Optional Practical Training (STEM Extension)

Definition

Commonly known as the STEM extension, the 24-Month OPT Extension is for F-1 students who are currently authorized for OPT based on completion of a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) field. STEM OPT extensions may be granted once per degree level (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate). However, a student may only receive the OPT extension up to twice during the course of his or her studies in the U.S.

Eligibility

To apply for the 24 Month Extensions, students must meet these requirements:

  • Be on approved 12 month OPT.
  • Accrued fewer than 90 days of employment during current period of 12 month OPT.
  • Completed and graduated with a Bachelor, Master, or Doctorate degree in a STEM field as identified by the STEM Designated Degree Programs list published by Department of Homeland Security.
    • There is no flexibility to grant an OPT extension for a major that does not meet these guidelines.
    • Degree may be from current institution or previously earned at a different accredited U.S. institution within past ten years.
    • Graduate students with thesis/dissertation requirements may potentially file for the extension without degree conferral. However, all coursework must be complete.
  • Been approved no more than once previously for a 24 Month OPT Extension (two-time option only).
  • Be employed in or have a job offer for a position related to the earned STEM degree. The employer must enrolled in the E-Verify program and have an FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number).
  • Agree to provide the student with mentorship and learning objectives and document the training plan through completion of form I-983. The employer must complete form I-983 on behalf of the student at time of application, anytime there is a material change in employment, and yearly review at the 12 month and 24 month time period
    • Please note that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the discretion to conduct site visits with your employer to confirm implementation of the training plan goals and review compliance with regulations.
    • Ensure that duties, hours, and compensation are commensurate with terms and conditions applicable to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment.
    • Notify ISSS in the event of the termination of student’s employment or departure from the job within five business days.

Other Restrictions

Please note that self-employment and volunteer work do not qualify for the STEM extension. Contract work may also be problematic.

When should you apply for the OPT extension?

USCIS will accept 24 Month OPT Extension applications up to 90 days (three months) prior to the expiration of your initial 12 months of OPT. Your application must be received and receipted by USCIS before your 12 month period of OPT expires. ISSS recommends applying as early as possible.

Provided that your application for the 24-Month OPT Extension is received in a timely manner, you may continue employment for up to 180 days after the expiration of your initial period of OPT while your application is being processed by USCIS.

24-Month Extension Application Process

Login to your InterLink account using your unique ID and password. Go to “F-1 Practical Training” and complete the e-form request “Optional Practical Training (OPT) 24-Month Extension Request.”

Required Documentation for your 24-Month OPT Extension Application

  • Form I-765
  • Form I-983. This form is your and your employer's training plan. Please note this form should be primarily completed by your employer. See instructions from the government for more guidance.
  • Non-Refundable Application Fee of $410. Only personal checks or money orders are accepted and should be made payable to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Note: If you choose personal check, be prepared to ensure your account has sufficient funds for several weeks. If the check has an old address on it, cross it out and write your current address.
  • Copy of your passport including the name and photo page as well as expiration date.
  • Copy of entry stamp in passport and electronic I-94 number information.
  • Copy of your Employment Authorization Documents. Please make a copy of the front of your OPT card. 
  • Two color passport-style photos.
    • Photos must be taken within the last 30 days within the U.S. Please do not submit old photos or photos taken outside the U.S. or else your application may be rejected by USCIS
    • On the back of the photos, print your name and I-94 number in pencil  or pen; press lightly so you don’t dent or smear the picture.
  • Copy of diploma that shows your degree level and program of study OR transcript (official or unofficial) showing degree conferral
  • Job offer/confirmation letter from employer
    • Explanation of job duties and title
    • Pay
    • Location of the company
    • Whether your employment is part-time or full-time
    • E-verify information
  • Copy of the new I-20 from ISSS with recommendation for OPT extension (to be processed after receiving your application for an extension).
  • Optional: Form G-1145 If you complete this form, USCIS will send you a text message and/or e-mail when your application is received.

Submission of Application

In your e-form request, you will be directed to upload your application materials in the e-form for advisor review.  Please wait for instructions from an advisor.  If you are in Oxford, you are also welcome to schedule an "OPT Intake Appointment."

You will need to submit your application on your own to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. The application must be filed with the USCIS Service Center that has geographic jurisdiction over the address you list on the Form I-765. ISSS will provide guidance.  Please be sure to keep a copy of everything you submit.

Approximately 2-4 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the address you used on your I-765. There is a tracking number on the notice that you can use to track the progress of your OPT application online. Your card should arrive to the address listed on your I-765 approximately 3 months after USCIS receives your application.

