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Know how to maintain your status after getting your diploma.

Get Your Diploma and Know Your Options

June 12, 2014

Please note: On May 10, 2016, DHS replaced the 17-month STEM OPT extension with a new 24-month STEM OPT extension. All existing 17-month STEM OPT EADs will remain valid until the EAD expires, is terminated or revoked. For more information about the new STEM OPT rule, please visit the STEM OPT Hub

Many students across the United States are taking final steps to earn their degrees. If you are an F student and fall into this group, congratulations! Completing a degree is an important step in the international student process. Once you finish your program, you have a few options:

  • Post-completion optional practical training (OPT): You need authorization from your designated school official (DSO) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to qualify for this type of employment benefit which must relate to your major. If you graduated with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), you might be eligible for a 17-month OPT STEM extension. Check to see if your degree is found on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • H-1B Status: Another option for international students who have completed OPT is H-1B status. You may qualify for this type of employment benefit if you have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent and can perform skills in a specialty occupation. Your potential employer will file for H-1B status on your behalf with USCIS. If you begin post-completion OPT, you may consider this as a follow-on to your OPT. The time to apply for H-1B status is in the spring so this year’s H-1B season is complete.
  • Apply to another program of study: You may apply to move on to another educational level as long as it is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Talk to your DSO about application steps.
  • Apply to change your status: You can also change your status to another visa type by filing the Form I-539, “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status,” with USCIS.
  • Depart the United States: If your status is going to expire and you are not pursuing any of the options above, you must leave the country. You have a grace period to leave—check with your DSO on the specific timeline.

If you have questions, you can use a variety of DHS resources:

  • Call the SEVP Response Center at 703-603-3400.
  • Visit CBP’s website for travel tips.
  • Read USCIS’ website to learn more about how to apply for benefits or change your status.
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