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
- ISS STEM OPT Administrative Fee
- Completing the Form I-983 Training Plan
- Application Timeline
- Maintaining Status While on OPT and OPT Reporting Requirements
- SEVP Portal
- Travel While on STEM OPT
- Read the STEM OPT Filing Procedure (PDF) for steps to apply for STEM OPT Extension.
- Complete all requirements in ISS Connect to submit your request for STEM OPT Extension to ISS for review and processing.
- Pick up your new STEM OPT I-20 from ISS or have it mailed to you four business days after submission of your STEM OPT Extension Request.
- Mail your complete STEM OPT Extension application packet to USCIS within 60 days from the date of processing listed on your new STEM OPT I-20.
While you are on STEM OPT, you remain in F-1 non-immigrant status and ISS staff will continue to provide you with immigration and advising support. The $175 ISS OPT Administrative Fee will cover the expenses of mandatory SEVIS compliance and SEVIS record management after your graduation. Please note that this fee can only be paid online via ISS Connect under the ‘Material submission’ box on the right-hand side of the screen. We cannot accept this fee payment by phone, fax, email, check, cash or money order. The fee is non-refundable once the I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation has been issued. This fee is separate from the $410 application fee paid directly to USCIS.
In addition to providing you with advising while you are on STEM OPT, we will continue to process requests, including:
- I-20s updated with employment info
- Mailing updated I-20s if you are outside the tristate area
- Travel Signatures
- Cap-gap extension I-20s (if applicable)
- 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 via ISS Connect 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.
Study in the States provides more guidance on the Form I-983 for you and your employer.
- 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.
- 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 employer’s name; employer’s address; loss of employment.
- Report change of address via SEVP Portal within 10 days of moving.
- If you change employers during your STEM OPT, you must log in ISS Connect to create a Report Change of Employer on STEM OPT request and upload a new Form I-983 Training Plan (PDF) and Employer letter.
- You must submit self-evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) within 10 days of ending each employment with current employer.
- You are required to validate your employment information every 6 months by logging in ISS Connect to create a Reporting STEM OPT Participation request.
- 6-Month Validation
- 12-Month Validation - First Self-Evaluation is due
- 18-Month Validation
- 24-Month Validation - Final Self-Evaluation is due
- DHS provides a chart (PDF) explaining specific actions required of students, employers, and DSOs.
Effective March 23, 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) launched the SEVP Portal. The portal is a tool that F-1 students on OPT and STEM OPT can use to report changes to their home address, telephone number and employer information. The portal is accessible from both your mobile device and computer. The SEVP Portal allows you to:
- View details about your STEM OPT
- Report changes to your address and telephone
- View and update certain data on all your employers in one place. **STEM OPT students are unable to add a new employer or to change the start date with their employer in the SEVP Portal due to the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” requirement.
- If you edit your STEM OPT employer end date, you must submit to ISS the Self-Evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) within 10 days of ending your employment
- Any data updates you make in the portal will be sent directly to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
- Only OPT-approved students will receive a link from SEVP from Do-Not-Reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov for logging-in. If you do not receive an email, check spam or junk folders. Contact ISS to confirm correct email address in SEVIS.
- The link can only be used ONCE and cannot be shared with anyone else
- You must use the link within 14 days, or it will be disabled
- After creating your login, you must log into SEVP Portal every 90 days, or your account will be locked
- Be sure to use your correct, current SEVIS ID number. After three unsuccessful login attempts, a student will be locked out of the system.
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