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 the post-completion 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.
Application Timeline for the STEM Extension
The application for the 17-month OPT extension must be received by USCIS no more than 120 calendar days before the student's current post-completion OPT period ends and no later than the expiration date of the student's current post-completion OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and no later than 30 days after the student's ISSS advisor recommends the OPT STEM Extension in SEVIS. Call ISSS, (802) 443-5858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org 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 period of post-completion 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. Employment can be paid or unpaid.
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.
The student is required to report the following information to ISSS every 6 months throughout the entire period of the OPT STEM extension even if no changes are made. Failure to report properly could be considered a violation of the student's F-1 immigration status.
- Your name
- Residential address
- Employer information, including: name of employer, place of employment, and dates of employment
If you change any of the above-listed information, the changes need to be reported within 10 days of the change. Please report this information to ISSS by e-mailing email@example.com 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
The employer agrees to report the termination or departure of an OPT employee to the DSO at the student's school or through any other means or process identified by DHS if the termination or departure is prior to end of the authorized period of OPT. Such reporting must be made within 48 hours of the event. An employer shall consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left the employment or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the consent of the employer, whichever occurs earlier. [CFR 8 § 214.2(f)(10(ii)(C)(4)]
The employer should provide the student’s name, SEVIS ID number (if available), and the date that the student’s employment ended. The employer may report the termination/departure by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Students are encouraged to contact ISSS with questions relating to the cap gap, eligibility requirements and documentation procedures.