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Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students

Attention students currently on STEM OPT: If your employer switched to working remotely amidst COVID-19, recent DHS policy guidance permits STEM OPT holders to pursue authorized employment opportunities while working from home, contingent upon current employer's directions.

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.

Eligibility

  • You must have completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a government approved STEM field.
  • You must currently be on Post-completion OPT.
  • You must have a job or job offer for at least 20 hours per week in a position directly related to your major.
  • You cannot be self-employed.
  • You must be in the U.S. to apply.
  • Employment must be paid.
  • Employer must be enrolled in E-verify. The E-verify number is NOT the same as the employer's EIN number. The E-verify number is 4-7 digits.

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When to Apply

  • The earliest you may submit your request to ISS for your STEM OPT Extension I-20 is 90 days before your current OPT expires.
  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT application before your current OPT expires.
  • USCIS processing time is long, sometimes exceeding 3 months. Applications 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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How to Apply

Follow the steps below to apply for STEM OPT. Remember, you must first submit a STEM OPT Extension Request in ISS Connect and receive your new I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation before you can file with USCIS.

    • Form I-983 Training Plan
    • Employer Letter - This may be an offer letter (if a new employer) or a letter confirming your current employment. The letter must be on company letterhead and include the employer's E-verify company identification number.
    • 2" X 2" Passport-style Photograph taken recently (within 30 days of filing form I-765) in front of a white or off-white background
      • You cannot use a photo which has previously been used for a passport, visa, or any other U.S. government-related application
      • See the Photo Requirements Learning Content in the OPT Request in ISS Connect
    • Most Recent I-94
    • Copy of passport page with photograph, name, and date of birth
    • Copy of most recent F-1 visa (or USCIS Approval Notice for change of status to F-1)
    • Copy of previous EAD(s)
    • Copy of Official Transcript
    • Copy of Diploma
    1. Log in to ISS Connect. Navigate to the Requests tab, and click on STEM OPT Extension.
    2. Follow the instructions in the request to complete all requirements
    3. After completing all requirements in the request, submit the request.
    4. An International Student Advisor (ISA) will review your request, including student's attached documents.
    5. If everything is completed correctly, the ISA will record the STEM OPT Extension recommendation in SEVIS. If any corrections need to be made, the ISA will email the student, and student will need to upload corrections BEFORE the ISA will record the STEM OPT Extension recommendation in SEVIS.
    6. The ISA will create a new I-20 reflecting the STEM OPT Extension recommendation. Your STEM OPT I-20 will be ready 7-10 business days following submission of your request. ISS will email you when your I-20 is ready.
    7. When you receive your STEM OPT I-20, review it, print it, and sign it in blue ink.
  • IMPORTANT: To file your application with USCIS, you MUST have received an I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation from ISS. Do NOT complete this step if you have not yet received the STEM OPT I-20 (see Step 2: Request an I-20 from ISS with STEM OPT Extension Recommendation)

    1. Create your online USCIS account, or log in if you already have an account.
    2. Click on File a form online
    3. Select the Application for Employment Authorization (I-765)
      • Carefully read all instructions and complete each section in order.
      • Filing Out the Form:
        • For guidance, use the Sample Form I-765 under Learning Content in your STEM OPT request.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
        • What is your eligibility category? c(3)(C) STEM Extension
        • Why are you applying? Renewal of permission to accept employment
        • When filling out the questions, if a Form I-765 field has limited characters and you are unable to provide the complete text, enter the full text in the Additional Information tab.
      • Evidence: Drag and drop or Browse to upload your documents
        • 2" X 2" Passport-style Photograph
        • Most Recent I-94
        • Copy of passport page with photograph, name, and date of birth
        • Copy of most recent F-1 visa (or USCIS Approval Notice for change of status to F-1)
        • Copy of previous EAD(s)
        • Copy of your new I-20 with the STEM OPT Extension recommendation on page 2 (you must submit your application within 60 days of the date the I-20 was issued)
        • Copy of Official Transcript
        • Copy of Diploma
        • *You will NOT upload the Form I-983 or Employer Letter (these are only documents ISS is required by to keep on file)
        • Institution Accreditation is only for students who are applying based on a previous degree, as in a degree prior to the one you obtained at Pace. You do not need to upload anything there, if you are applying based on your most recent degree earned at Pace.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
      • Review and Submit
        • ​​​​​​​Review your entries BEFORE you pay.
        • Once you submit payment, your application is submitted.
      • Applicant's Declaration & Certification
        • Provide your digital signature by typing your full legal name.
      • Pay the Fee
        • You will be directed to pay.gov.
        • Pay by ACH Withdrawal, debit or credit card
        • Form will submit once you pay.
      • You will receive confirmation that your form has been submitted.
        • All notices (receipt notice, RFE, etc.) for your submitted application will post to your account. USCIS will continue to mail paper RFEs.

