Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension for STEM Degree Holders: Information
F-1 students with degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) may be eligible for an extension of their Post-Completion OPT work permission. On March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published new expanded regulations which take effect on May 10, 2016. There are many details about the new STEM OPT regulations that need further clarification. Before making any plans to be employed on STEM OPT please speak to an advisor at ISSS. Please also review the resources listed below.
It will take some time for DHS (including SEVIS and the Service Centers), employers and universities to define the application procedures and reporting requirements of STEM OPT. ISSS will continue to update our STEM OPT materials here and keep students informed. For now here are the trending questions many potential STEM OPT F-1 students have:
- May now be as long as 24 months beyond the initial post-completion OPT period
- Students may be eligible to have two STEM OPT extensions during their time in the U.S.
- Students currently in a non-STEM degree can be eligible for a STEM OPT extension based on a previous STEM degree obtained in the U.S. from an accredited institution.
- There is a new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes.
- The student and employer will be required to use the new Form I-983
- Additional reporting requirements (evaluation, exit survey, etc…)
- Employers must provide an Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
- DHS is permitted to conduct employer site visits to confirm that training plan goals are being met.
- Volunteering is no longer permitted on the STEM OPT extension.
- Students' compensation must be commensurate to similarly situated U.S. workers.
- Self-employment is not permitted.
- Small start-up companies: There appear to be ways for some to qualify as long as the employer has an FEIN, student is considered an “employee” and a supervisor can complete the I-983.
- Most temporary agency and contract work will not be eligible
- During the STEM OPT extension you could have up to 150 days of unemployment time
We have been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications approved before May 10, 2016 will be adjudicated under the old 17-month rule. If this happens, you would be eligible to convert to the 24-month STEM OPT extension if you file a request for the additional 7 months between May 10 and August 8, 2016. Speak to an ISSS adviser about how to proceed. If you choose not to move to the 24-month STEM OPT, you will be required to follow the old 17-month rules regarding employment reporting and unemployment time.
We have also been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications still pending on May 10, 2016 or later will be sent a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) to update their I-20 to the 24-month STEM OPT benefit. At that time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared when USCIS requests it.
Once the rule takes affect on May 10, 2016 you will have a limited window of time to apply for an additional 7 months of STEM OPT. Eligible students must have at least 150 days of STEM OPT remaining on the day USCIS receives the application, and must file no later than August 8, 2016. To request the additional time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared to submit during the eligibility window. Please also alert an ISSS adviser that you wish to file for the additional 7 months, so that we can inform you of the process as it develops.
We recommend that you speak to an ISSS adviser about the best time to file. All STEM extension applications, regardless of when they are filed, must be received by USCIS before your current Post-Completion OPT expires. In some cases, it may be better to wait until the new rule has taken affect but for others you may need to file now while you still can. Anyone considering a STEM OPT extension will be required to complete the Form I-983 with their employer. We recommend that you begin conversations now with your employer about the I-983 so that you have one prepared when you need to file the application.
The chart below from USCIS outlines your options.
|Currently have a 17-month STEM OPT extension||You do NOT want to add any additional time to your STEM OPT extension||You do not need to file any new forms or pay any new fees. You are authorized to keep working until your 17-month STEM OPT period expires, or is terminated or revoked.|
|You want to request to add 7 months to your STEM OPT extension||
You may submit a Form I-765, with fee, on or after May 10, 2016. If you do so, you must:
|Have an application for a 17-month STEM OPT extension||You do not withdraw your Form I-765 application||
Until May 9, 2016, we will continue to adjudicate your application under the 2008 interim final rule.
If your application is still pending on May 10, 2016, we will send you a request for evidence to allow you to demonstrate that you are eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
You must then submit a Form I‑20 endorsed on or after May 10, 2016, indicating that your DSO recommends you for a 24-month OPT extension and that you, your DSO, and your employer meet the requirements for a 24-month extension.
You will not need to pay an additional fee or refile the Form I-765.
|Are a STEM student
You want to apply for a STEM OPT extension on or after May 10, 2016.
STEM OPT Eligibility
When to Apply
Employment & Reporting Requirements
Traveling on STEM OPT
For STEM OPT applications received after May 10, 2016 for a 24-month work authorization extension to your Post-Completion OPT:
The F-1 student must:
- The F-1 student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT, working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
- The student must apply before the current post-completion period of OPT expires.
- The student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- The student must have a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system at the time of application for the 17-month OPT extension. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that his/her employer is registered with E-Verify.
- The student who timely files a non-frivolous application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
- Student must have a current OPT Reporting Form on file with ISSS, filed within 90 days after your OPT start date. Note: if you have not reported employment to ISSS, we cannot guarantee that your application for a STEM extension will be approved by USCIS.
