STEM OPT Extensiom

F-1 students who earned bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are eligible for an extension of post-completion OPT - called STEM OPT extension.

This page provides a comprehensive guide for international students intending to do STEM OPT extension.

Before Submitting your STEM OPT extension Application to USCIS:

Check your Eligibility for 24-Month STEM OPT Extension

New STEM regulations took effect on May 10, 2016. Key changes included:

  • Extended the length of time from 17 months to 24 months
  • Requires employers to complete a Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students”  
  • Allows students who graduated with a non-STEM degree but who received an earlier STEM degree from an accredited institution in the U.S. to apply for the STEM extension

These are the eligibility requirements:

  • Qualifying degree and school
    • Valid F-1 status.
    • Completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM degree listed on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT.
      • Double major degrees will be considered, but not minor degrees.
  • Qualifying job
    • Job must be paid employment for a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • Qualifying employer
  • Form I-983 Training Plan
    • Employer must design a training program and sign agreement on Form I-983.
  • Filing deadlines
    • Application must be received by USCIS no earlier than 90 days before the expiration of current post-completion OPT and no later than the expiration of the current post-completion OPT AND no later than 60 days from the date the DSO recommended the STEM OPT Extension on the new I-20, whichever is earlier.

Review the Application Process and Timeline

Because it takes at least 90 days for the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve your application, you are strongly encouraged to apply early. NOTE: You can apply up to 90 days before your OPT end date, but no later than the end date of your OPT.

□ STEP #1: Discuss completion of I-983 with employer.

□ STEP #2: Gather all documents for the STEM Extension OPT application package.

□ STEP #3: Scan and email STEM Extension OPT Request Form and Form I-983 (only pages 1-4) to istemopt@ucsd.edu. (Form I-983 Instructions)

□ STEP #4: OPTIONAL: If you would like ISPO to review your documents before submitting them to USCIS, e-mail the OPT STEM Extension Application package to istemopt@ucsd.edu

 □ STEP #5: After receiving the new I-20, mail the STEM Extension OPT application package to USCIS. The application package must be received by USCIS before the current I-766 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card expires. 

□ STEP #6: Continue employment. If the STEM Extension OPT is timely filed, employment is authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the application is pending with USCIS. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8 CFR 247a.12(c)(6)(iv)

Check the Application Requirements

A complete OPT Application Packet includes:

□  You have reported your most updated personal and employer information by submitting an OPT Reporting Form. You will be prompted to report your entire employment history (all current and previous OPT employers).

□  OPT STEM Extension Request Form

□  Copy of new I-20 with 24 month STEM Extension recommendation

□  I-765 application form (available at www.uscis.gov). NOTE: The I-765 form was updated on 01/17/2017 and is now 2 pages instead of 1 page. USCIS will not accept the old I-765 form after 02/17/2017.

□  I-765 application fee: US$410 check or money order made payable to "US Department of Homeland Security." See "Guidelines for Completing Check" for example. NOTE: Effective 12/23/16, all applications received by USCIS on 12/23/16 and beyond will be subject to an increased application fee of $410.

□  I-983 signed by employer (required after May 10, 2016). Scan and email to istemopt@ucsd.edu.

□  Copy of valid EAD card (Form I-766)

□  Copy of passport biographical page (including photo, birthdate, and expiration date); include passport extension page (if applicable). NOTE: Passport must be valid for at least 6 months in the future.

□  Copy of F-1 visa page or change of status to F-1 approval notice (Form I-797)

□  Copy of I-94 (https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/consent.html)

□  Copy of of diploma showing the level and program of study

□  Two US-style passport photos

 NOTE: USCIS must receive your I-765 application packet before the expiration date on your EAD card. Please plan accordingly.

Review the Guidelines for Application Fee Payment

When mailing your STEM Extension OPT Packet to USCIS, make sure you inclue the US$410 check or money order made payable to "US Department of Homeland Security." Make sure that your name and SEVIS # (N000...) are written at the top of the check or money order. No cash is accepted.

NOTE: Effective 12/23/16, all applications received by USCIS on 12/23/16 and beyond will be subject to an increased application fee of $410.

Review the Guidelines for Completing the Form I-765

Make sure you complete the most recent version of Form I-765 available at www.uscis.gov. USCIS periodically updates this form so they will not accept outdated versions.