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ISS STEM OPT Administrative Fee

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
  • Letters
  • Cap-gap extension I-20s (if applicable)

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Completing The Form I-983 Training Plan

Work with your employer to complete the Form I-983.

  • 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.
  • Study in the States provides more guidance on the Form I-983 for you and your employer.
  • DO NOT complete or sign the last page (page 5). You are required to submit the evaluations to our office in ISS Connect at the end of your first and second year on STEM OPT:
    • The first evaluation is to be submitted no later than 10 days following the one year anniversary of the start date of the STEM OPT period.
    • The final evaluation is to be submitted no later than 10 days following STEM OPT expiration.
    • *STEM OPT holders who change employers before the 12- and/or 24-month validation periods must submit the final self-evaluation within 10 days of ending each employment with current employer.

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Maintaining Status While On STEM OPT & STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

  • Employer must be enrolled in E-verify. The E-verify number is NOT the same as the employer's EIN number. The E-verify number is 4-7 digits.
  • Job must be a paid job, for at least 20 hours per week.
  • You cannot be self-employed.
  • You may not exceed 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period.
    • In addition to the 90 unemployment days allowed on OPT, students approved for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension receive an additional 60 days of unemployment.
    • 150 day countdown clock in SEVIS will trigger automated record termination due to 150 days of unemployment in accrual; SEVP will use manual termination for 150 cumulative days.
    • It is the STEM OPT holder’s responsibility to keep track of unemployment count.
  • Report any changes to the ISS office within 10 days of the change, including:
    • Any material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 (i.e. hours, learning objectives)
    • Your legal name
    • Your employer’s name
    • Your employer’s address
    • Loss of employment
    • Change of employer
  • Report change of address in SEVP Portal within 10 days of moving.
  • You must submit the Final Evaluation on Student Progress (2nd box on page 5 of Form I-983) in ISS Connect within 10 days of ending each employment with current employer.
  • You are required to validate your employment information every 6 months:
    • 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.

Reporting a Change of Employer on STEM OPT

You are required to report a change of employer within 10 days of the change. Please note, students on STEM OPT do not have the ability to report employers in SEVP Portal. To report the change, submit a STEM OPT Employer Update request in ISS Connect. You will be required to upload the following:

  • Form I-983 Training Plan signed by new employer. Please see the Completing the Form I-983 section on this page for guidance.
  • Employer Letter on company letterhead. The letter must include the employer's E-verify company identification number.

STEM OPT holders who change employers before the 12- and/or 24-month validation periods must submit the final self-evaluation within 10 days of ending each employment with current employer. To submit your Final Evaluation, you must submit a Final Evaluation (when STEM OPT with an Employer ends earlier than 12 or 24-Month Validation Period) request in ISS Connect.

  • Evaluation must be signed by student and same Employer Official who signed on page 4 of the Form I-983. If the Employer Official who signed on page 4 is no longer the person able to "conduct the required periodic evaluations of the student" as stated on page 4, you must upload a new Form I-983 with the Final Evaluation signed by the same Employer Official.
  • Range of Evaluation Dates: The evaluation should cover time spent on STEM OPT ONLY. (i.e. the "From" date will be the date you began STEM OPT training at the employer). The "To" date is the date you complete the evaluation (on or before your STEM OPT end date). Date of student and Employer Official signatures must be on or after the "To" date listed on the evaluation.

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STEM OPT 6-Month Validations

Every 6 months during the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension period, you must confirm that the following information is correct in your SEVP Portal:

  • Legal name
  • U.S. residential and mailing addresses
  • Employer information

You will receive emails from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/SEVP reminding you of important deadlines and changes to your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record while you are on STEM OPT. An email-reminder will be auto-generated by the SEVP Portal.

