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24-Month STEM OPT Extension

Introduction to STEM OPT Extension

OPT UpdateStudents with majors in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) who are currently approved for post-completion OPT may be eligible for a 24-month extension, for a total of 36 months of OPT work authorization.

It is very important that you read ALL of the following information, including Rules and Responsibilities.  You (not CGCE!) are responsible for maintaining your F-1 status while on OPT, which includes following all reporting requirements in a timely manner and following all the other rules of your F-1 OPT status.

STEM OPT Extension Information 

  • You must be in valid F-1 status
  • You are currently approved for Post-completion OPT
  • You completed a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field.  Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website for the STEM Designated Degree Program List.  Eligible degrees are listed by their Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code.  Your degree's CIP code is listed under Major 1 and Major 2 in the "Program of Study" section of your I-20.
  • You have a job or a job offer from an E-Verify employer
  • Each job must be a paid position and must be at least 20 hours per week 
  • Your employer must be willing to work with you to design formal training and learning objectives and must be willing to report employment termination to CGCE

The following types of employment are not allowed on the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Self-employed business owner. A student may not serve as his/her own supervisor on the I-983 form.
  • Employment through a "temp agency" or consulting firm.
  • CGCE must receive your application materials at least 30 days before your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires in order to allow time for processing.
  • USCIS must receive your application before your current Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has expired and within 30 days of when CGCE creates your new I-20.
  • The earliest students can apply for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension is 90 days before Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires.
  • The expected processing time for a STEM OPT Extension application is 3 - 5 months.
  • If USCIS receives your correctly filed application on time and your Post-completion OPT EAD expires before your application is adjudicated, you can continue to work for up to 180 days while the application is pending.
  • Students with a 24-month STEM OPT Extension are limited to 150 days of unemployment during their entire 36-month OPT period.

Step 1

  1. Complete the OPT Update Form including your address*, phone number, email address, and information about your employment and supervisor
  2. Submit the following to an International Student Adviser (scanned copies are fine)
    1. Completed and printed I-765 form. Pay close attention to the instructions when filling out this form!).  Please see the CGCE example I-765 form
    2. I-983 form that you complete with your employer.  Please refer to the instructions for completing the I-983 form. There is also a video on the Study in the States site: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/form-i-983-overview
    3. An International Student Adviser will review your materials and issue a new I-20 with a STEM OPT recommendation.

*CGCE will mail your new I-20 to the updated local address provided.  If you prefer to receive the I-20 in a different way, such as picking it up from CGCE or having it mailed to a different address, please let us know.  We are not allowed to send I-20s via email.

Step 2

Gather all of the following documents in one package (in this order):

  1. G-1145 Form: (Optional) This form is a request for an e-notification (email or text) from USCIS when they receive your OPT application
  2. Application fee: Check or Money Order for $410 payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” or completed Form G-1450 if you wish to pay by credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover) or a debit card from a U.S.-based bank.
  3. Passport photos: Two (2) passport style photos that meet the specifications part C of the I-765 instructions. Write your full name and A-number on the back of each photo in pencil or felt pen. (USCIS appreciates it if you put your photos in a small plastic bag, i.e. ziplock)
  4. Application form: Completed and printed I-765 form
  5. Form I-20: Copy of your new I-20 with the 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation on page 2.  Be sure to sign and date it before you copy it!
  6. Proof of your STEM degree: Copy of Earlham transcript.  You may order an official transcript from the Registrar's office, but you should allow one week for processing.
  7. Passport: Copy of identification and information pages of your valid passport
  8. Visa: Copy of your most recent F-1 visa stamp in your passport (it's okay if it's expired)
  9. I-94: Copy of I-94 (both sides of I-94 card, if you have a paper card)
  10. EAD: Copy of front and back of your Employment Authorization Document(s) (EAD)

Step 3

Mail your application to the appropriate USCIS Lockbock.