- Prepare and sign the Training Plan (Form I-983)
The employer must:
- Be enrolled in E-Verify
- Have a Federal Employer Identification Number
- Agree to a the terms of STEM OPT by completing their sections of the Training Plan (Form I-983)
Eligibility for a Second Period of STEM OPT After Higher Degree
If you enroll in a new academic program in the U.S. in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for a second period of 24-month STEM OPT (i.e. two 24 month STEM OPT extensions may be permitted).
Example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in computer science, and you later earn a master’s degree in computer science or another STEM eligible field, you may apply for Post-Completion OPT and then the additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
Eligibility Based on a Previously Obtained STEM Degree
If you are currently in a degree field (or on Post-Completion OPT from that degree) that is not identified as STEM eligible, but have previously earned a STEM eligible degree from an accredited U.S. higher education institution, you may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension under certain conditions:
- You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions
- Your previous degree cannot have been conferred more than 10 years ago at the time of application
- Your previous degree is assigned a STEM eligible code found on the STEM Designated Degree Program List [PDF] at the time of application
- You haven't already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree
- Your practical training opportunity is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree
- Your employer meets the criteria listed above
Example: If you are currently participating in Post-Completion OPT based on a master’s degree in business and management, but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in mathematics as long as meets the other criteria above.
A qualifying STEM degree holder will be able to file the OPT STEM Extension application up to 120 days before the current OPT end date. The OPT STEM Extension application must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT STEM Extension I-20.
The student who timely files a non-frivolous application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
Request an I-20 recommending STEM Extension OPT from ISSS. You must provide the following documents:
- Complete the following forms online:
- Send one email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following documents attached. Please use “STEM Extension OPT Application Documents” as the subject line.
The purpose of the Form I-983, a new requirement for 24-month extension, is to ensure that students continue a rigorous training program that builds on the skills obtained as a full time student. The student and their supervisor must agree on the components of the plan as follows: the role of the student in the work place, the goals and objectives of the proposed training, how the employer will provide oversight of the plan, and what set of measures and assessments will be used. Both student and supervisor must sign this form and send it to the ISSS adviser for review.
- Students applying before May 10, 2016 with a STEM Extension application still pending can expect to receive a request from USCIS which will require this form before their STEM OPT application will be approved.
- Students applying after May 10, 2016 will need to provide this form with appropriate signatures to their ISSS adviser before receiving their new I-20.
A full overview of the new application requirements can be found on the Study in the States Hub, the SEVIS student instructions website.
Upon verifying the student’s eligibility and determining whether the student’s degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program list, an ISSS adviser will prepare an I-20 recommending STEM Extension OPT on the employment page.
Depending on the option you chose in your OPT Extension Request form, you will either receive your new I-20 in the mail, or you can pick it up from the ISSS office after five business days after all application documents in step one were submitted.
Mail the following OPT STEM Extension application documents (in the order listed below) to the USCIS office which has jurisdiction over the address you listed on Form I-765:
- Optional – Form G-1145, e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. This form is used to request an electronic notification when USCIS receives your immigration application. This is not an approval notice.
- I-765 Application Fee: check or money order made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- 2 passport-style photos with your name & SEVIS ID number printed on the back (it is helpful to leave the photos in the folder which they might come in, or put them in an envelope with your name and SEVIS ID number on the outside of the envelope). Click here for photo requirements.
- Form I-765, fully completed, signed, and dated. The form must be typed (not handwritten). Click here for detailed instructions on how to complete form I-765.
- New I-20 showing the 17-Month STEM OPT Extension request on page 2
- Photocopy of your passport (including biographical data, photo, and expiration date)
- Photocopy of your Current F-1 student visa (it is ok for your visa to be expired)
- Printed copy of your Form I-94 arrival/departure record
- Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
- Photocopies (front and back) of any previously issued EAD card(s). You may have been previously issued an EAD card for OPT, economic hardship, special student relief, etc.
- Proof of your STEM degree. This can be a copy of your diploma and/or official transcripts.
Before submitting your application to USCIS, check all documents for completeness and accuracy. Be sure to sign Forms I-20 and I-765. Make a complete copy of your application for your records. ISSS does not maintain copies of OPT applications.
Your OPT STEM Extension application and all required documentation must be sent to one of the following USCIS Service Centers, depending on where you live:
|Choose the state which corresponds with the U.S. Mailing Address you entered on your Form I-765:||Mail your application to:|
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan,
Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah,
Washington State, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
USCIS Phoenix Lockbox
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico,
New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina,
Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, US Virgin Islands, or West Virginia
USCIS Dallas Lockbox
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
|It is strongly recommended that you mail your application documents by Certified Mail with Return Receipt with the United States Postal Services (USPS) or by courier service (for example, FedEx) to have proof that your application was received.|
Checking the Progress of Your OPT Application. Within 2 - 3 weeks, USCIS will send you a receipt notice (Form I-797). This is proof that USCIS has received your application. Make sure to check the spelling of your name. If you notice an error, contact ISSS. The receipt will also have your case number printed on it (EAC##########), with which you can track the progress of your application on the USCIS website.
