STEM Extension

17-Month Extension of Optional Practical Training for students in STEM fields of study

On April 8, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published an interim final rule that permits students in F-1 status who are on post-completion OPT to apply for a 17-month extension of employment authorization provided they meet all of the following requirements:

  • Student must have earned a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Programs list. See the official list of approved CIP codes or contact ISSS to learn more about specific Middlebury majors that qualify.

  • Student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of OPT, working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student's STEM major area of study.

  • The student's current or prospective employer must be registered with the DHS E-Verify employment verification system. Students can find a list of E-Verify employers by using this DHS tool.

  • The student has not previously received a 17-month OPT extension.

The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to ISSS within 48 hours of the termination or departure. See below for employer requirements.

Students are only eligible for one STEM extension during their time in the U.S.  This means that if you go onto graduate school in a STEM field after already using your STEM extension, you are not eligible for a second extension.

Time line for the STEM extension

The application for the 17-month OPT extension must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the student's current OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and no later than 30 days after the student's ISSS advisor signs the OPT recommendation on Form I-20. Call ISSS, (802) 443-5858 or email isss@middlebury.edu to speak with an advisor to learn more about the STEM extension.

Maintenance of F-1 Status during the 17-Month OPT Extension

Restrictions on Unemployment

Students approved for the 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during their entire 29-month OPT period (i.e., during the initial 12 months of OPT plus the 17-month extension).

Restrictions Regarding OPT Employers
Students authorized for an OPT STEM extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to the student's STEM degree. There is no limit on the maximum number of hours a student may work and a student may work for multiple employers as long as each employer is registered with E-Verify.

Working while the OPT Extension Application is Pending

If the initial 12-month period of OPT expires before the OPT extension is approved, the interim final rule automatically extends the student's work authorization for up to 180 days.  Students should provide a copy of the I-765 Receipt Notice to their employer to prove eligibility for continued employment.

Reporting Requirements
The student is required to report the following information to  ISSS throughout the entire period of the OPT extension.  Failure to report properly could be considered a violation of the student's F-1 immigration status.

  • Report changes to your name, address, and employer information. These changes need to be reported within 10 days of the change. Report changes by e-mailing isss@middlebury.edu Failure to report such changes could be considered a violation of your F-1 status and may result in termination of your OPT.

Employer Requirements to Report Termination of Employment

If the student's employment is terminated or the student departs the company/organization, the employer must contact ISSS – within 48 hours of the termination or departure. If the student is absent from work for more than five (5) days without the employer's approval, the employer must also report to ISSS that the student is no longer working.  The employer may report the termination/departure by sending an email to isss@middlebury.edu or by calling (802) 443-5858.

Travel outside the U.S.
Students should not travel outside the U.S. unless they have received their EAD. In order to reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, students will need their EAD, Form I-20 with the OPT endorsement, a travel signature less than six months old, a valid F-1 visa, and a valid passport. Students should also carry proof of their employment or a job offer. Students whose OPT employment has been interrupted are advised not to travel abroad until they have found new employment as they may not be readmitted to the U.S. in F-1 status.

Extended Absence from the U.S. or
Entry to the U.S. in a New Immigration Status

Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if the student is physically absent from the U.S. for more than five months or if the student is admitted to the U.S. in another temporary non-immigrant status (such as entry as a B-2 visitor).

Beginning a new program of study
Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if the student officially transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level on a new Form I-20.

Legal Options after the Completion of the 17-Month Period of OPT

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of Status and Work Authorization until October 1st.

A student's F-1 status and OPT employment authorization will be extended if the student is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1st of the following fiscal year. This benefit applies to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of status and work authorization automatically terminates upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

60-Day Grace Period
Once students have completed their 17-month extension of OPT, they are permitted to remain in the United States for up to sixty days in order to prepare for departure. Students are not permitted to continue employment during this period (unless authorized under the H-1 cap-gap benefit; see above). While travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period, departure from the country and reentry is not permitted during this time. Once a student departs the U.S., the grace period is concluded.

Change/Adjustment to another visa status
Students who intend to remain in the U.S. following completion of their 17-month extension of OPT and whose primary purpose will not be full-time study may qualify to apply for a change of status. An ISSS advisor may be able to give general information about eligibility for change to another nonimmigrant status (such as H-1B or TN temporary nonimmigrant worker categories, or F-2 dependent category). General information about immigration status can be found on the USCIS web site at www.uscis.gov.

NOTE:  that this is an interim rule.  While the provisions of this interim rule took effect on April 8, 2008, they are subject to change before the final rule is published.

Students are encouraged to contact ISSS with questions relating to the cap gap, eligibility requirements and documentation procedures.