If you used ISSS’s address on the I-765 form, your documents will be sent to ISSS and you will be notified by e-mail when they are available for pick-up and mailing arrangements will be made.

Unemployment on STEM Extension

You must work a minimum of 20 hours a week in a paid position directly related to your STEM major field of study.

You may not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment during the entire period of OPT (initial 12 month period plus 24 Month Extension).

OPT Reporting Requirement and Additional Six Month Check-In, and Annual Evaluations

While on OPT you are legally required to report certain information to ISSS including employment. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event. Events to report:

  • Any change in your residential address
  • Any change in your employment or unemployment status
  • Any material changes to your employment
  • Any change to another immigration status
  • Any plans to depart the U.S. permanently and end your OPT before your OPT end date

To Report

  1. Login to your InterLink account and click the blue login button for "Client Services." You will need your unique and password.
  2. Select "F-1 Practical Training"
  3. Complete the "Optional Practical Training (OPT) 24-Month Report" e-form.

In addition to the regular reporting requirement, all individuals approved for a 24-Month OPT Extension are required per government regulations to check-in with ISSS every six months, regardless of any employment or personal address changes. To comply with this requirement, please submit an “OPT 24-Month Report” e-form.

Your employer and you are also required to complete an annual evaluation (form I-983) during your extension period. The first evaluation should take place 12 months into your extension period. The final evaluation and exit interview should occur at the end of your extension period. You are required to submit this documentation to ISSS. To do so, please login to InterLink and submit an “OPT 24 Month Report” e-form.

Travel while on 24-Month OPT Extension

It is possible to travel outside the U.S. during your approved 24-month OPT extension period. It is recommended you travel with the following documents:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months from the date of your re-entry)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp (unless using automatic visa revalidation)
  • OPT Extension I-20 with valid travel signature (given within the last six months)
  • Your unexpired OPT card
  • Proof of employment

If your application is still pending at the time of travel, government guidelines indicate that traveling outside the U.S. should still be possible. However, if you are traveling after the expiration of your 12 month employment authorization document and before receipt of your new employment authorization document, this could possibly cause confusion at the port of entry so ISSS urges caution. ISSS has learned that most individuals re-entering the U.S. on OPT are being taken to a space known as “secondary” so that the officer may further scrutinize documents. This practice is occurring due to issues with the officer’s system recognizing the OPT. Do not be alarmed. The officer just needs extra time to verify documentation but if you have all of the listed materials, your re-entry should still go smoothly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is my status while on the 24-Month OPT Extension?

You remain in F-1 status.

Do I have to use all 24 months?

The 24 months are automatic; ISSS has no way to shorten or lengthen the amount.

What is E-Verify? How do I know if my employer is E-Verified?

E-Verify is USCIS’s web-based system that electronically verifies the employment eligibility of employees. Employers who participate in the program have their own unique E-Verify number.

Not all employers participate in E-Verify, and if your employer does not participate, you will not be eligible for the extension. Please consult with your employer’s Human Resources department for more information.

Can I change employers while my 24-Month OPT Extension is pending?

Yes, provided the new employer participates in E-Verify. You will need to notify ISSS of any changes in your employment and submit new documentation, including form I-983.

I see I may apply for the STEM extension twice. Can I go ahead and apply for my second extension after my first extension?

No. You would need to complete another STEM degree at a higher level (i.e. Master’s to Ph.D.) to qualify for OPT again and the STEM extension.

Can I have multiple employers at the same time while on the STEM Extension?

Maybe, depending on the situation. However, each employer would need to meet the guidelines for the extension and submission of appropriate forms including the training plan. It is possible though that this might raise questions from the government which may scrutinize the application more closely to ensure that training objectives are being met at both employers.

I was previously approved for the STEM extension after my Master’s degree.  I’m completing my second Master’s degree now. Can I have the STEM extension again?

Please note that you may be granted a STEM OPT extension only once per degree level and the second STEM OPT request will need to be a higher degree level than the first.

How do I renew my U.S. Driver’s License?

Your driver’s license may be expiring upon the end of your original 12 month OPT work authorization period. If your driver’s license is expiring, please keep in mind that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles will most likely not allow you to renew your license without evidence that you are on Optional Practical Training (BMV). Generally the most acceptable evidence is your actual OPT card, which may take three months to be issued. ISSS has also received reports that some BMV’s also require proof of employment.

Can I expedite my application?

No, it is not possible to expedite Optional Practical Training applications. ISSS encourages you to allow sufficient time and apply as early as you are able!