Request for Additional Documentation. Occasionally, a student will receive a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) from USCIS. These requests are typically because the application is missing a document or new photographs are required. If you receive such a request (normally a yellow sheet of paper) reply immediately to USCIS with the requested documents, including the original yellow sheet placed on top. If you do not understand the USCIS request, contact ISSS. Be sure to make copies of your materials before you mail them, and send the reply by courier mail.
EAD Delays. If you have applied to USCIS for your 24-month STEM extension and you have not received your new EAD by the end of your Post-Completion OPT, you may continue to work for up to 180 days after the end of your Post-Completion OPT. You should receive your new EAD before you reach 180 days.
Receiving Your EAD Card. Upon receiving your EAD card in the mail, you should immediately scan and email a copy of your card to email@example.com.
- Employment must be paid.
- Employment must be a minimum of 20 hours per week.
- Employment must be directly related to your course of study.
- Limitation on Unemployment for the STEM OPT Extension. Students approved for the 24-month STEM OPT extension may not accrue more than a total of 150 days of unemployment throughout their entire 36 months on OPT. Time spent outside the United States, if not employed by a U.S. employer, is counted towards the 150-day period of unemployment. To count as “employed” a student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of reported employment.
- UNEMPLOYMENT CAUTION: SEVIS records will automatically terminate for students who have no employment reported for 150 days. Be sure that you have made alternate plans and communicated them to ISSS before your record is terminated. If you have any concerns, you can always contact your ISSS adviser.
Students must submit to ISSS self-evaluations via the I-983 during the first 12 months on the STEM OPT extension and at the completion of the 24-month extension period or at the conclusion of employment, whichever comes first. Evaluations should be submitted within 10 days of the required date.
Student and employers must report to ISSS a change in any of the following via the I-983:
- Employer name and address
- Decrease in student's compensation
- Reduction in hours worked to less than 20 hours a week
- Employer's EIN
- Termination of employment
Students are required to report to ISSS within 10 days, any change in the following via the OPT Reporting Form:
- Legal Name
- Residential address
- Employer name and address
- Change in status of current employment, including loss of employment, change of status to H-1B, transfer to another F-1 program, or change employers. If you change employers, you and your employer will need to complete a new I-983 and submit to ISSS.
Students are required to report to ISSS every 6 months - regardless if there is a change or not - the following via the OPT Reporting Form:
- Legal name
- Residential address
- Employer name and address
- Status of current employment
Students on the 17 month OPT STEM extension must still report to ISSS within 10 days any change in legal name, residential address, employer name and address, or a change in status. Students must also continue to report to ISSS every 6 months, regardless if there is a change or not, their legal name, residential address, employer name and address, and the status of their current employment.
Keep Records of your Employment
Keep records of your employment history for your personal file, to present as evidence of maintaining lawful status should you apply for future immigration benefits.
Examples of records to keep:
- offer letters
- payroll stubs
- letters describing volunteer activity and hours
While on STEM OPT, you are required to show your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) along with your other immigration documents (see list below) in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. In many cases, students will also need to apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S.
If you need to leave the U.S. before you receive your EAD card, speak with an ISSS adviser.
If your employer has filed for H-1B on your behalf, check with your employer about any travel plans as leaving the U.S. while an H-1B application is pending may jeopardize your application.
Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on STEM OPT Extension
- Valid I-20 - Page two should list your employer's information and be signed by an ISSS adviser within the last 12 months (year).
- Valid F-1 Visa - If your F-1 visa is expired, you must apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to your return. (Note: Canadian citizens do not need a visa.)
- Valid Passport - The expiration date should be at least six months into the future at any given time.
- Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Please note: Your EAD will have a notation “not valid for reentry to U.S.” This is printed on all EAD cards issued for OPT and simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for reentry to the U.S.
- Evidence of a job offer or resumption of employment. If you are returning to the U.S without evidence of a job offer, you may be questioned at the port of entry.
For additional information concerning travel and re-entry, visit the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s travel information website.
- If you later decide not to mail your OPT STEM Extension application (Form I-765 plus supporting documentation) to USCIS for any reason, you must notify an ISSS adviser immediately so that we may timely cancel your STEM Extension OPT recommendation in SEVIS as well. Failure to inform an ISSS adviser that you are not applying for STEM Extension OPT can cause problems in the future.
- While your STEM Extension OPT application is pending, we strongly advise you against changing the address listed on Form 1-765, as USCIS has not been able to process change of address notifications properly. Changing your address while your application is still pending may result in filing a new STEM Extension OPT application with a new fee. We suggest to use the address of someone who can receive mail on your behalf—remember to put “C/O”, followed by the person’s name and address, on Line 3 of Form I-765. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward USCIS mail.
- If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), please inform ISSS immediately.
- Your STEM Extension OPT will be automatically terminated when you begin studying at another educational level or transfer to another school.
- If you find any errors by USCIS on your OPT/EAD card, please inform ISSS immediately.
- Immediately inform ISSS of any immigration status change.
Revised April 7, 2016