This option may allow for a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students in certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields of study who meet all eligibility requirements.
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. To see if your degree qualifies you for this benefit, compare your major’s CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) Code found on your Form I-20 (under ‘Program of Study’ on page 1) to the Department of Homeland Security’s official list of approved CIP Codes. The most current official approved CIP Code list is on the Study in the States website.
- 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 visiting the E-Verify “How to Find Participating Employers” website.
- 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. In some cases, students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree to qualify for their second STEM OPT extension. Please refer to the Study in the States website for more information about using a prior STEM degree to qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
To apply for the extension you must be engaged in an active period of Post-Completion OPT and meet the other eligibility requirements.
The application for the STEM OPT must be received by USCIS to be considered timely filed:
- 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.
- It will take ISSS up to 15 business days (3 weeks) to process the STEM OPT Extension Application request from the date of receipt of a complete application packet.
- Submission of the complete STEM OPT Extension application packet to USCIS can be done via mail or can be done electronically.
- You need to submit to ISSS the STEM OPT Extension application to ISSS at least 30 days before your current post-completion OPT period ends.
Working While STEM OPT Application is Pending
If the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT expires before the STEM OPT is approved by USCIS, the regulation automatically extends the student’s work authorization for up to 180 days. Students should provide a copy of the USCIS I-765 Receipt Notice for the STEM OPT application to their employer to prove eligibility for continued employment.
While on the STEM OPT benefit, you are still in F-1 student status. Therefore, if you travel internationally, you need to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status.
To re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status, students will need the following documents:
- A valid passport;
- A current, valid Form I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation and a travel signature that is no older than 6 months at time of re-entry to the U.S. on page 2;
- A valid F-1 visa;
- A valid STEM OPT EAD; and
- It is recommended to carry proof of employment or a job offer.
Pending STEM OPT Application
If your STEM OPT application is pending and you wish to travel internationally, you could risk being denied an F-1 visa renewal if needed or entry to the U.S. if you do not have the EAD for the STEM OPT. However, since your F-1 status and work authorization is automatically extended up to 180 days beyond the end date of your post-completion OPT period, you may be allowed to use the USCIS I-765 Receipt Notice to show that you timely filed your STEM OPT application in lieu of the EAD while traveling.
Please note that if your STEM OPT application is either rejected or denied while you are traveling, you may not be permitted re-entry to the U.S. in F-1 status and you may not be able to return to work. It is always advisable to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, but to hope for the best.
Please contact ISSS to discuss your travel plans if you wish to travel internationally while your STEM OPT application is pending.
Extended Absence from or Entry to the U.S.
Authorization for any period of OPT is automatically terminated if you are physically absent from the U.S. for more than five months or if you are admitted to the U.S. in another temporary non-immigrant status (such as entry as a B-2 visitor).
Options after the Completion of the STEM OPT Extension benefit
1. 60-Day Grace Period
When you have completed your STEM OPT, you are permitted to remain in the United States for up to sixty calendar days from the end date of your STEM OPT period in order to prepare for departure. You are not permitted to continue employment during this period (unless authorized under the H-1 cap-gap benefit; see below). While travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period, departure from the country and reentry is not permitted during this time unless you have another valid visa status that allows you to enter the U.S. Once you depart the U.S., the grace period is concluded.
2. H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of Status and Work Authorization until October 1st
If you are 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, your F-1 status and STEM OPT employment authorization will be extended. 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 your behalf.
You are encouraged to contact ISSS with questions relating to the H-1B cap gap, eligibility requirements and documentation procedures.
3. Beginning a new program of study
Authorization for STEM OPT is automatically terminated if you officially transfer your F-1 record to another school or begin study at another educational level on a new Form I-20.
4. Change/Adjustment to another visa status
If you intend to remain in the U.S. following completion of your STEM OPT and your primary purpose will not be full-time study, you 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.
You may have additional questions about whether or not you meet the eligibility requirements or want further details on the requirements. We encourage you to consult these resources.