If you used CGCE’s address on number 5a - 5e of the I-765 form, or if you used your own address and you live in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, you need to mail your application to the USCIS Phoenix lockbox:

For regular or express mail through U.S. Postal Services (USPS):

USCIS Phoenix Lockbox
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For Courier Deliveries (FedEx, UPS or DHL):

USCIS Phoenix Lockbox
Attn: NFB AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

If you used your own address on number 5a - 5e of the I-765 and you live in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, you need to mail your application to the USCIS Dallas lockbox:

For regular or express mail through U.S. Postal Services (USPS):

USCIS Dallas Lockbox
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For Courier Deliveries (FedEx, UPS or DHL):

USCIS Dallas Lockbox
Attn: NFB AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Step 4

If you used your own address on the I-765 form, then you will need to send CGCE a copy of your receipt from USCIS and a copy of the front and back of your new EAD when you receive it.

While on OPT you are still considered to be in F-1 student status, therefore Earlham College remains responsible for your SEVIS record. It is important that you uphold the requirements of your F-1 status throughout the period of your OPT. In order to maintain your status, you must do the following:

Reporting Requirements

It is important to understand the reporting requirements while on STEM OPT. The following requirements are your responsibility as an F-1 student and failure to comply will result in the termination of your OPT eligibility by USCIS or SEVP.

Address, contact information, name and employment changes:

Report any changes in address, phone number, email address, name, or employment (including employer name, employer contact information, and employment start/end dates) within 10 days of changes.  You may report this information to the Center for Global and Career Education (CGCE) through the OPT Update Form on the CGCE website, or directly to SEVP through the SEVP Portal. (Please notify an International Student Adviser if you update your employment information in the Portal as it may necessitate a new I-20.)

6-month SEVIS Validations:

You are required by USCIS to validate the following information in SEVIS every 6 months: your address, phone number, email and employment information. You will receive an email from SEVP when your 6-month validation reports are due. You may either check and update this information through the SEVP Portal and notify an International Student Adviser, or submit an OPT Update Form with this information so that an International Student Adviser may validate and/or update the information in SEVIS.

Annual Self-Evaluations:

While authorized under the 24-month STEM OPT Extension rule, you must submit an annual self-evaluation assessing the progress of your training experience. You are required to complete the first “Evaluation of Student Progress” portion of the Form I-983 within 12 months of the listed STEM OPT start date. At the end of the STEM OPT Extension, you must submit a second/final self-evaluation. Final self-evaluations are also required any time you stop working for an employer, regardless of how much time has passed. Completed evaluations must be signed by your employer and submitted to CGCE.

Material changes to an existing Form I-983:

You are required to submit an updated Form I-983 to an International Student Adviser if there are any material changes or deviations from your initial Form I-983. Material changes may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s EIN
  • Any reduction in your compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
  • Any significant decrease in the amount of hours/week you’re working
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or your learning objectives as listed on the I-983

If you do not comply with all regulatory requirements & submit a modified I-983 when necessary, your employment authorization will be jeopardized.

Additional Rules and Responsibilities

  • Engage in at least 20 hours/week of paid and supervised employment that is directly related to your major area of study and commensurate with your degree level.  Employment must be with a company or organization that participates in E-Verify.
  • The OPT authorization is approved for specific beginning and end dates. You must not work beyond the authorization period (end date).
  • While on a STEM OPT Extension, travel signatures are required every 6 months, rather than every 12 months. Please note:
    • You should only plan to leave the country while participating in OPT if you have secured a job and will be re-entering to resume employment. You will need to show your EAD at the port of entry and may need to demonstrate proof of employment. 
  • Students granted a 24-month STEM OPT Extension are permitted a maximum of 150 days of unemployment during the total 36 months of OPT work authorization, including the 12 months of Post-completion OPT. To maintain status, students with OPT authorization are required to report any interruptions in employment to an International Student Adviser within 10 days. Students approaching 150 days of unemployment should prepare to: depart the country, apply for a change of status, or transfer their SEVIS record to a new degree program. Students unemployed for more than 150 days will be considered out of status.
  • If you decide to discontinue your OPT and leave the U.S. before the End Date on your OPT card, inform an International Student Adviser of your decision and provide the date that you will leave the U.S. The International Student Adviser will “complete” your SEVIS record so that you do not continue to accrue days of unemployment.
  • Upon completion of OPT you should follow guidelines for the option below that best suits you, being sure to consult with an International Student Adviser as necessary.
    • Option 1 - Complete practical training and leave the U.S. within the 60-day grace period. This option requires you to inform CGCE of your intended departure.
    • Option 2 - Complete practical training and begin another degree program. If you intend to enroll in another degree program in the U.S. within 5 months of your OPT completion date, you will need to work with CGCE and your new school to coordinate the transfer process in SEVIS. Please note: Transferring your SEVIS record to a new academic program while on OPT automatically terminates your work authorization.
    • Option 3 - Continue working in a new visa status. If your employer is willing to sponsor you for a work visa visa, you will need to take the steps to change your status prior to the expiration of your OPT.

