24 Month STEM OPT Extension

    What is the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension?

    Who Can Apply
    When to Apply
    How to Apply
         1. Gather and Prepare Your Documents
         2. Submit a Request to OISS

         3. Receive Your New I-20
         4. Review and Sign Your Application Materials
         5. Mail Your Application to the U.S. Government

         6. USCIS Processing
    Eligibility for a Second Period of STEM OPT After Higher Degree
    Obligations While on STEM OPT
        *Employment Limitations
        *Notification and Reporting Requirements
        *Changing Employer on STEM OPT
    *Travel while on STEM OPT

    What is the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension?

    F-1 students who completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in select government-designated science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields and are currently working with post-completion OPT may apply for the STEM extension of 24 months of additional employment if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer and meet all the required criteria.

    If you earned a previous STEM degree from an accredited US institution, you may be eligible for the STEM OPT extension. See the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List. You can find the CIP code for your previous degree on page 1 of the current format I-20 or at the top of page 3 of the old format I-20. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact us.

    The DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List is organized based on CIP Codes. F-1 Students can find their current program CIP code in the Program Information section on page 1 of the Form I-20.

    All students interested in applying for STEM OPT are encouraged to visits the Study in the States STEM OPT HUB for information and instructions, before contacting the OISS to ask how to apply.  All the information is there and the website provides a wonderful overview.

    These are the basic steps of a STEM OPT application:

    • Prepare the I-983 with the employer
    • Send STEM OPT materials to OISS (obtain new I-20 recommending STEM OPT)
    • Mail STEM OPT application to USCIS
    • USCIS receives application

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    Who Can Apply

    F-1 students who:

    • have successfully completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM field based on the government classification. You can find the CIP code for your previous degree on page 1 of the current format I-20 or at the top of page 3 of the old format I-20. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact us.
    • are currently authorized for post-completion OPT and have reported your current local US address and primary employer on the report OPT form.
    • have a job with a company enrolled in the government's E-Verify program. Find out if your employer is E-Verify enrolled.
    • have paid employment that is directly related to the STEM degree and is at least 20 hours per week.
    • have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment on your current post-completion OPT.
    • have not previously used STEM OPT more than once. Please note that you cannot have more than one STEM OPT extension based on the same degree.
    • file an application with the OISS and to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services before the current OPT period ends.

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    When to Apply

    The earliest you can apply is 90 days prior to the end date of your current OPT. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services must receive your STEM OPT application before your current OPT expires.

    If you applied for STEM OPT before your current OPT expires, you can continue to work while your STEM OPT application is pending, until a final decision is made on your application or it has been pending 180 days with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, whichever comes first.

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    How to Apply

    Read all the steps in this process carefully.
    Make sure you have reported your current OPT employer and local address information to the OISS on the OPT reporting form. Then gather and prepare all the items you need for your STEM OPT application. Each document you print for your application should be single sided.

    1. Gather and prepare these items for your STEM OPT application:

    • A completed Form I-765; It’s best to type your information into the form, print it, then sign it in blue ink.
      Helpful Hints to Complete the I-765

    • A completed Form I-983.

    • Form I-983: Only pages 1-4 need to be completed when you apply. This form must be completed and signed by you and your employer. Please note that electronic signatures are not accepted; you and your employer must sign the form in ink. If you have multiple employers, you must work a minimum of 20 hours per week at each employer and submit a Form I-983 for each employer. Be sure to review our Tips for Completing Form I-983. If your employer has questions about the STEM extension or Form I-983, please direct them to the US government’s STEM OPT Hub.

    • Copy of diploma or transcript, if diploma does not mention your actual major

    • A completed Form G-1145.

    • Check or money order for $410, payable to “Department of Homeland Security”

    • 2 color, U.S. passport-style, photographs
      - Photos must measure 2 inches by 2 inches.
      - Head should be positioned directly facing the camera.
      - Photo should capture from slightly above top of hair to middle of chest.
      - Background should be plain white or off-white
      - Photos should be taken within the last 30 days prior to the extension application.  Old photos used for obtaining a non-U.S. passport or a U.S. visa stamp are
        not acceptable, as they are often not the correct size, and rarely taken within 30 days of the OPT application.

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    2. Submit a Request to OISS

    Complete the Request a STEM OPT recommendation I-20 and send to the OISS with:

    • passport photo/biography page
    • most recent I-94
    • current EAD card
    • completed and signed Form I-765
    • completed and signed (in ink) Form I-983
    • If your application is based on a previous STEM degree, you will need to provide copies of I-20s and a transcript from that degree.

    The OISS will review your application and issue your new I-20. This can take up to 5 business days to process. We will email you when your new I-20 is ready.

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    3. Receive your New I-20

    Pick up your new I-20 at the OISS once you receive an email telling you that your new I-20 is ready. If you requested that the OISS I-20 mail your new I-20, remember to purchase a shipping label (instructions are on the Request a STEM OPT Recommendation I-20 form). You will receive further instructions with your new I-20.

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    4. Review and Sign your Application Materials

    Once you receive an updated I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation, make sure to sign your new I-20, photocopy it, and include the photocopy of your new I-20 with the rest of your STEM OPT application materials (# 1). Make any suggested changes to your I-765 application as recommended by the OISS advisor.

    • Incomplete or incorrect applications can cause serious delays so go over the checklist one more time and make sure you’ve included everything.
    • Make sure to include the original check / money order, original photos and original I-765, and original and official transcripts. Everything else should be a copy.
    • Keep a photocopy of your complete OPT application for your records.

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    5. Send Your Application to the US Government

    Mail your application via express or certified mail, with a return receipt or tracking number. USCIS must receive you application within 60 days of the date your I-20 was issued AND before your current OPT expires.

    Students living  in NY, NJ, and CT will send their application to the address below. Those with addresses in other states should visit the USCIS website (scroll all the way to the bottom) to learn where to mail their applications.

    By Courier Service (FedEx, DHL, UPS):

    USCIS, Attn:  AOS
    2501 S. State Hwy. 121
    Business Suite 400
    Lewisville, TX 75067

    By U.S. Postal Service:

    PO Box 660867
    Dallas, TX 75266

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    6. USCIS Processing  

    Checking the Progress of Your OPT Application: 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 OISS. The receipt will also have your case number printed on it, 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 reply immediately to USCIS with the requested documents, including the original RFE placed on top. If you do not understand the USCIS request, contact the OISS. Make copies of all documentation and send the reply by courier mail.

    EAD Delays: If you do not receive your EAD card within 75 days from the date immigration received your application, contact OISS and we can check the status of your application. 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.

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    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 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.

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      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 U.S., 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 OISS before your record is terminated. If you have any concerns, you can always contact your OISS adviser.

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      Reporting Requirements

      Reporting Chart

      Students must submit to OISS 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.

      Students and employers must report to OISS 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 OISS 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 OISS.

      Students are required to report to OISS 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

      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

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      Changing Employers on STEM

      When a STEM OPT student changes employers, the new employer must be enrolled in E-Verify before the student begins to work for pay. The student must also submit a new Form I-983 to their DSO within 10 days of starting the new practical training opportunity.

      When a student begins a new practical training opportunity with a new employer less than 10 days after leaving the student’s prior employer, the student may fulfill all reporting obligations (loss of employment and new training plan) by submitting a new Form I-983.

      In cases where the period of time between employers is longer than 10 days, the student must first report the loss of employment to the DSO and later submit a new Form I-983.

      Change of Employer while the STEM OPT application is pending: contact the OISS.

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      Traveling on STEM 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, speak with an OISS 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 OISS adviser within the last six months.
      • 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 you 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)
      • 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.

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