An email-reminder will be sent from the following email address: do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov with the following subject line: Your STEM OPT data validation report is due on <date>.

  • The portal will send you an email-reminder 30 days before your 6-month validation reports are due
  • The portal will send you an email-reminder 30 days before your annual self-evaluations are due
  • You can find your reporting and self-evaluation deadlines on the Profile page of the SEVP Portal

To report your 6-month validations and self-evaluations, log in to ISS Connect and submit the Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request. **Please note, you have a 10-day grace period after your due date to submit the validation in ISS Connect. After you have submitted your validation in ISS Connect, ISS will review within 7-10 business days and report to SEVIS that you have completed your validation.

  • The 6-month validation report is due 6 months after the start of the STEM OPT Extension. Submit the Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect on your validation due date or within 10 days after your due date.

  • Submit your Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect no later than 10 days following the one year anniversary of the start date of the STEM OPT period.

    Upload your current employer Form I-983 along with your Evaluation on Student Progress (first box on page 5 of Form I-983) to your Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect. It is a self-evaluation. This means that it must be completed by you, not your employer.

    • Evaluation must be signed by student and same Employer Official who signed on page 4 of the Form I-983. If the Employer Official who signed on page 4 is no longer the person able to "conduct the required periodic evaluations of the student" as stated on page 4, you must upload a new Form I-983 with the Evaluation signed by the same Employer Official.
    • Range of Evaluation Dates: The 12-Month Evaluation should cover time spent on STEM OPT ONLY.
      • If you've been on the same employer for duration of STEM OPT, the "From" date will be your STEM OPT start date; if you changed employers while on STEM OPT, the "From" date will be the date you began STEM OPT training at the current employer).
      • The "To" date is your due date. If you complete the self-evaluation before your due date, do NOT put the future date; instead, put the date you complete it.
    • Date of student and Employer Official signatures must be on or after the "To" date listed on the evaluation.
  • The 18-month validation report is due 18 months after the start of the STEM OPT Extension. Submit the Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect on your validation due date or within 10 days after your due date.

  • Submit your Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect no later than 10 days following STEM OPT expiration.

    Upload your current employer Form I-983 along with your Final Evaluation on Student Progress (second box on page 5 of Form I-983) to your Report STEM Participation (6, 12, 18, & 24-Month Validations) request in ISS Connect. It is a self-evaluation. This means that it must be completed by you, not your employer.

    • Evaluation must be signed by student and same Employer Official who signed on page 4 of the Form I-983. If the Employer Official who signed on page 4 is no longer the person able to "conduct the required periodic evaluations of the student" as stated on page 4, you must upload a new Form I-983 with the Evaluation signed by the same Employer Official.
    • Range of Evaluation Dates: The 12-Month Evaluation should cover time spent on STEM OPT ONLY.
      • If you've been on the same employer for duration of STEM OPT, the "From" date will be your STEM OPT start date; if you changed employers while on STEM OPT, the "From" date will be the date you began STEM OPT training at the current employer).
      • The "To" date is your due date. If you complete the self-evaluation before your due date, do NOT put the future date; instead, put the date you complete it.
    • Date of student and Employer Official signatures must be on or after the "To" date listed on the evaluation.

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SEVP Portal

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 information on all your employers in one place
  • STEM OPT holders are unable to add new employers in SEVP Portal. To have an employer added to your record, you must submit a completed Form I-983 by submitting the STEM OPT Employer Update request in ISS Connect.
  • STEM OPT holders are unable to edit employment end dates. If your employment ends, you must submit the Final Evaluation on Student Progress (2nd box on page 5 of Form I-983) in ISS Connect within 10 days of your last day of employment.
  • Any data updates you make in the portal will be sent directly to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  • You should have already registered your SEVP Portal account while on Post-completion OPT. If you need assistance accessing your SEVP Portal, email us at intlnyc@pace.edu with the subject line SEVP Portal.
  • You must log in to SEVP Portal every 90 days, or your account will be locked.

SEVP Portal Resources

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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 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.

For reentry, you will need the following documents:

  • Valid I-20 issued for STEM OPT endorsed with current travel signature (issued within 6 months prior to your return)
  • Valid passport (must be valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Valid/unexpired F-1 visa (Canadian citizens are exempt)
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Job Letter

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

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