STEM OPT Extension
The STEM OPT Extension is a 24-month extension of work authorization available to international students who are currently engaged in Optional Practical Training (OPT) and who have earned a qualifying degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. Students require a STEM OPT I-20 from UCIE as part of their application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
STEM OPT Forms
- STEM OPT Packet
- STEM OPT Request
- STEM OPT Reporting
- Employment Authorization Forms
- STEM OPT Training
Important I-765 Information
New fees will be effective Oct. 2, 2020. Applications and petitions postmarked on or after Oct. 2, 2020, must include the new fees or we will not accept them.
On or after Oct. 2, 2020, to apply for employment authorization, you must use the updated edition of Forms I-765 and I-765WS.
What to Know About Sending Us Your Forms I-765 and I-765WS
If you send the 12/26/19 edition (which is the old edition):
- We will not accept this edition if it is postmarked on or after Aug. 25, 2020.
If you send the 08/25/20 edition (which is the current edition):
- We will accept this edition if it is postmarked on or after Aug. 25, 2020.
If you send the 10/02/20 edition (which is the new edition):
- This form has not yet published and is available in preview mode only, so you have an opportunity to see what it looks like.
- We will not accept this edition if it is postmarked before Oct. 2, 2020.
- This edition will be the only acceptable edition for forms postmarked on or after Oct. 2, 2020.
How to Apply for STEM OPT
Follow the steps below:
- Begin by completing an I-983 with your employer and then, visit our STEM OPT Request to request your new STEM OPT I-20. The I-983 requires information from both the student and the employer. For assistance in completing this form, please view our Guide to Completing the I-983.
- UCIE will prepare a new I-20 for you. In most cases, your I-20 will be ready in one week. We will notify you via email once it is ready.
- After receiving your new I-20, you must submit an application packet to USCIS. Refer to the Optional Practical Training: STEM Extensions packet for a checklist. Mail the documentation on the Checklist to USCIS. Keep in the mind following:
- The earliest date to apply is 90 days before OPT end date (UCIE will not process your request before this date).
- USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the OPT I-20 is issued.
- USCIS must receive your application before the expiration date of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Sending Your Application
We recommend using a trackable mail service such as FedEx or United Parcel Service (UPS). The address you use on the I-765 determines where you should send your application (see USCIS I-765 mailing instructions).
Start planning for your STEM OPT application before your current EAD card expires. After that expiration date, you are no longer eligible to apply for STEM extension. See step 3 above for specific timelines required by USCIS.
These deadlines refer to when the USCIS will receive their application, so students should allow time for working with UCIE on the application and mailing it in.
STEM OPT Basics
Is my degree eligible for a STEM extension?
A student must have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs* list within the last 10 years. To check if your major is eligible, look at the “Primary Major” on your I-20, then search for that code in the CIP code column on this list.
Do I need a job offer to apply for STEM OPT?
Yes, you must already have an e-verified employer to fill out an I-983.
How do I choose my start date? What should my end date be?
The start date of the 24-month OPT extension will be the day after the end date on your OPT EAD card and the end date will be 24 months later. For example, if my USCIS authorized OPT end date is 06/02/2018, then my STEM start date is 06/03/2018 and the end date will be 06/02/2020. These dates are not flexible.
Where can STEM OPT students work?
Anywhere in the US for an E-Verify employer in a paid position directly related to his or her major. A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week.
Continue reading our Frequently Asked Questions section below if you are interested in working as a contractor, for multiple employers, or starting your own business.
What happens after I submit my application?
Approximately 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the address listed on your I-765. The receipt includes a tracking number to check the progress of your STEM OPT application online. Your card should arrive at the address listed on your I-765 approximately 3-5 months after USCIS receives your application. If your OPT extension is approved, you must send a photocopy of your new EAD card to the UCIE at Kimberly.firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if my STEM extension is still pending after my OPT end date?
If you have timely filed the application for the STEM extension, you may continue working even if your EAD card has expired and until your OPT extension is processed or until 180 days have passed, whichever is sooner.
What is the unemployment limit on STEM OPT?
You are allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment time, which includes any unemployment accrued during 12-month OPT.
What are some common reasons for OPT Denial or Rejection?
- Signature – the I765 must be signed in black ink – e-signatures are not valid.
- Version of I765 - Make sure to use the most recent I-765 from the USCIS website. The current "expiration" date on USCIS forms is located at the bottom of the form, not the top. The top date is the OMB expiration date, and for filing purposes, is irrelevant. The expiration date on the current I-765 form is 12/26/2019.
- Reason for Applying – you must mark an item in Part 1.
How do I report changes in my employment status or my personal contact information?
You are required to report any of the following through the STEM OPT Request & Reporting form within 10 days:
- Starting a new job – requires final eval (bottom of page 5 of I983) for previous employer and new I983 (pages 1-4) for new employer
- 12-month evaluations (requires top of page 5 of I983)
- 24-month evaluations (requires bottom of page 5 of I983)
- 6 and 18-month validation reports
You are also required to report any of the following changes through the SEVP Portal within 10 days:
- Your legal name or contact information (phone number, mailing address)
- Your employment address/location
- Your supervisor’s name and contact information.
- You have left a job (submit job end date in SEVP Portal and send a final evaluation using the Employment Reporting form
Note: The SEVP Portal does not currently include the option to reprint your I-20. After updating your employer information, please email email@example.com to request an updated copy of your I-20 for your records.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I work for more than one employer?
Yes, students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
Can I work for a contractor (1099 employment)?
Yes, students may take a position where they perform a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
Can I work for myself?
Technically, no. Under the regulations, students may not fill out their own Form I-983, Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. Therefore, self-employment is not acceptable for the purposes of STEM OPT employment.
Can I apply for STEM OPT a second time?
A student can apply for STEM OPT once per degree level (i.e., bachelor's, master's or doctorate) for a maximum of two STEM OPT periods.
To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree at a higher education level and must be participating in active post-completion OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension. In some cases, students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree to qualify for their second STEM OPT extension.
What if I change employers while my STEM extension is still pending?
You must complete a new I-983 with your new employer and submit it to our office. Once you have completed this process, our office will report the change to the USCIS.
More information regarding OPT can be found at the Study in the States, Department of Homeland Security website.
If you currently on OPT STEM Extension, please read the following requirements:
- 6-month reporting - STEM OPT Request & Reporting form
- If you are changing locations, please submit an updated STEM OPT Request & Reporting form and updated I-983.
- If you are changing employers, please submit a completed STEM OPT Request & Reporting form, form I-983 from the new employer, and a final evaluation (page 5 of form I-983) from the employer you are leaving.
- Finally, remember to submit a self-evaluation (page 5 of form I-983) every 12 months from the authorization start date.