24-Month Extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students in certain Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields of study
In March 2016, the U.S. government updated the F-1 student regulations pertaining to Optional Practical Training (OPT). The amended regulation for F-1 nonimmigrant students on OPT for students with certain STEM degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education is in effect as of May 10, 2016. The amended regulation provides for an extension of the OPT period for 24 months (STEM OPT).
Students in F-1 status who are on post-completion OPT and have earned a STEM degree may apply for a 24-month extension of employment authorization period provided they meet all of the following requirements:
- The student has completed a degree in a STEM eligible field from a U.S. accredited institution with SEVP certification within the last 10 years and has not already utilized this degree to apply for the STEM OPT. See the official list of approved CIP codes or contact International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) to learn more about specific Middlebury/MIIS majors that qualify.
- The student must be currently participating in a period of post-completion 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 in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) E-Verify employment verification system. Students can find a list of E-Verify employers by using this DHS tool.
- The student and the employer must complete, sign and adhere to a training plan (Form I-983 which will be submitted with the STEM OPT request to ISSS) and comply with reporting requirements, as explained below.
- Students may be eligible for two STEM OPT authorizations of 24-months each, provided the second period of the 24-month extension is after a higher-level STEM degree than the first STEM OPT authorization.
Application Timeline for the STEM Extension
Currently, there are two OPT extension types for STEM:
- 7-month STEM OPT extension for those already on STEM OPT (after May 10, 2016); and
- 24-month extension for STEM OPT Extension applicants (after May 10, 2016).
To apply for any of the extensions referenced above, you must be engaged in an active period of Post-Completion OPT and meet the other eligibility requirements. You will apply for one of the two types of extension listed below based on the type of OPT you are currently engaged in and the timing of the expiration of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Please determine the type of OPT you are currently engaged in and the timing of your request for more details on which type of extension to request.
F-1 Visa Holders Currently ENGAGED IN 17-Month STEM OPT
If Your 17-Month STEM OPT Extension Expires Between May 10, 2016 and October 7, 2016:
In order to be eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT, you must:
- Be in an active period of 17-month STEM OPT and
- Have 150 days or more remaining on the EAD at the time USCIS receives the STEM OPT application.
If you have an EAD expiring between May 10, 2016 and October 7, 2016, you will not have 150 days remaining on the EAD and will unfortunately be ineligible to receive an I-20 recommending the 24-month extension.
If Your 17-Month STEM OPT Extension Expires After October 8, 2016:
In order to request the additional 7 months extension of the OPT, you must request a new I-20 after May 10, 2016 and file a new I-765 request for the additional 7 months within 60 days of the STEM OPT recommendation from ISSS. You must submit the STEM OPT request to USCIS for the additional 7 months before August 8, 2016, in order to be eligible to receive the additional 7 months extension.
NOTE: If you are ineligible for the additional 7 months of extension and are interested in continuing to work within the U.S., you might consider speaking to your employer about H-1B sponsorship. For more information on the H-1B visa program, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/h-1b-specialty-occupation/h-1b-visa.
You also may want to speak with an immigration attorney about other employment visa types. Contact ISSS and we can provide a list of immigration attorneys if you would like to learn more.
F-1 Visa Holders Currently ENGAGED IN 12-Month Post-Completion OPT
The 12-month Post-Completion OPT end date is after May 10, 2016:
You are encouraged to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension on or after May 10, 2016, and must file no later than the OPT end date listed on your EAD.
The application for the STEM OPT must be received by USCIS:
- No more than 90 calendar days before the student's current post-completion OPT period ends;
- No later than the expiration date of the student's current post-completion OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD); and
- No later than 60 days after ISSS recommends the STEM OPT Extension in SEVIS.
Working while a STEM OPT Application is Pending with USCIS
If the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT expires before the STEM OPT is approved, the 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.