STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension

The 24-Month Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Extension allows certain F-1 students who are on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) to apply for a 24-month extension of their one-year post-completion OPT. The STEM extensions can be issued based on your current degree or a previous degree that is a qualified STEM major.

Summary

Eligibility

Application Process

Reporting Requirements

Employers

Frequently Asked Questions


Summary

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a final STEM OPT Rule that significantly expanded and changed the STEM OPT Extension. The 17-month STEM OPT regulations remained in force through May 9, 2016 and the new 24-month STEM OPT rule went into effect on May 10, 2016. 

The full ruling is available online.

Summary of the important changes in the final rule:

  • Lengthened the STEM OPT Extension period from the current 17 months to 24 months.
  • Allowed students who earn multiple degrees to benefit from two periods of STEM OPT Extension based on higher degree levels. Previously, only one STEM OPT period was allowed per lifetime.
  • Clarified and expanded the total unemployment time allowable while engaged in OPT and STEM OPT Extension.
  • Allowed certain students who have prior STEM related degrees to file for STEM OPT Extensions based on the prior degree after OPT based on non-STEM related degrees.
  • Re-affirmed the “cap gap” benefit for students with expiring OPT and STEM OPT Extensions and selected H-1B petitions.
  • Additional information on the STEM extension can be found on the DHS Study in the States STEM OPT HUB website.

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Eligibility

Degree

To qualify, you must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in a STEM field. Note, not all STEM degrees are eligible. You can find out if your degree qualifies by checking the “CIP code” which is listed next to the program on your I-20 and then checking the STEM Designated Degree Program List with the DHS.

In some cases, an F-1 student who earned a STEM-eligible degree at a currently accredited SEVP certified school, may be able to obtain an extension based on that prior degree. To use a prior degree you must have graduated within the past 10 years and currently be in your OPT period. The degree must also be on the STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application.

Employer

In order to be eligible for the STEM Extension you must be currently working for an employer that is enrolled in the E-Verify Program with the U.S.. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more information on E-Verify or to find out if your employer is eligible, please visit www.uscis.gov/e-verify. Students must also select an employer that will guarantee a minimum of 20 hours per week.

Form I-983 Training Plan

The employer must complete the I-983 training plan with the student. For more information on employer requirements visit the DHS Study in the States STEM OPT Hub

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Application Process

In order to apply for the STEM extension, the student must first contact their International Student Advisor (ISA) to determine if they are eligible. The student may set up an in person appointment or a phone appointment by calling the front desk of the International Student Center (ISC) at 434-592-4118. Once determined that the student is eligible follow the steps below:

Step 1-  Prepare the following items:

  1. Form I-983 training plan
  2. Form I-765
  3. Original job offer letter
  4. Money Order for $410.00 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  5. Two photographs (Must meet the USCIS Color Photograph Specifications). Quality photos must be less than 30 days old and can be taken at the local CVS, Walgreens or Wal-Mart.
  6. Final transcripts in a sealed official envelope from the Registrar’s Office (Do not open the transcripts package)
  7. Color copy of student’s current and all previously issued I-20s
  8. Color copy of student’s valid EAD card (front and back)
  9. Color copy of the student’s passport
  10. Color copy of the student’s I-94
  11. Color copy of the student’s visa (even if it has expired)
  12. 24-Month Extension Application

Step 2- Meet with your ISA or send all required documents to mystatus@liberty.edu.

  • Appointments can be made by calling the ISC at 434-592-4118.
  • Your ISA will review the application, recommend the STEM OPT Extension (if approved) and create your new I-20.
  • The expected processing time for the I-20 is two business days.

Step 3- Send the completed OPT Extension Application Packet to the USCIS for approval. OPT application must be received by the USCIS within 30 days after the OPT I-20 is issued.   


If 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 Northern Mariana Islands.

Mail your application to:

USCIS Phoenix Lockbox

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For Express mail and courier deliveries:

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


 If 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

Mail your application to:

USCIS Dallas Lockbox

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:

USCIS
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For Express mail and courier deliveries:

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


Step 4-  Once you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), email a color copy to mystatus@liberty.edu. The USCIS requires that a copy of this document be kept on your file with the university.

