STEM OPT Overview
Students in F-1 status who are currently on OPT can extend their work authorization an additional 24-months total if they meet certain criteria. Students who extend are required to maintain their status under the new regulations. Official Department of Homeland Security guidance on the new STEM rules can be used as resource if needed.
Students currently authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) who also:
- Completed a program of study in a STEM eligible field
- Are currently working, or have a job offer to work, in a position directly related to the degree obtained
- Have an employer who participates in the USCIS E-Verify system
- Have used 90 days or less of their unemployment eligibility
- Submit a complete I-983 training plan to SISS at least two weeks before the customized USCIS filing deadline as determined by the STEM OPT Extension Calculator
- Submit a complete request to USCIS prior to the expiration of your current OPT period
Every major has a numerical code, known as a CIP code. You can find the CIP code for your major on page 1 of your I-20 (for example: 11.0701 Computer Science). You can check if your major field’s CIP code appears on the STEM designated degree list.
How to Apply
You must apply in the 90 day window before your current EAD expires. As long as your application is received by USCIS before the EAD expiration date, you will be allowed to remain in the US and continue employment for up to 180 days while a decision is made on your application. You cannot apply more than 90 days before your OPT is scheduled to expire. Determine your customized timeline by downloading the STEM OPT Extension Calculator.
Step 1: Complete an SISS Request for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension
- Log on to our online portal at iGlobal using the Limited Services option to log on.
- If your current I-20 does not reflect an accurate employment history, make sure to do an OPT Reporting update before submitting the STEM extension request.
- Submit the STEM Extension Request e-form while you are logged into iGlobal. You will need:
- The 24-month STEM OPT Extension Calculator saved as a pdf which shows your customized timeline
- A complete an I-983 Training Plan with your Employer
- A completed I-765 with Eligibility Category (c)(3)(C) and your signature surrounded with white space
- A copy of the current OPT EAD card
- A copy of the I-94 record showing F-1 status
Step 2: Once you have received your 24-month STEM OPT Extension I-20 from SISS, submit the following to USCIS in the following order as required by the instructions (failure to do so may result in rejection or denial):
- Check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Check the current filing fee before submitting. You do not have to pay the biometric service fee
- Optional (highly recommended): Form G-1145 to receive an e-mail and/or a text message that your application has been accepted and the receipt number you will use to track your case
- Letter with your name and signature filled in declaring that any field left blank in the I-765 means it does not apply and that you have completed the form to the best of your knowledge.
- Original I-765 application form
- Submit all pages of the form, even if some are left blank
- The physical signature MUST fit inside the box and be signed with black ink. Electronic signatures are not acceptable
- Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record
- Option 1: A printout of your electronic Form I-94 from Customs and Border Patrol
- Option 2: Photocopy of both front and back of a paper I-94 record stapled in the passport (if you have one, which is rare)
- A copy of your last EAD (front and back) authorizing your post-completion OPT (first year)
- Photocopy of passport biographical information, showing passport expiration date
- Photocopy of the new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation (all pages)
- Photocopy of your diploma showing your STEM degree (contact your SISS advisor for other options if your diploma is not available)
- 2 photos (taken within the past 30 days, white background, 2” x 2”– see photo guidelines
- Print lightly in pencil or felt pen on back of photos full name, A-Number (from previous EAD), and date of birth
Mail your OPT application to USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service) as soon as possible. USCIS must receive your OPT application within 60 days of SISS issuing your OPT I-20 recommendation and BEFORE your current OPT expires or your OPT application will be denied. The issue date is the date next to my signature on your OPT I-20.
USCIS will deny any application received more than 90 days before the end of your current OPT (refer to your custom dates on the STEM Extension Calculator if there are any questions)
Mail your complete application via express mail (Federal Express, etc.) to:
|U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail Express||FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. (overnight/courier deliveries)|
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I stay in status under the new regulations?
- OPT applicants are allowed a total of 90 days unemployment during their initial 12-month OPT allocation or a total of 150 days during their 24-month STEM OPT allocation, including any unused unemployment accumulated during the initial OPT authorized period. It is therefore vital that you keep SISS updated with your employer information to avoid being erroneously viewed as unemployed. Consider tracking your unemployment days using the unemployment calculator.
- Can I continue to work while my 24-month OPT STEM Extension is pending with USCIS?
- If the I-765 is properly and timely filed, the student's standard post-completion OPT EAD is considered automatically extended pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv), for up to 180 days while the STEM OPT extension EAD application is pending.
- What if I do not have a Social Security Number?
- Students who are being paid for work in the United States will need to apply for a Social Security Number and plan to file taxes.
- Can I travel during STEM OPT?
- When returning, please present the following items to the Border Patrol Officer:
1. Passport (not expiring in the next 6 months)
2. Unexpired F-1 visa
3. I-20 signed for travel in the past 6 months and showing your current employment information
4. Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card
5. Job offer letter or letter from your employer on letterhead stating that you will be expected to return to work on mm/dd/yyyy following your travel. Make sure to include contact information for your employer/supervisor. If the travel is authorized by your employer, you do not count unemployment dates during your period of travel.
If you plan to renew your F-1 visa during travel, also prepare:
1. Proof of employment with funds sufficient to cover living expenses (such as job offer, letter from employer, pay stubs received, and/or bank statement)
2. A copy of your I-983 (may be requested)
3. Any other documentation asked for by the embassy/consulate.
- If my employer has obtained an H-1B for me, effective this coming October, do I still need the extension?
- The H-1B cap-gap extension states that the duration of your F-1 status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT, who is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This applies to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf. This will allow the continuation of employment between the expiry of OPT and the start of the H-1B without filing for the 24-month extension for all students on OPT.
Students are strongly encouraged to stay in close communication with their petitioning employer during the Cap-Gap extension period for status updates on the H-1B petition processing.
Students can request a Cap-Gap I-20 with evidence of an H-1B petition selected for processing by USCIS through iGlobal (log on through Limited Services).