In March 2016, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) amended F-1 nonimmigrant student regulations on OPT for students with certain STEM degrees. The new rule, which provides for an extension of the OPT period by 24 months (a STEM OPT extension), went into effect on May 10, 2016. Interested F-1 students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Please speak with an international student advisor if you want more guidance on this process.

Are You Eligible for the STEM OPT Extension?

DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students once per degree level, and now allows eligible students to participate in the STEM OPT extension twice over the course of their academic career. To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree at a higher education level, and be participating in an initial period of OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension. Students may not apply for a STEM OPT extension during the 60-day grace period following an initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT.

Degree

To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student must currently be working in a period of post-completion OPT and must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS. 

Employer

In order to receive the STEM OPT extension, a student must pursue their practical training at least 20 hours a week through an employer that is enrolled at USCIS’s E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Application Process

Eligible students may file a STEM extension application up to 90 days before the expiration of their current OPT authorization, but the application must be received before the end date of their EAD card. Timely filed applicants will receive an automatic extension of employment authorization for up to 180 days while the application is pending.

Step 1. Complete the STEM OPT Extension Application

This step will collect information pertaining to your requested STEM OPT extension. Please complete the STEM OPT Extension form in its entirety (including the confirmation that you understand all reporting requirements while on the STEM OPT extension) and submit it to OIS.

Step 2. Complete Form I-983

The 2016 final rule that reinstates the 24-month STEM OPT regulations increases the educational benefits that F-1 students receive from their practical training experiences by requiring the submission of a formal training plan. The formal training plan must clearly articulate the STEM OPT student’s learning objectives and affirm the employer’s commitment to helping the student achieve those objectives. To fulfill this requirement, a student and their employer must complete and sign Form-I-983 and submit it to OIS.

Step 3. Submit Materials to USCIS

Upon completion of the steps listed above, an international student advisor will review your application. If eligible, the advisor will issue a Form I-20 for the student to submit with additional required materials to USCIS to apply for a STEM OPT extension.

Please note: Students who are granted a STEM extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total period of OPT, including both the 12-month post-completion period and 24-month extension period.

Student Reporting Requirements

In order to maintain their legal F-1 status, a STEM OPT student must regularly check in with their DSO throughout the duration of the extension to validate Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) details and report changes made to the student's training plan. Learn more about reporting requirements or visit the Department of Homeland Security STEM OPT Hub