Alternative Types of Employment Allowed on a 24-month OPT Extension

  • Multiple employers.  A student may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to his or her degree program, all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify and must complete the I-983 form with the student.  Each job must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. The student must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract period and the name and address of the contracting company.

Not Allowed:

  • Self-employed business owner. A student may not serve as his/her own supervisor on the I-983 form.
  • Employment placement through a "temp agency" or consulting firm.

Your STEM OPT work authorization may be cancelled or invalidated if you:

  • Start a new degree program
  • Transfer to another institution
  • Change or end your F-1 status
  • Enter the U.S. using any visa other than F-1
  • Violate your F-1 non-immigrant status
  • Are unemployed for more than 150 days

Automatic work authorization extension during application procedure

If your regular Post-completion OPT expires after your STEM OPT Extension I-765 is filed properly and in a timely manner, your employment authorization is considered automatically extended for up to 180 days while the application is pending.  However, you should not travel outside of the U.S. until you receive your new EAD card.  Leaving the U.S. while your 24-month STEM OPT Extension application is pending is considered abandoning your application and will result in immediate and irreversible cancelation of your application.

Employer’s Responsibility

In addition to the I-983 Form responsibilities, your employer must agree to report to CGCE at Earlham within 48 hours if you leave your position.  He/she should provide your name, SEVIS ID number (if available), and the date that your employment ended.  This information may be submitted by email to internationalstudentadviser@earlham.edu

Travel

If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, be prepared to show the following documents upon reentry:

  • Valid passport with an expiration date that is at least 6-months into the future
  • Valid, unexpired F-1 visa
  • Valid Travel Signature on I-20 (Travel signatures are only valid for 6-months while on OPT)
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Proof of employment (e.g. initial offer letter, pay stubs, employment verification letter)

Only travel outside the U.S. while your STEM OPT Extension application is pending if you will return to the U.S. before your Post-completion OPT End Date. You will need to carry the I-797C receipt from your STEM application and an updated I-20.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dual Major
Minor
24-Month STEM OPT Extension Start Date
Expired EAD while Application Pending
Prior STEM Degree

Dual Major

You are eligible for a STEM OPT Extension if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and all jobs worked while on the extension are related to your STEM degree.

Minor

Your job must be directly related to your major - you cannot qualify for the 24-month extension based on a minor.

24-month STEM OPT Extension Start Date

The period of the 24-month STEM OPT Extension starts the day after your Post-completion OPT End Date.

Expired EAD While 24-month Extension Is Pending

If you have properly filed a STEM OPT Extension application, your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the 24-month STEM OPT Extension application is pending. There is no interim documentation of the extended authorization. If your employer needs information about what documents to collect as proof of extended work authorization, please refer to them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Central

Prior STEM Degree

An F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school to fulfill the STEM degree eligibility requirement. To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT Extension, the F-1 student must:

  • Currently be approved for Post-completion OPT and have valid F-1 status.
  • Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree (at the bachelor's level or higher) within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT Extension.
  • Have a qualifying STEM degree that is on DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT Extension (rather than at the time that the student received the degree)

 

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