An Introduction to the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension
Former students engaged in standard Optional Practical Training (OPT) based on a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a qualified STEM field can apply to USCIS for a one-time (per degree level) 24-month extension. When and how to apply for the STEM OPT Extension varies slightly from that of the standard Post-Completion OPT.
Those interested in applying for the STEM OPT Extension must contact their International Student Advisor well before the end of their standard Post-Completion OPT authorization period (the expiration date listed on their OPT EAD Card), to allow for ample time for advising, issuance and mailing of the new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation. The application for the STEM OPT Extension must be submitted and received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the current OPT EAD Card.
The STEM OPT Extension may be issued for a prior STEM degree obtained by the student, as long as that student is in a current period of post-completion OPT. Students may apply for the STEM Extension once per degree level, two times, over the course of their career.
Information on the 24 Month OPT STEM Extension
Below you will find information on the follow subjects related to the 24 Month OPT STEM Extension:
- Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension
- When To Apply for the STEM OPT Extension
- How to Apply for the STEM OPT Extension
- Notes on the Application Packet for the STEM OPT Extension
- Sending Your Application to USCIS
- Employment While a STEM OPT Application is Pending
Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension
In order to be eligible for this extension, students applying for this benefit must:
- Already be on valid OPT based on a STEM-eligible degree.
- Have had fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT
- Be employed by, or have a job offer from, an employer who is registered in the E-Verify employment verification system
- The student must have a job directly related to the STEM major and the employer must be registered with E-Verify (https://www.e-verify.gov/).
When To Apply for the STEM OPT Extension
It is important to be aware of the rules surrounding the STEM OPT Application Process. An application that is received by USCIS too early, or too late, may be rejected.
- Earliest date to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension: No more than 90 days before the current OPT EAD Card expiration date
- Latest date to apply: the application for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension must be filed (and received by USCIS) before the OPT EAD Card expiration date
Applicants should note that the STEM OPT Extension application takes more time, and requires additional documentation, than the application for standard post-completion OPT application. Applicants should take care to familiarize themselves with this process, and to contact their International Student Advisor well in advance of the expiration date of their OPT EAD Card; doing so will ensure ample time for issuance and shipping of the new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation.
How to Apply for the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension
STEM OPT Extension Application Process
- Contact your International Student Advisor to let them know that you would like to apply for the STEM OPT Extension, and learn the specifics of the STEM OPT Extension application process at your college.
- With your employer, complete the Form I-983, and submit it to your International Student Advisor.
- Prepare your OPT application packet. Create a scanned copy of your packet for your records.
- Send your completed OPT application to USCIS. USCIS must receive your application within 60 days of the “Date Issued” listed on your I-20 containing your OPT recommendation.
Your STEM OPT Authorization Start Date
Your STEM OPT Start Date should be the day following the expiration date of your current OPT EAD Card.
Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
The applicant, along with their employer, must complete the Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. The completed Form I-983 must be submitted to the DSO (international student advisor), in order for the new I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation, to be issued.
Preparing your STEM OPT Application Packet
To apply for OPT, you will need to prepare the following materials. Below the list are some “Notes on the STEM OPT Application Process”, which will help you when completing your application packet.
|1. A cover letter||See a sample coverletter|
|2. Original Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization||See “Helpful Tips” below.|
|3. Two identical passport-style photos||Lightly print name and I-94 number in pencil or felt-tip pen, on the back. (See “Helpful Tips” below.)|
|4. Newly-issued Form I-20 with OPT recommendation (found on page 2 of the new I-20)||Be sure to sign the Form I-20, at the bottom of page 1. Your complete application packet must arrive at USCIS within 60 days of the “Date Issued” listed on the first page of this I-20.|
|5. I-765 Filing Fee, check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security||See “Helpful Tips” below.|
|6. Copy of your passport ID page(s)||Make sure to include pages containing your personal information, the expiration date, and your passport photo.|
|7. Copy of F-1 visa(s) (if applicable)||Be sure to include copies of expired or previously-issued F-1 visas.|
|8. Printed copy of your current Form I-94|
|9. Copies of all previous Forms I-20, including those from previous schools, if any|
|10. Copies of any previous EAD card(s) issued (front and back)|
|11. Documentation of the qualifying STEM degree, such as a copy of your transcript|
|12. Completed Form G-1145 – Optional||Provides you with electronic notification when your application is received. Paperclip this form to the top of your application packet.|
Helpful Tips for the Application Packet for the STEM OPT Extension
Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization – Notes on Completing Form I-765 (Please also see “Helpful Links” below.)
- This is a Department of Homeland Security fillable PDF.
- The I-765 should be completed online, printed, signed and dated, in blue ink.
- The following tips may help with completing the I-765:
|Part 1, Item #1: Reason for Applying||For the STEM OPT Extension, check box “1.c.“|
|Part 2, Item #1: Your Full Legal Name||Your name should match the names listed in your passport and current EAD card.|
|Part 2, Item #5: Your U.S. Mailing Address||If you may move to a new residence while this application is being processed, use a stable address that will be valid for 3-5 months. Mail from USCIS is not forwarded by the United States Postal Service. You may also change your address online after submitting your application to USCIS.|
|Part 2, Items #8-9: Alien Registration Number and USCIS Online Account Number||It is likely that you do not have either of these. Leave blank.|
|Part 2, Item #12: Have you previously filed Form I-765?||For STEM OPT Extension applicants, the answer to this question is “yes.”|
|Part 2, Item #13.b.: Social Security Number||Use your U.S. Social Security Number.|
|Part 2, Items #14-17||These do not apply if you already have a U.S. Social Security Number.|
|Part 2, Item #21.a.: Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record Number||This question refers to the 11-digit number on your most recent Form I-94.|
|Part 2, Item #23: Place of Your Last Arrival Into the United States||List the city and state of the Port of Entry you last visited when entering the U.S..|
|Part 2, Item #24: Immigration Status at Your Last Arrival||For most applicants, it is “F-1 Student”.|
|Part 2, Item #25: Your Current Immigration Status or Category||This should be “F-1 Student”.|
|Part 2, Item #27: Eligibility Category||For applicants of STEM OPT it is (C)(3)(C)|
|Part 2, Item #28.a.: Degree||“Degree” refers to your degree level.|
|Part 2, Item #28.c.||For E-Verify questions please contact your employer.|
|Part 2, Items #29-31||These do not apply to applicants of STEM OPT and should be left blank.|
|Part 3, Item #7a.: Applicant’s Signature||Make sure to sign within the box. USCIS will scan this box and print your signature on the EAD card once the application is approved.|
Newly-issued Form I-20
Your International Student Advisor should provide you with 2 new original Forms I-20, one for you to keep and one to send in with your STEM OPT application.