  • Document must be typed or completed in black ink
  • At "I am applying for," select "Renewal of my permission to accept employment".
  • Number 1: Use your name as it appears on your I-20. First, write your family name in capital letters. Then, write your first name and middle name.
  • Number 2: List other names you might use or have used on official documents such as an American name or a maiden name.
  • Number 3: Use your mailing address in the USA. This is where your receipt and EAD card will be sent. It can be a friend's or relative's address in the USA. Make sure this is a valid address for the next 3-5 months. The US Postal Service cannot forward your new EAD card. Invalid addresses may delay receipt of your EAD card.
  • Number 4: Write your country of citizenship.
  • Number 5: Write your city and country of birth.
  • Number 6: Write month, day, and year of your birthdate.
  • Number 7: Select "Male" or "Female".
  • Number 8: Select marital status at the time of completing this form.
  • Number 9: Write your Social Security number, not your UC San Diego Campus ID number.
  • Number 10: Write the 11-digit number found on your I-94 card.
  • Number 11: Write "Yes" that you received prior employment authorization from USCIS. If your EAD was granted, write "Granted", the name of the USCIS office, the date it was issued, and attach a copy of your EAD card.
  • Number 12: Write the most recent day of entry into the USA.
  • Number 13: Write the city where you last entered the USA.
  • Number 14 & 15: This is the I-94 status you had when you last entered the USA. It is only different from #15 if you changed your status after entering the USA.
  • Number 16: For STEM Extension OPT, write (c)(3)(C).
  • Number 17: Enter the Degree Name (Major) not the Education Level. Enter employer's name as listed in E-Verify and E-Verify Identification number (a 4-7 digit number).
  • Certification: Sign the form. Keep your signature within the space provided. Your signature will be scanned by USCIS and placed on your EAD card. WHEN SIGNING FORM I-765, DO NOT TOUCH THE TEXT ABOVE OR THE LINE BELOW.

Mail your OPT Package to USCIS

You must mail your EAD application packet within 60 days of the OPT recommendation date listed on the I-20, but before the end date of your current EAD card.If your package does not arrive on time, your application may be denied. Please plan accordingly.

Mailing Form I-765 directly to USCIS

Mail the following items to the appropriate USCIS Service Center:

□ US$410 Application fee

□ Two US-style passport photos (Full Name and SEVIS # printed lightly on back of photos)

□ Original Form I-765

□ Copy of updated I-20 (all pages) with OPT recommendation on page 2 (signed on front page)

□ Copy of passport information page

□ Copy of visa page

□ Copy of I-94 (front and back page)

□ Copy of valid EAD card (I-766)

□ Copy of diploma showing the level and program of study

DO NOT SEND THE I-983 TO USCIS.

If your mailing address is in California:

Mail your entire package via certified mail to:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

NOTE: Do not use the PO Box address listed above if you are sending your package via FEDEX, UPS, DHL or other courier mail provider. Express mailings require a physical street address. Send your package via courier mail to:

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

If your mailing address is outside of California:

Send your package to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox Facility depending on the state in which you live. Addresses are listed on the I-765 application instruction form at www.uscis.gov

After Submitting your STEM OPT Application to USCIS:

Receive your I-797 Receipt Notice

USCIS will send a receipt (Form I-797) within 7-10 business days confirming they received your application. Your receipt will have a case number.

Keep the original receipt in a safe place. This is the only way you can track your application at the USCIS Service Centers. You can check the status of your application at www.uscis.gov. Select "Check Case Status", and enter your case number.

 

Extension of Work Authorization and F-1 Status

Your work authorization and F-1 status is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the STEM extension application is pending. This applies even if your current EAD is expired. Please retain your I-797 receipt notice as documentation of your pending STEM extension application. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8 CFR 247a.12(c)(6)(iv)

Important note: F-1 OPT STEM extension applicants can only work while the OPT application is pending if the application was received by USCIS before the current EAD expiration date.

Travel Outside the USA and Reentry

If you need to travel outside the US and then reenter while your STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS, please review the following guidelines.

DHS clarifies in the preamble to the 24-month rule [81 FR 13103 par. 774] that,

"Students on STEM OPT extensions (including those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending) may travel abroad and seek reentry to the United States in F-1 status during the STEM OPT extension period if they have a valid F-1 visa that permits multiple entries and a current Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months. The student's status is determined by CBP upon admission to the United States or through a USCIS adjudication of a change-of-status petition."

Changing Employers while your Application is Pending

If you have already submitted an application for a STEM OPT extension, and are changing employers while your application is still pending, you must:

  1. Submit a new I-765 to istemopt@ucsd.edu (must include the company’s e-verify number)
  2. Submit a I-983 Final Evaluation from your previous employer (last page of I-983) to istemopt@ucsd.edu
  3. Submit a new I-983 Training Plan for your new employer (first 5 pages of I-983) to istemopt@ucsd.edu
  4. Fill out a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form directly on our website

After Receiving STEM OPT Approval from USCIS:

Receive your Approval and new EAD Card

When you receive your EAD card, your employer will request a copy for their records to verify your eligibility to work in the USA. In addition, please submit a copy of your EAD card (front and back) to ISPO by submitting a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form

DO NOT FORGET to Report your STEM OPT Participation

How to maintain F-1 status:

Students on STEM OPT Extension must do the following in order to maintain their F-1 status:

  • Work in a paid position for an E-Verify employer and signed I-983 at least 20 hours per week.
  • Work in a position related to the STEM degree.
  • Report your STEM OPT participation (see below)

 

What and when to report:

As per United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations regarding STEM OPT extension, all F-1 students currently on STEM OPT must report their employment details to their Designated School Officials (DSOs) at following reporting dates in order to maintain their F1 status:

  • 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months after the STEM OPT Extension start date listed on the STEM OPT EAD card, you must submit a new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  • 12 months after the STEM OPT Extension start date listed on the STEM OPT EAD card, you must upload the “Evaluation on Student Progress” section on the last page of your Form I-983 to the STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  • 24 months after the STEM OPT Extension start date listed on the STEM OPT EAD card, you must upload the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” section on the last page of your Form I-983 to the STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  • In between the 6-month reporting dates, if you experience a change in information (i.e. change of address, change of contact information, loss of employment, etc.) you must submit within 10 calendar days of the change a new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  • In between the 6-month reporting dates, if you change an employer, you must submit the following items within 10 calendar days of the change:
    1. Fill out a new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
    2. Upload the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” section on the last page of your Form I-983 from your previous employer to your STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
    3. Upload a new I-983 Training Plan (pages 1-4, including sections 1-6) for your new employer to your STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form 

Please Note: Failing to complete your 6-month OPT STEM Reporting is not complying with USCIS regulations, and you may be considered out of status.

STEM reporting chart:

For easy reference, please follow the chart below for STEM reporting requirements (*all dates are calculated from the start date on your STEM OPT EAD card):

6 months

Submit a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form

12 months

Submit a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form and an Evaluation on Student Progress

18 months

Submit a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form

24 months

Submit a STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form and a Final Evaluation

 

What is not allowed while on STEM OPT:

  • Work in a paid position for any employer that is not an E-Verify employer.
  • Have more than 150 days of unemployment time during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and STEM Extension OPT).

What to do when something is not clear:

For questions, please email istemopt@ucsd.edu. Include your FULL NAME and PID in ALL e-mail inquiries.

Please allow for 2-5 business days (not including weekends) for an advisor to review your message and respond.

Travel Outside the USA and Reentry while on STEM OPT

If you need to travel outside the US and then reenter after you have already received your STEM OPT EAD card, please review the following guidelines.

Students on OPT are still in F-1 student status. To reenter the USA, you must have:

  • Current passport that is valid up to six months after reentry date
  • Current F-1 visa
  • Current I-20 with valid travel signature on page 2
    NOTE: For post-completion OPT, travel signatures are valid for only six months—unlike one year validity for continuing students.
  • Original EAD card
  • Original job offer letter or verification of employment from employer

NOTE: Students with expired visas may find it extremely difficult to renew their F-1 visa for practical training purposes. Students on OPT are advised to plan carefully before leaving the USA.

Visit our Travel & Reentry page for more information on this topic.

Changing Employers while on STEM OPT

 If you have already received your STEM OPT EAD card for your STEM Extension, you must:

  1. Fill out a new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form directly on our website
  2. Upload the I-983 Final Evaluation (last page of I-983) from your previous employer to your STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  3. Upload a new I-983 Training Plan (first 4 pages of I-983) for your new employer to your STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form

Information for Employers

Completing STEM OPT Extension

Early completion of STEM OPT:

  • If you would like to complete your STEM OPT extension period before your STEM OPT EAD card expires, you must complete the following item regardless of whether you have recently done it for other reporting reasons:
    1. A new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form

 

Regular completion of STEM OPT:

  • Your STEM OPT extension period ends on the expiration date listed on your STEM OPT EAD card (usually 24 months after the STEM OPT start date), provided that you have maintained your F-1 status throughout your STEM OPT period.
  • You must submit the following items upon completion of your STEM OPT extension period:
    1. A new fully completed STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
    2. Upload the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” section on the last page of your Form I-983 to your STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
  • At the completion of the full approved period of STEM OPT extension (usually 24 months), students receive a 60-day grace period to remain in the US. Please note the following about your 60-day grace period:
    • You can remain in the USA during this period.
    • You cannot work in the USA during this period, unless you obtain additional employment authorization under another I-94 status.
    • Once you depart the USA, your grace period ends - even if you had time remaining.
    • If you plan to stay in the USA to continue in another academic program or using a different visa status, please contact ISPO directly so the appropriate action can be made on your SEVIS Record.

Contact Us

Questions regarding STEM OPT? Please e-mail istemopt@ucsd.edu. Please allow for 2-5 business days (not including weekends) for an advisor to review your message and respond.