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.
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.
Summary of the important changes in the final rule:
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.
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.
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 to follow the steps below:
Step 1 - Prepare the following items:
Step 2 - Meet with your ISA or send all required documents to email@example.com.
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:
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
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:
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
Step 4 - Once you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), email a color copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The USCIS requires that a copy of this document be kept on your file with the university.
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:
A way that students currently participating in OPT can extend their OPT period beyond the original 12 months. Visit the Department of Homeland Security Website for full details.
Contact your International Student Advisor (ISA) on STEM Extension application steps
90 days prior to the current OPT expiration day.
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.
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
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.
Students must work at least 20 hours per week while 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
All students on OPT are required to report the following within 10 days of the change:
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 on 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.
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.
You are not required to change employment information if you will take a business trip outside the U.S.
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 email@example.com for prompt assistance in this case.
A maximum of 2 STEM OPT Extensions are allowed in a lifetime.
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.
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.
No. The STEM OPT final rule did not change H-1B visa policies.
DeMoss Hall, Room 2232
8 a.m.–5 p.m. EST