STEM OPT Extension
Reminder: STEM OPT I-20 Needed; Do not submit your STEM OPT Application to USCIS without first obtaining an OPT Extension Recommendation I-20.
Please note that these resources are intended for general informational purposes only and are not legal advice. It is your responsibility to review and follow all official instructions provided by USCIS.
The STEM OPT Extension is a 24-month extension of Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT).
F-1 students who graduated with a major in certain science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields and are on Post-Completion OPT may apply for the STEM extension if they meet all the eligibility requirements. On STEM OPT, all work needs to be directly related to your STEM major/s.
Study in the States launched the STEM OPT Hub in coordination with this rule to help school officials, F-1 students and interested employers understand the regulation.
Who is eligible for the STEM OPT Extension?
To be eligible for the STEM OPT extension, you must:
- Have a degree in an eligible STEM field* from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS
- *To see if your Bates degree is STEM designated, look on your most recently issued Form I-20 under “major 1” or “major 2” in the “Program of Study” box. The CIP code will be in the form of 12.3456. Check to see if your CIP code appears on the USDHS STEM List.
- Currently be on Post-Completion OPT and maintaining F-1 status.
- Have an employer that is enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify employment eligibility verification program at the time of your STEM OPT application and throughout your STEM OPT employment.
- Have an employer that completes all steps of the Form I-983 training plan before you apply for the STEM extension.
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer
- Receive payment from their employer
- Not be self-employed
- Apply before their current post-completion OPT period expires
The employer must:
- Be enrolled in E-Verify
- Have a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
- Agree to the terms of STEM OPT by completing their sections of the Form I-983
See USCIS’ web page on STEM OPT for more information on eligibility criteria, student and employer responsibilities.
How do I apply?
- Confirm that you are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension by reviewing the above eligibility requirements.
- Submit the STEM OPT I-20 Request Form
- Do not submit an OPT application with USCIS until you have received your STEM OPT recommendation I-20 from PDSO, Shelley Palmer.
Prepare Your Application Materials
- Applying for OPT online? Follow steps 1 through 7 of the online OPT application instructions to prepare your application materials. Stop and save your MyUSCIS application at the “Review and Submit” stage. Retrieve a draft of the I-765 form to send to the PDSO and schedule a Zoom OPT Application Review Session.
- Applying for OPT by mail? Collect your materials and prepare your I-765 form using the mail-in application instructions. Email your drafted I-765 and application materials to the PDSO and schedule a Zoom OPT Application Review Session.
- During this session, your OPT application materials will be reviewed and any questions you have can be discussed. If your application materials are not ready for review, please reschedule your review session.
- If your employer is managing your STEM OPT application process and you would like to skip this recommended OPT application review session with the PDSO, let us know and we will jump to the next step.
- Receive your OPT recommendation I-20 from the PDSO.
- After your OPT application review session, the PDSO will provide you with your OPT recommendation I-20 via email. The OPT recommendation I-20 is a required component of your OPT application.
- Add your OPT recommendation I-20 to your OPT application. Make any changes to your OPT application based on feedback from your OPT review session with the PDSO.
- Submit your OPT application to USCIS, either online or by mail (as appropriate). USCIS must receive your STEM Extension OPT application no more than 60 days after your OPT recommendation I-20 was issued.
When To Apply
- The earliest you may apply for the STEM extension is 90 days prior to the end date of your current Post-Completion OPT, and USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application before your current OPT ends.
- USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application no more than 60 days after your OPT recommendation I-20 was issued by the PDSO.
- Plan ahead and apply as early as you can. It generally takes 3-5 months for USCIS to process OPT applications. For the most up-to-date processing time estimate, visit the USCIS’s processing times page and search for Form I-765 at the USCIS Service Center listed in your receipt notice (typically, OPT cases are processed by the Potomac Service Center).
What To Expect While USCIS Processes Your Application
- Within a week or two of submitting your OPT application to USCIS, a paper receipt notice from USCIS will be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. (If you apply online, your receipt notice should be immediately available in MyUSCIS).
- Your receipt number can be used to track your application status via the USCIS case status tool. (If you apply online, your receipt notice will become available immediately after submission.)
- Application processing times vary, though they generally hover around 3-5 months.
- Occasionally, USCIS may issue a follow-up “Request for Evidence” notice, asking for additional documentation. If you receive such a request, please consult with the PDSO.
- If your application is approved, an approval notice will be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. (If you apply online, your approval notice will also be available in MyUSCIS).
- If your application is approved, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will also be mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765. The EAD is a photo identification card that serves as your proof of OPT work authorization.
Working While STEM OPT Extension Is Pending
As long as USCIS receives your STEM extension application before your period of Post-Completion OPT expires, you can continue to work with your STEM employer while your STEM extension application is pending until:
- USCIS makes a final decision on your application OR
- your application has been pending 180 days with USCIS (whichever comes first).
STEM OPT Reporting Requirements
- Within ten days of the following changes, you are required to report (via the ISPS OPT Reporting Form):
- change in legal name
- change in mailing or residential address
- deciding to depart the US with the intention of forfeiting the remainder of your OPT
- returning to school full time
- changing out of F-1 status
To report an employer update, please email PDSO, Shelley Palmer.
- Within ten days of any “material changes” to your I-983, you must report the changes and email an updated I-983 to the PDSO. Some examples of material changes to the I-983 are:
- any change of Employer Identification Number (EIN) resulting from a corporate restructuring
- any reduction in compensation from the amount previously submitted on the I-983 that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
- any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity
- any decrease in hours below the 20‐hours‐per‐week minimum required under this rule
- changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the I-983
- If there are no material changes to the I-983 to report, the following check-ins are required for all and can be completed by emailing the PDSO.
- 6-month check-in: It is your responsibility to check-in with the PDSO at each 6- month interval of your STEM extension to confirm that you are still working for your employer with the same responsibilities as initially reported on your I-983.
- 12-month check-in: It is your responsibility to provide your annual evaluation at the 12 month check-in. The progress evaluation can be found on Form I-983.
- 18-month check-in: It is your responsibility to check-in with the PDSO for another check-in confirming that you are still working for your employer with the same responsibilities as initially reported on your I-983.
- Final evaluation: A final evaluation is required when you complete your STEM employment OR if you leave your job and switch to a new employer who writes a training plan for you. The final evaluation can be found on Form I-983.
Time Off Between Jobs
You may take time off between jobs, however, you may not be unemployed for more than 150 days (cumulative) during your combined periods of approved Post-Completion OPT and STEM extension.
Remember, in order to be considered “employed” while on Post-Completion OPT, and STEM OPT you must be working a minimum of 20 hours per week. Working less than 20 hours per week is considered “unemployment”; time spent working under 20 hours/week counts toward the 90 days of permitted unemployed time (OPT) or 150 days of permitted unemployment time (STEM OPT).
The websites below include information about form I-983 and responsibilities while you are on STEM OPT: