The STEM OPT extension allows for 24 months of additional OPT employment authorization for students in specific STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Employment must be directly related to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field.
In order to be eligible for STEM OPT, F-1 students must be on OPT following completion of a STEM degree. Under certain circumstances, students that earned a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school might also be eligible for STEM OPT (see your F-1 advisor for details).
List of major fields that qualify for the 24-month STEM extension: Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) major field codes
- The employer must be registered with E-verify
- Only paid positions are eligible for STEM OPT. Volunteer or unpaid positions are not acceptable.
- Employment must be full-time (20 or more hours/week)
- The employer must have a valid EIN.
- The employer in collaboration with the student must complete a Mentoring and Training Plan on a Form I-983. The form must show, among other things, that the employment is directly related to the student’s STEM degree program. The employer has additional responsibilities associated with employment/training of a STEM OPT student.
Reporting Requirements and Other Responsibilities
- Students must provide 6-months updates (even if there are no changes in employment or personal information), to be reported to the CGE using the online OPT Update Form.
- Two annual self-evaluations required, one within 12 months of the STEM OPT start date and the second one at the end of STEM OPT (included in Form I-983)
- Students must report any employment or personal information changes (legal name, address or e-mail address) using the online OPT Update Form
- Unemployment limit is 60 days during STEM OPT, for a total of 150 days for combined OPT and STEM OPT unemployment
- Any material changes to the Form I-983 must be reported by completing and submitting a new Form I-983. Changes include:
- Change in employer
- Any change of the employer's Employer Identification Number, resulting from a change in employer's ownership or structure.
- Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
- Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
- Changes to the employer's commitments or student's learning objectives as documented on the I-983.
- The employer has additional responsibilities associated with employment/training of a STEM OPT student as indicated on form I-983.
- When changing jobs, students must submit a new I-983 form signed by their new employer and a final-self evaluation for the previous work experience
When should I apply for the OPT STEM Extension?
An F-1 student may apply for the STEM Extension within 120 days of the initial post-completion OPT end date. The STEM Extension application MUST be received by USCIS before the end date of the initial post-completion OPT period. We recommend that students apply at least 90 days before the post-completion OPT end date.
What is E-verify?
E-verify is a program that electronically compares information on the I-9 form with Social Security and DHS records to help employers verify identity and employment eligibility of new hires. It is currently free in all 50 states. An employer can register by visiting the E-verify website.
When can I begin my STEM Extension work?
The STEM Extension work authorization begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved. Students who timely file a STEM Extension application will be able to continue employment with the E-verify employer while the extension application is pending, until adjudication or for 180 days, whichever is first.
Can I remain unemployed during my OPT STEM Extension?
During this time, your F-1 status is dependent on employment. Students must not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total 36 month OPT period.
Can I be self-employed or start my own business?
No! Self-employment doesn’t qualify for STEM OPT extension. STEM OPT requires an employer-employee relationship. Student cannot complete the I-983 on their own behalf - must have employer who can make the required attestations. Work for Hire (contractual relationship) is also not permitted.
What if I need to make 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 International Student Advisor 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.
I am currently on post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree but I also have a prior degree in a STEM field. Am I eligible for the 24-month STEM extension based on my previous degree?
You may be eligible for the 24-month STEM OPT extension if you meet all of the other eligibility requirements and you did not previously complete a STEM extension based on that degree. In order to be eligible, you must have earned a degree in an eligible field at an accredited and US government-certified school within the last 10 years.
Am I eligible for a second STEM OPT authorization?
Yes, but only if you have a second STEM degree at a higher education level than the first STEM degree, AND the second STEM extension does not immediately follow the first extension. The STEM extension must always follow the conclusion of the Standard OPT period.
How long will it take for the CGE to review my 24-month STEM OPT application?
Processing time for STEM OPT is 1-2 weeks from the time you submit a complete application. Incomplete applications or additional follow-up with your employer could also delay the processing time.
How long will it take for USCIS to approve my application and to send my new EAD card?
USCIS takes about 2-3 months to process your application. Keep in mind that you are allowed to continue working for up to 180 days while the STEM OPT application is pending approval.