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Reporting Requirements

F-1 Students applying for and engaged in STEM OPT will be subject to additional reporting and must submit extra documentation, including attestations from their employer. This includes:

  • Reporting changes to name, U.S. address, and employment details within 10 days;
  • Completing a mandatory reporting check-in every 6 months;
  • Submitting a formal Training Plan (Form I-983) before the STEM OPT extension application can be processed. The Training Plan will be filled out by the student and signed by the student and employer. It may need to be submitted to USCIS as a part of the STEM OPT Extension filing. It will be subject to DHS review and will be a required part of the immigration (SEVIS) record.
  • Submitting a formal employer-signed self-evaluation of the training progress at the 12 and 24 month points in the STEM OPT Extension period. The self-evaluations will be subject to DHS review and will be a required part of the immigration (SEVIS) record.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Application Questions

What is the STEM OPT Extension?

How do I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

What tools are available to help me apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

What are the eligible CIP Codes for the STEM OPT Extension?

How early can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

  • 90 days prior to the current OPT expiration day.

How soon must I submit the STEM OPT Extension application to USCIS after receiving my new I-20?

  • Students must properly file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the USCIS within 30 days of the date the ISA enters the recommendation for the STEM OPT Extension into the SEVIS record.

What is an E-verify number?

  • A number that helps employers and the federal government determine employment eligibility. This is something your employer has, and you will need to ask for in order to complete 24 month STEM OPT Extension applications

Employment Details Questions

Can I work after my original OPT period expires, if I have a pending application for STEM OPT Extension with the USCIS?

  • Yes. Students may continue to work for up to 180 days after the end date of the Post-Completion OPT EAD, as long as they have submitted a STEM OPT Extension request before the original OPT expiration date and it is pending review by the USCIS.

What is the minimum number of hours I can work each week?

  • Students must work at least 20 hours per week while on STEM OPT Extension.

Is it possible to work multiple jobs on STEM OPT Extension?

  • The DHS anticipates that it will be very unusual, though not expressly prohibited, for students to work with more than two employers at the same time during the STEM OPT Extension period, given that each employer must fully comply with the requirements of this rule and employ the student for no less than 20 hours per week.

What types of work are NOT allowed on STEM Extension OPT?

  1. Volunteer/unpaid work
  2. Employment through employment agencies
  3. Self-employment

What about start-ups?

  • The official communication states that the employment "Must be a bona fide employer and employee relationship." If you have a start-up there must be someone in the company that can serve as a supervisor and train you in the STEM field you have studied as part of your work. The company must also fit all the government requirements to be a STEM OPT eligible employer.

How does applying for STEM OPT Extension affect my travel plans?

  • F-1 Regulations allow students participating in OPT to travel abroad, but there may be additional risks and/or additional documentation to prepare.  Liberty University is unable to guarantee that students will be granted entrance by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon return to the U.S or that the Consulate will renew an F-1 visa.  Although not common, there are reports of students on OPT having problems at ports of entry as well as being denied visas or experiencing significant visa delays. The decision to travel abroad must be made by the individual student with an understanding of the preparations that should be made and the risks involved. If travel must be done while on OPT, F-1 regulations require that the student present the following documents to CBP upon reentry:
    • Passport valid at least 6 months into the future from the date of reentry
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp
    • I-20 containing the OPT recommendation and a travel signature less than 6 months old.
    • Unexpired EAD card.
    • Proof the student is returning to resume employment. This can be in the form of a job offer letter or a letter written on letterhead from the student’s supervisor confirming employment. However, a paystub or other documentation showing intent to return to work may be sufficient for a CBP officer.

Form I-983 Training Plan Questions

What is the form I-983 Training Plan and how do I complete it?

 What if I have changes to my training plan?

  •  If you need to make material changes to your Training Plan, you and your employer must both sign the modified version of the Training Plan and file the updated version with your ISA as soon as possible. Material changes may include, for example, a significant decrease in hours per week that you will be engaging in the practical training or a reduction in compensation without a reduction in hours worked.

Will my training be evaluated during my STEM OPT Extension opportunity?

  • Yes. You and your employer need to sign your self-evaluation on an annual basis. You will be required to do a mid-point evaluation during the first 12-month interval of your STEM OPT Extension and a final self-evaluation prior to the conclusion of your STEM OPT Extension.

Unemployment Questions

How does the new STEM OPT Extension rule change the total number of unemployment days allowed?

  • Students awarded the 24 month are permitted 60 days of unemployment in addition to the 90 days allowed on the initial 12 month period of OPT. Any unused unemployment days from the original 12 months of OPT can be added to the STEM period, allowing a maximum of 150 days of unemployment for STEM students.

What counts as time unemployed?

  • Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. Authorization begins on the employment start date shown on the student's EAD card.

