STEM OPT

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) OPT extension allows students in certain degree programs to extend the initial 12 month OPT period. If approved, STEM would extend the OPT period by 17 months, to a total of 29 months on post-completion OPT. It is recommended that you utilize the STEM Extension before changing to H-1B status. However, please consult your employer first. Some employers may prefer you to change to H-1B status.

Benefits of STEM

  • Changing employers is easily possible. This is more difficult if on an H-1B.
  • Maximizes your employment authorization time in the U.S.
  • Application is less expensive. $380 fee vs $$$$ for an H-1B.
  • No cap on STEM extensions.

Eligibility
Process
Application Materials Checklist
Travel
Reporting Requirements
Maintaining Status & Additional Requirements
After STEM

Eligibility

  • You must have earned a degree in a field included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (check with your IO advisor)
  • You must currently be on a period of post-completion OPT based on a STEM degree
  • You must have a valid EAD card
  • You must be working for an employer that is enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify program. You may find out if your employer is in the E-Verify system on the USCIS website here or ask your Human Resources Office (HR)

Process

STEM Timeline

Before proceeding, contact your IO advisor to ensure that your degree program is eligible for STEM.

  1. You must report any/all employment during your 12 month period via the OPT Reporting Survey BEFORE applying for the STEM extension.
  2. You should plan for USCIS to receive your STEM extension by the end of the first 12 months of OPT. If you are not in the Chicago area, then please coordinate your STEM application with your IO advisor via email.
  3. Gather your OPT application materials. Refer to the checklist below to see a complete list of application materials.
  4. Bring in or send your application documents to your IO advisor in a manner agreed on by your advisor
  5. Pick-up your new I-20 with the OPT recommendation from the IO. You will receive a packet containing two I-20's, one to keep and one to send to USCIS with your OPT application.
  6. If you are not in the Chicago area, send a scanned copy of the Document Mailing Request Form, so that we can send the new I-20 to you.
  7. Sign page 1 of each I-20. Keep one I-20 and add the other I-20 to your OPT application materials.
  8. Make a photocopy of your ENTIRE OPT application.
  9. Mail your application to USCIS. See the I-765 page here. Please view the I-765 instructions and send your application to either the Phoenix or Dallas USCIS office, depending on your current U.S. state of residence.
  10. 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'
  11. Once approved, you will receive a new EAD card that covers the extension of work authorization.

Application Materials Checklist

Materials to be reviewed by the IO
Materials to be submitted to USCIS

Employment verification letter

Employment verification letter
Completed form I-765 (for sample click here) Completed form I-765 (for sample click here)
Check or Money Order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current fee) Check or Money Order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (check USCIS for current fee)
Copy of current EAD Card (front and back) Copy of current EAD Card (front and back)
Copy of I-20 issued for first period (12 months or less) of Optional Practical Training Copy of I-20 issued for first period (12 months or less) of Optional Practical Training
Copy of I-94 Card (front and back) Copy of I-94 Card (front and back)
Copy of Passport Bio Page Copy of Passport Bio Page
Copy of F-1 visa stamp Copy of F-1 visa stamp
Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days Two identical passport style (2" x 2") color photographs taken within the last 30 days

Copy of transcript or diploma reflecting conferred degree/major.

Registrar's Office

Copy of transcript or diploma reflecting conferred degree/major

Registrar's Office

Employer Verification of Compliance form Extension OPT Recommended I-20 signed by International Advisor (will receive after review of all documents)
Optional Practical Training 17 Month STEM Extension form


Travel

  • 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.

Reporting Requirements

Reporting requirements are very strict during the 17-month OPT extension. Failure to meet these reporting requirements will result in the termination of your F-1 status and EAD card.

You must report your change of residential address, legal name, employer name, employer address, and/or loss of employment to the International Office within 10 days of the change by submitting the Post Completion OPT Reporting Survey.

You are required to submit the above survey, every 6 months, even if there has been no change.

Your employer is required to report to the International Office within 48 hours in the event of your termination or departure from your job by e-mailing intoff@northwestern.edu.

Maintaining Status & additional considerations

While you are on STEM OPT, your status is F1 and it is your responsibility to maintain this status.

Change in employer is possible as long as the new employer is enrolled in E-Verify and you report this change via the OPT Reporting Survey within 10 days of the change.

Multiple employers, contract work or work through an employment agency are all permitted so long as the employers are enrolled in E-Verify.

Self-employment is permitted as long as your business is enrolled in E-Verify, you have the proper required business licenses, and your business is related to your degree program.

Employment must be paid and must be at least 20 hours per week.

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.

Students approved for the 17-month OPT extension may not accrue more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month period of OPT. Employment during the 17-month extended period must be paid and must be related to the field of study in order to qualify. Self-employment and volunteer positions will not qualify as valid employment for OPT purposes during the special 17-month OPT extension.

The special 17-month extension of OPT is only available to each student one time. A student who is approved for a 17-month OPT extension can never apply for it again. Example: If you use your STEM extension after your MS degree, but then complete a PhD, you would only be eligible for post-completion OPT, even if your PhD is in a STEM eligible field. However, you would be eligible for regular post-completion OPT (12 months)

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.