the individual has extended OPT authorization under the "cap gap" provisions.
STEM OPT Extension: An H1B Backup Plan
Even if one's H1B petition has been selected in the lottery, there is no guarantee that it will be approved. Moreover, there is a potential risk that an employer who has offered a job months in advance of the October 1st H1B start date will not be able to honor that offer. F1 students in OPT, who are eligible for STEM OPT extension may find it advantageous to apply for STEM OPT extension. Certainly, if your OPT will expire prior to October 1st, it is best to request the STEM OPT extension. However, even if the OPT is scheduled to expire shortly after October 1st, it is important to be prepared to make a timely STEM OPT request, if needed.
Filing STEM Extension Does Not Conflict with H1B Filing
Many beneficiaries of H1B petitions do not apply for STEM OPT extension based on the mistaken belief that the extension will conflict with a pending or approved H1B case. In fact, until an H1B change-of-status request is approved and the October 1st start date is reached, it generally is possible to file an OPT extension request without negatively impacting the H1B case.