Reporting Requirements Questions

What are the reporting requirements for STEM OPT Extension students?

  • All students on OPT are required to report the following within 10 days of the change:
  1. Change of address, email and phone contact information
  2. Name of employer, and any change of name of employer
  3. Address of employer, and any change of address of employer
  4. Interruption of such employment
  5. Change of name
  6. Reporting Requirements
  7. Students must submit a validation report every 6 months
  • Students must complete a self-evaluation form describing the training progress. This form must be signed by the employer and submitted to your ISA at the 12 and 24 month points in the STEM OPT Extension period. The self-evaluation will be subject to DHS review and will be a required part of the student’s immigration (SEVIS) record.
  • Students must report any change in legal name, residential, or mailing address, employer name, employer address, and/or loss of employment to ISA within 10 days of occurrence.
  • Students must submit a new training plan (I-983) to ISA and request a new I-20 within 10 days of starting any new employment.

Processing Questions

I applied for the STEM OPT Extension and haven't received my I-797C (notice of receipt) from the USCIS.

  • These usually arrive in 3-4 weeks.
  • If 3-4 weeks have passed and you still have not received the I-797C, then contact your ISA to double check if he/she received the notice. After that, we suggest you contact the USCIS. It is a known problem that the USCIS sometimes fails to deliver I-797Cs due to a range of possible errors.

My case status on the USCIS website hasn't updated in a long time. What do I do?

  • The USCIS does not frequently update the case status. There may be long periods of time between updates with no communication. If you are within the normal processing time, and have received no special communication from the USCIS or your ISA, then you need to wait patiently for your document to be processed.

Other Related Questions

Why did DHS implement a new STEM OPT Extension rule effective May 10, 2016?

  • The STEM OPT extension rule is in response to a court decision that vacated the 2008 DHS rule on procedural grounds. The rule includes changes to the policies announced in the 2008 rule to increase the educational benefits provided by STEM OPT extensions and oversight of STEM OPT.

How do the changes to the STEM OPT rule benefit international students and schools?

  • The changes to the rule promote the ability of international students to gain valuable and practical STEM experience that supplements the knowledge gained through their academic studies, while guarding against harmful effects to U.S workers. By applying their academic knowledge in a STEM OPT extension, students will be in a better position to begin careers in their fields of study. The changes also help U.S. colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international students to study and lawfully remain in the United States.

As a STEM OPT Extension participant, am I required to pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes for Social Security and Medicare?

  • F1 Students are not subject to Social Security and Medicare contributions (FICA withholdings) for the first five years that they reside in the U.S. As a participant in STEM OPT, you are not considered a resident for federal tax purposes as long as you comply with the requirements of your F-1 visa and have not already held F-1 status for more than five years.

My employer has asked me to take a business trip outside the U.S. What do I report?

  • You are not required to change employment information if you will take a business trip outside the U.S.

I have already completed one STEM Extension OPT, and I am now studying for a degree at a higher level. Is it possible to receive STEM Extension OPT again?

  • Yes. Students who complete a degree, go on 12 months OPT, then participate in a STEM OPT Extension, and return to university to complete a STEM eligible degree at a higher education level, will be eligible for another 12 month OPT period AND an additional STEM OPT Extension of 24 months.
  • Please speak with your ISA by emailing mystatus@liberty.edu for prompt assistance in this case.
  • A maximum of 2 STEM OPT Extensions are allowed in a lifetime.

I just completed a non-STEM eligible degree and I am on OPT for that degree, but I previously earned a STEM eligible degree at a lower education level. Can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension based upon my previous degree?

  • Yes! Students participating in a 12 month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree may apply for a STEM extension based upon the prior eligible STEM degree (that has been earned in the past 10 years).
  • Please note that the work performed under the 24 month STEM OPT Extension must be directly related to the earlier STEM degree.

What about the Cap-Gap extension?

  • Students with a timely filed H-1B petition and a request for a change of status may apply to receive a "Cap-Gap" extension of their F-1 status. If applicable, their post-completion allows such students to automatically extend the duration of their F-1 status and any current post-completion OPT employment authorization until the first day of the new fiscal year (i.e., Oct. 1 of the fiscal year for which the H-1B status is being requested.) or until a decision is made on their case, whichever is first.
  • See the link below for more information on H-1B and Cap-Gap

Did the STEM OPT Extension change H-1B visa policies?

  • No. The STEM OPT final rule did not change H-1B visa policies.

Is a STEM OPT extension a way to avoid the requirements of an H-1B visa?

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