F-1 students who are currently authorized for OPT employment based on completion of a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) field from an SEVP-certified school, as defined by DHS, may be eligible for a 24-month extension of OPT.
In order to be eligible for this extension, students applying for this benefit must:
already be on valid post-completion OPT, and be 'Active' and in-status in SEVIS
have a valid passport (valid at least 6 months into the future)
have had fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on the current post-completion OPT
apply before the end of the year of post-completion OPT
be employed or have a qualifying job offer:
from an employer who is registered in the E-Verify employment verification system
that offers paid employment directly related to the STEM degree, of at least 20 hours per week
that will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to the qualifying STEM degree
that constitutes a bona-fide employer-employee relationship
The training plan is the responsibility of the employer: although the work experience may take place at a third party site or the employer's own worksite, the training experience must be supervised by an employee of the employer or by a contractor that the employer has directly retained to provide services to the employer (the supervisor cannot be a client or customer of the employer)
Employment through a staffing agency is possible, but the ‘employer’ should be the onsite employment client of the agency in most cases, and must be signed off on by the actual supervising employer
Any new staffing agency assignments require a new completed I-983, completed and signed with the supervising employer for the new assignment
Employment must not be online or at a distance, i.e. ‘working from home.’
There is a lifetime limit of two periods of 24-month STEM OPT; each occurring after a higher degree level has been obtained. A STEM degree obtained at a U.S. university prior to your current degree may be the basis for a STEM extension under certain circumstances. OPT STEM employment may be with more than one employer, but each position must be STEM OPT eligible (i.e. more than 20/hours/week, proper employment, reported by I-983 to the school official and in SEVIS, E-Verify employer, etc.). Volunteering and self-employment are not permissible.
Applying for STEM OPT Extension (Online Filing)
Notify your international student adviser well before the end of your post-completion OPT that you wish to apply for the STEM OPT extension. Keep in mind that you must have acceptable employment to be eligible and your I-20 major must appear on the official STEM list. Prepare the I-983 training plan with your employer along with the STEM OPT Extension Request form and submit to your international student adviser by email, mail, or in person in the International Affairs office. Your international student adviser must issue a STEM OPT I-20 in SEVIS to include with your application.
Your complete application (including the new I-20 requesting STEM OPT) MUST be submitted to USCIS before your post-completion OPT ends, but no more than 90 days prior to the ending date. It must also be submitted to USCIS no more than 60 days after your STEM OPT I-20 is issued in SEVIS.
Your adviser will also want to see copies of the other required materials (in addition to the I-983, and STEM OPT Extension Request):
proof of your completed STEM-eligible degree (copy of your transcript and/or diploma)
documentation of your post-completion OPT approval and card (clear scan copies of the approval notice, and the front and back of the EAD)
your immigration documents (passport and current I-94)
the completed DRAFT I-765 (start here: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/).
During STEM OPT, students are required to report any changes to personal data such as name, address, telephone number etc., within 10 days of any change.
Also, any material change to employment must be reported. Material changes or deviations may include, but are not limited to:
Any change of the employer’s Employer Identification Number, (i.e., the company’s Federal Tax ID number) resulting from a change in the employer’s ownership or structure
Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked, or other change in salary/compensation.
Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity
Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983
Change of worksite location (not employer)
Change in job title, and/or duties
Change in supervisor or supervisor's data (contact information)
So long as the STEM OPT student and employer meet the regulatory requirements and the modified Form I-983 meets the specified requirements, the student’s employment authorization will not cease based on a change to the plan. An updated I-983 reflecting the change(s) must be prepared and signed, and submitted to your international student advisor.
Any new employment (new employer) must be reported with a completely new I-983. The previous employment must also be reported to be ended, and the final self-evaluation submitted (on p. 5 of the I-983).
During STEM OPT students are required to 'Report OPT Participation,' confirming their continuing employment and all the information on the I-983 is unchanged. They must also confirm their address has not changed. This information should be submitted in email to the international student adviser. Of course, if anything changes, it must be reported immediately at the time it occurs.
STEM OPT 12-month and 24-month SELF-EVALUATIONS
STEM OPT students are required to submit completed and signed self-evaluations at the 12-month and 24-month points in their STEM OPT. These appear on page 5 of the I-983. If a student changes employers at any time during STEM OPT, then a new I-983 must be submitted and the final self-evaluation (evaluation #2) for the previous employment must be submitted.
STEM OPT FAQs
Will I get a new EAD?
Yes, USCIS will issue a new EAD upon approving STEM OPT applications, with validity beginning the day after expiration of the regular post-completion OPT EAD.
Can I file my STEM OPT application after the expiration date of my post-completion OPT?
No, your STEM OPT application must be submitted to USCIS prior to the expiration date of your post-completion OPT.
How early can I file my STEM OPT application?
Up to 90 days before the ending date of your post-completion OPT. Also, you must file the application no more than 60 days after your STEM OPT I-20 is issued.
How can I know if my major is eligible for a STEM Extension?
Check your I-20 'Major' to see your UCCS I-20 major, and check the official CIP code list (above) to see if yours is there.
You need to get this directly from your employer. Be careful not to confuse the EIN and E-Verify numbers; the two are not the same.
Can I change jobs while my STEM OPT application is pending?
This is strongly discouraged, since it may delay or complicate the application. It is allowed by the regulations, however. It requires a new I-983, new I-765, new I-20, and for everything to be submitted to USCIS to update your pending application. You will also need to properly report the end of the previous employment, and submit the final evaluation via the I-983 self-evaluation form.
Can I change jobs during my approved STEM OPT?
Yes, but a new I-983 is required to be submitted to your International Affairs adviser, and the previous job ending needs to be reported and updated in SEVIS. The final evaluation needs to be completed for the prior job via the I-983 self-evaluation form.
Can I continue working with my STEM OPT employer while my application is pending, after the end date of my regular post-completion OPT?
Yes, you can continue working up to 180 days beyond the end date of your regular OPT with a properly and timely-filed STEM extension application (received by USCIS before the ending date of your OPT). If the application is denied, you must stop working immediately. If you reach 180 days beyond your OPT end date and still do not have your approval, you must stop working immediately.