Additional Requirements of STEM Extension OPT

For STEM OPT applications received after May 10, 2016 for a 24-month work authorization extension to your Post-Completion OPT:

Eligibility

The F-1 student must:

  • Be on a period of standard Post-Completion OPT
  • Hold a degree in a field of study (indicated on the I-20) which qualifies as STEM eligible according to the official STEM Designated Degree Program List
  • Have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify
  • Demonstrate the job is directly related to a STEM field
  • Prepare and sign the Training Plan Form I-983
  • Apply before your current Post-Completion period of OPT expires.

The employer must:

Eligibility for a Second Period of STEM OPT after a 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 can not 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 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. In this example, it is recommended that you have a copy of transcripts and diploma of the previously earned STEM degree.

When to apply

The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of the current OPT period. However, you can submit an application to USCIS as early as 90 days prior to the end of the current OPT period.

If you timely file your STEM OPT extension application, you will be able to continue employment while your application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days beyond the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT, whichever comes first. It normally takes up to 90 days for USCIS to process STEM OPT extension applications.

How to apply

1. Submit your complete application to the IO

If you are not in the Chicago area, then please coordinate your STEM application with your IO advisor via email.  If you are still in Evanston/Chicago, please come to the IO during walk-in hours.

2. Pick up your materials from IO and prepare your application for USCIS
  • Pick up your new I-20 with your STEM OPT recommendation from the IO.  Not in Evanston/Chicago? Create an account in eShipGlobal and we will mail you your packet.
  • You will receive a packet containing two I-20: one to keep and one to send to USCIS with your OPT application. Sign page 1 of each I-20.
  • Make a photocopy of your I-765.
3. Mail your application to USCIS
  • Mail your application to USCIS within 15 days (or else it will be rejected!)
  • Send your application to either the Phoenix or Dallas USCIS office, depending on your current U.S. state of residence.  Please check with your IO advisor to see where you should mail your application.  DO NOT E-FILE your application!
  • You will receive a receipt notice in the mail 2-3 weeks after filing the application. You may track the progress of your application on the USCIS website. Please note that USCIS does not regularly update the steps and most students see their status as 'initial review' until it jumps to 'card production.'
4. Wait to receive EAD card in the mail.

Once approved, you will receive a new EAD card for your OPT STEM Extension.

Application materials checklist

The following items need to be reviewed by the IO. Items marked with an asterisk also need to be submitted to USCIS:

  1. STEM OPT Extension Form
  2. Completed form I-765 (view a sample)*
  3. Check or Money Order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current fee)*  Sample check
  4. Copy of current EAD Card (front and back)*
  5. Copy of I-20 issued for first period (12 months or less) of Optional Practical Training* (or) a copy of I-20 from institution other than NU with STEM field.
  6. Copy of I-94 Record* Retrieve most recent I-94
  7. Copy of Passport Bio Page*
  8. Copy of F-1 visa stamp*
  9. Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days*

After all documents are reviewed, you will receive a Extension OPT Recommended I-20 signed by your international student advisor. This new I-20 then needs to be submitted to the USCIS along with the above documents.

Employment & Reporting Requirements

Employment Limitations

  • 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 IO before your record is terminated. If you have any concerns, you can always contact your IO advisor.

Reporting Requirements 

Students must submit to IO 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 IO 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 IO within 10 days, any change in the following:

  • 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 IO.

Students are required to report to IO every 6 months - regardless if there is a change or not - the following:

  • Legal name
  • Residential address
  • Employer name and address
  • Status of current employment

Students on the 17 month OPT STEM extension must still report to IO 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 IO 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. Post-Completion OPT Reporting Survey

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

After STEM

You will have a 60 day grace period after your STEM Extension during which you may prepare for your departure or change to another status. You may be eligible for the Cap-Gap if you are changing to an H-1B visa with an October 1st start date.

Travel Restrictions

Remember that your status is still F-1. In order to re-enter the U.S. you must have:

  • Valid EAD card
  • I-20 with travel signature (no more than 6 months old) with current employer information listed on 3rd page of I-20
    Note: if you do not have this document, complete OPT Reporting Survey and email IO Advisor with completed Document Mailing Request to receive most up-to-date I-20.
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp, unless you will be able to use Automatic Visa Revalidation. It is possible to renew the F1 visa stamp during STEM OPT.
  • Current passport, valid at least six-months after the date of last entry
  • We also strongly recommend that you have a job offer letter from a current or future employer. Days abroad do not count towards unemployment if time is excused by company or travel for business.

Employment authorization is automatically extended while a timely-filed 17-month extension application is pending. While the application is pending, international travel is not recommended since you will not have a valid EAD card in your possession.