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International Students & Scholars

Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)

The OPT Final Rule published by the Department of Homeland Security in Federal Register effective May 10, 2016 allows a 24-month extension of the Post Completion OPT. The final rule allows F-1 students who are currently on OPT after earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (government approved STEM fields) to now be able to apply for 24 months of additional OPT if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer and meet all other required criteria.

F-1 students who obtained a degree in a government approved STEM field in the last 10 years, regardless of immigration status held at that time; and have since completed a degree in a non-STEM field; and are currently on post-completion OPT may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on that prior degree if they meet all other required criteria.
 
Under the 24-month rule, F-1 students who had already obtained one STEM OPT extension become eligible for a second STEM OPT extension (total of two lifetime STEM OPT extensions) after:
  • Earning another qualifying STEM degree at a "higher degree level" and
  • Obtaining a new initial grant of standard 12-month post-completion practical training based on that higher degree
Note - any subsequent application for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension must be based on a degree at a higher degree level than the degree that was the basis for the student's first OPT extension, and follow another 12 months of standard post-completion OPT.

Steps to Apply

In order to be issued the new I-20, submit the following to the ISS office:

You will compile your own packet for USCIS - see STEM OPT Filing Procedure (PDF) for a list of required documents.

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Completing The Form I-983 Training Plan

  • Please carefully read through the entire Form I-983 Training Plan (PDF) and Instructions (PDF) with your employer, as you are required to sign that you have read, understand, and will adhere to this plan.
  • DO NOT complete or sign the last page (page 5). You are required to submit the evaluations to our office at the end of your first and second year:
    • The first evaluation is to be completed before the one year anniversary of the start date of the STEM OPT
    • The final evaluation is to be completed at the end of your STEM OPT.

More guidance on the I-983 for you and your employer can be found here

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Application Timeline

  • USCIS must receive your application for STEM Extension before your current OPT expires, but no earlier than 90 days before it expires
  • Applications can take as long as 90 days to be approved by USCIS and cannot be expedited
  • If your current OPT expires while the STEM OPT application is pending, you have 180 days beyond expiration to continue working. The 180 days count towards the 24-month extension.

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Maintaining Status While On Opt & Opt Reporting Requirements

  • Employer must be enrolled in E-verify
  • Job must be a paid job, for at least 20 hours per week
  • Student cannot be self-employed
  • In addition to the 90 days unemployment allowed on OPT, students approved for the 24-month extension receive an additional 60 days of unemployment. You may not exceed 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period.
  • Report any changes to the ISS office within 10 days of the change: any material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 (i.e. hours, learning objectives), your legal name; your address; your employer’s name; employer’s address; loss of employment
  • You must submit self-evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) within 10 days of ending each employment with current employer.
  • If you change employers during your STEM OPT, you must submit the following documentation:
  • Click here (PDF) for a chart explaining specific actions required of students, employers, and DSOs

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Travel while on STEM OPT 

Students on STEM OPT extensions and those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending may travel abroad and reenter. If your STEM OPT extension application is pending, the expired post-completion OPT EAD card is automatically extended for 180 days and is considered unexpired when combined with a Form I-20 recommending the extension and signed for travel within the last 6 months. We do not recommend to travel if you have applied for STEM already, unless it’s a dire emergency. If you are planning to apply, travel first, apply when you return, and include the most recent I-94.  

In addition to the EAD and Form I-20, you must travel with a valid, unexpired F-1 visa stamp, passport (must be valid for at least 6 months into the future), and an employment letter verifying employment.

 


For more information on STEM Extension OPT, please visit the DHS STEM OPT Hub

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