- Criteria for these photos can be found in the USCIS I-765 instructions document.
(See the Required Documents section: number C on page 8)
- Photos must be taken within 30 days of the submission of the application.
- Where to Take Passport Pictures Near Campus
- USCIS indicates that the following forms of payment are acceptable: “Bank drafts, cashier’s checks, certified checks, personal checks, and money orders must be drawn on U.S. financial institutions and payable in U.S. funds.”
- Your local U.S. bank can provide you with personal checks as well as cashier’s checks.
- The U.S. Postal Service (a local U.S. Post Office) can provide you with a Money Order
- How to Write Your Check
- Take care to include the correct information on your check. Use the date that you signed the check. Double check this information before you send your application. The date format of your check should be: MONTH/DAY/YEAR
Although this is not required, a scan of your application packet will be very helpful if your application is lost, or if you ever need to apply for a replacement EAD Card.
Sending Your STEM OPT Application to USCIS
Be sure to send your completed STEM OPT application to USCIS within 60 days of the “Date Issued” listed on your I-20 containing your STEM OPT recommendation. USCIS must receive your application before the expiration date on your current OPT EAD card.
Please see the USCIS website’s Direct Filing Addresses page (http://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses). Make sure to locate the correct address for “F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)” applicants.
Note: The address you send your application to will depend on your address and method of shipping.
Complete instructions for filing form I-765 can be found on the USCIS website (http://www.uscis.gov/i-765)
Employment While a STEM OPT Application is Pending
A STEM OPT Extension applicant can continue to work for 180 days after the original USCIS Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires if:
- The applicant has filed a complete application for the STEM OPT Extension prior to the OPT EAD Card expiration date
- USCIS received the Form I-765 for the extension before the OPT EAD Card expiration date.
Maintaining Your F-1 Status While on the STEM OPT Extension and Completion of the STEM OPT Extension
Reporting Requirements & Maintaining Legal Status during STEM OPT
While on OPT, students are responsible for reporting any of the following changes to their International Student Advisor:
- Student name
- Current physical address
- Name of current employer
- Address of current employment
- Start date of current employment
- End date/date of termination, or any interruption, of employment
- Any change in your home address, each time that you move
- Any change in the name AND/OR the address of your employer by submission of a new I-983 form
- You and your employer agree to submit a new I-983 form to update your employment information as soon as a material change occurs, and within 10 days of each 12-month evaluation.
- You will “check in” with your DSO every 6 months to verify that your contact and employment information is accurate.
Unemployment During the OPT STEM Extension
Students on their 24-month STEM OPT Extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period, inclusive of any period of unemployment accrued during the original 12-month post-completion OPT period.
Students with STEM OPT Extension authorization who are unemployed for more than 150 (including days of unemployment during the 12 months of post-completion OPT) days are in violation of their immigration status.
Travel While on OPT
Students on post-completion OPT are permitted to return to the U.S. to resume employment. If you are on OPT and are outside of or plan to leave the U.S., and you do not have a job offer at the time of re-entry, it is possible you will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. Also, if you have an I-20 with a Cap Gap notation and an expired EAD card, it is possible you will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. The following are required in order to re-enter the U.S. to resume employment under OPT:
- A valid passport
- A valid F-1 visa (waived for those exempt from the visa requirement)
- Your current original I-20 with a valid travel signature (no older than 6 months). If you need a new travel signature, please contact your DSO well in advance of your anticipated travel date
- Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- Evidence of a job or job offer
You may experience difficulties or may even be denied re-entry if you try to return to the U.S. without any of the above items. It may also be helpful to travel with your documentation of financial support and a copy of your transcript or other academic record.
Completion of OPT
F-1 students can remain in the U.S. for a 60-day grace period after the STEM OPT Extension period ends. Employment is not permitted during the 60-day grace period. Upon departure from the U.S., re-entry during the 60-day grace period as an F-1 student is not permissible.
Students on the STEM OPT Extension who have reached a total of 150 days of unemployment (an aggregate between standard Post-completion OPT and the STEM Extension) do not have a 60-day grace period and must leave the U.S. immediately.
Upon completion of, or at any time during OPT, students may transfer their F-1 status to another U.S. institution. It is important to note that a transfer of F-1 status prior to the OPT end date automatically cancels any remaining OPT time. Students who want to transfer their F-1 status at the end of their OPT simply need to contact their DSO (your DSO will need a copy of your notice of admission to the new program and the name and contact information for the international student advisor at the new school). Transfers of the F-1 status (SEVIS record) should be done prior to the end of the 60-day grace period.
Students who have been approved for H1 status and who have a Cap Gap notation on their I-20 are permitted to remain in the U.S. beyond the 60-day grace period.