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OPT Extension For STEM Degree Holders

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.  Please review the resources listed below for complete STEM Extension application details.

STEM OPT Eligibility
When to Apply
Application Process
USCIS Processing
Employment & Reporting Requirements
Traveling on STEM OPT
Special Notes

STEM OPT Eligibility


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 24-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 24-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); this is done in conjunction with your e-Verify employer.

UPDATE: STEM Employment must be at least 21 hours per week to be eligible to apply for the STEM extension.

The employer must:

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.

When to Apply

A qualifying STEM degree holder will be able to file the OPT STEM Extension application up to 90 days before the current OPT end date. The OPT STEM Extension application must be submitted to USCIS within 60 days of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT STEM Extension I-20, but not after the end date of your current 12-month OPT.

The student who timely files a non-frivolous application for the 24-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.

Application Process

Step One

Request an I-20 recommending STEM Extension OPT from ISSS. You must provide the following documents:

  • Complete the following form online:
  • Send one email to with the following documents attached. Please use “STEM Extension OPT Application Documents” as the subject line.
    • A copy of your current OPT/EAD card
    • A copy of your I-765 form filled out completely. For best results, ISSS requires that you TYPE all information on this form (do not enter handwritten information). Instructions for the I-765 form can be found here.
    • A copy of your Form I-983 Training Plan.  All signatures on Form I-983 must be original, handwritten signatures.  An I-983 with digital signatures will not be accepted.  Please print, sign, and scan a finalized copy of your Form I-983.  Form I-983 Instructions.

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.

A full overview of the 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.

Step Two

Depending on the option you chose in your OPT Extension Request form, you will either receive your new I-20 via the shipment method you choose, or you can pick it up from the ISSS office after five to seven business days once all application documents in step one were submitted; you will receive an email once your documents are ready.

Step Three

Follow the Checklist that will be attached to your OPT I-20; be sure to read carefully.

STEM OPT Checklist


USCIS Processing

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 the National Customer Service Center number which is located on your receipt. 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 We will then send you a new I-20 showing that your OPT has been approved. You can pick up the updated I-20 in the ISSS Office or you can receive your new I-20 via the shipment method.

Employment & Reporting Requirements

Employment Limitations

  • Employment must be paid.
  • Employment must be a minimum of 21 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 21 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.

Changing employers while your STEM Extension is pending is not advisable, but the process is outlined below.  Please note that a change can/will delay the application process and there is no fee associated.

In order to process a change of employers while your STEM Extension application is pending with USCIS, you will need to do the following: 

  1. Update your new employment information using our OPT Reporting Form.  You must be sure ALL relevant areas of the form are completed.
  2. Submit a new I-765 form with the new employer information to
  3. Submit a new I-983 form with the new employer information to  

The ISSS Office will then produce a new I-20 for you reflecting the updated information. You will need to pay for the shipping of the form, or pick it up in the ISSS Office.  NOTE: “friends” are no longer able to pick up immigration documents. 

Once you receive the new documentation, you are required to send the following documentation to the USCIS Office where you sent your original STEM application. The address can be found on the I-797 Receipt Notice.  You must indicate the I-797 receipt number on top of each document:

-      A brief letter explaining your situation and why you changed employers during the processing period;

-       Copy of the USCIS receipt notice you received when you submitted your first STEM Extension documentation;

-       New Form I-765, being sure to provide your new employer’s E-Verify number (not the EIN number);   AND

-       Copy of new I-20 with new employer listed on it (be sure to sign I-20) 

Reporting Requirements

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 within 10 days of 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 21 hours a week
  • Employer's EIN
  • Termination of employment.  To report termination of employment, the student must submit to the ISSS office the 'Final Evaluation' section of Form I-983, which must be signed by the "old" employer, along with a completed OPT Reporting Form.

Students are required to report to ISSS within 10 days of a 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 new employer will need to complete a new Form I-983 and submit to ISSS.  You will also need to submit to the ISSS office the 'Final Evaluation' section of Form I-983, which must be signed by the employer.

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
  • contracts
  • payroll stubs
  • letters describing volunteer activity and hours

Traveling on STEM Extension OPT

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 (1 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.

Special Notes

  • 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 contact the National Customer Service Center number which is located on your receipt.
  • Immediately inform ISSS of any immigration status change.
  • Students are allowed to study PART-TIME ONLY while on OPT; if you receive a new I-20, your OPT will automatically terminate.

Friends are no longer able to pick up other friends immigration documentation.

Revised July 28, 2017