Definition of STEM OPT: The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field.
Eligibility Criteria for the 24-month OPT Extension
To qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT must:
- Have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.
- Pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS’s E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
- Select a STEM OPT employer that provides the student with formal training and learning objectives.
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
List of Degrees in STEM Fields
If a student earned a degree in a field that appears on the U.S. government’s official list of STEM fields, he/she may be eligible for the 24-month OPT extension. In order to verify that your degree is on this list, look at the code listed under “Primary Major” on the first page of your I-20 form, and then look for that code in the CIP code column of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Programs list.
E-Verify is a database system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees. E-Verify is currently voluntary in most states. For more information visit www.dhs.gov/e-verify.
Application Timeframe for the 24-month STEM Extension
Students must apply for the 24-month OPT extension prior to the expiration of the first 12 months of “regular” OPT. The application must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the first OPT period EAD in order to be properly (timely) filed. USCIS will not accept I-765 applications for STEM extensions any earlier than 90 days before the current EAD expiration date. Accordingly, International Center will process a STEM recommendation I-20 no more than three months and one week in advance of your current OPT end date. *Please note: you cannot apply during the 60 day grace period.
Work authorization status while STEM extension is pending: If you successfully file the application for your 24-month OPT extension prior to the expiration of your current 12-month OPT period EAD, you may continue employment even if your previous EAD card is expired until your OPT extension is processed or until 180 days has passed, whichever is sooner.
There are reporting requirements associated with STEM OPT extensions.
STEM OPT students must report to their DSOs every six months. As part of such reporting, STEM OPT students must confirm the validity of their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System information, including:
- Legal name.
- Employer name and address.
- Status of current employment/practical training experience.
STEM OPT students must do an annual self-evaluation and must report to their DSO about the progress of the training experience. Students must sign the self-evaluation prior to submitting it to the DSO, who will include it in the student’s record.
Both the student and employer are obligated to report to the student’s DSO any material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan.
For more information about reporting requirements associated with the student’s training plan, please visit the Form I-983 Overview page.
Employers must report to the relevant DSO (indicated on the Form I-983) when an F-1 student on a STEM OPT extension terminates or otherwise leaves their employment before the end of the authorized period of OPT. The employer must report this change to the appropriate DSO no later than five business days after the student leaves employment. For more information about employer requirements, please visit our Employer Reporting Requirements page.
Types of Employment Allowed During an OPT STEM Extension
A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a paid position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP code.
For students who are on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
- Work for one or more employer. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Self-employed business owner. Students on a STEM extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program. HOWEVER, under the new STEM regulations, students may not fill out their own Form I-983, Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. This might result in the student NOT being eligible for a STEM extension if self-employed.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm. **
24-Month Extension Available Twice
The 24-month extension of OPT is available to each student at TWO non-consecutive periods of time. Please note that this rule is different from the application rules for the “standard” 12-month OPT, under which students could be approved for multiple OPT periods for each higher degree earned in the U.S. (i.e. bachelor’s, then master’s, then doctoral). Each STEM extension must meet the above-listed STEM eligibility requirements.
Starting and Ending Dates
The start date of the 24-month OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization. The end date will be 24 months later. (It is not possible to request smaller increments of time for the OPT extension.)
Application Procedures for Students
- Submit OPT EXTENSION REQUEST FORM. Please make sure to fill out all the fields and attach all the documents listed in the form. Incomplete requests cannot be processed. Students will be required to submit a completed I-983 form with their I-20 request. This is a new form that requires information from both the student and the employer. For more information, please see the Study in the States website.
- The OIS will prepare a new I-20 for you. In most cases your I-20 will be ready in 1-3 days unless your application is incomplete, or the office/university is closed. We will notify you via email once it is ready. If you are located close to Rutgers-Camden, you may come to the office to pick up your new I-20. If you are located far away from Rutgers-Camden, you may authorize a friend to pick up your I-20 or we will send it to you either via express mail (recommended) or via regular mail.
- Checklist for mailing your application to USCIS
Once you’ve requested a STEM recommendation and received your new I-20, you will need to prepare and submit an application packet to USCIS. Gather the following items in this order (from top to bottom):
- Base Fee for I-765, of $410 payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Personal check, cashier’s check, or money order is acceptable. If you use a personal check, please be sure to wait for the check to be cashed before closing your bank account. Please only include the I-765 filing fee and do not include the biometrics fee with the application.
- Two full-face passport-style photos. The photos must be identical, in color, and with a plain white or off-white background. They must be no more than 30 days old when the I-765 is filed at USCIS. Put photos in an envelope or small plastic sandwich bag. You should attach the fee and the photo envelope on top of the entire application (on the upper left-hand corner). Please do not staple the fee and the photos. Use a pen to gently write your name and I-94 number on the back of your photo.
- Original USCIS Form I-765 ( typed, completed, signed, and dated legibly by you).
- All pages of your new I-20 endorsed for the 24 month OPT extension. Be sure to sign your new I-20. (You will recieve two I-20s; one you will send with your application, the other will have a travel signature on page 2, you will keep as your updated I-20.)
- Photocopy of the front and back of your current EAD card.
- Photocopy of your Rutgers University diploma or official transcript.
- Print-out of electronic Form I-94 or copy of paper I-94 (front and back)
- Photocopy of your F-1 visa
- Photocopy of the picture page/expiration date of your passport.
- Sending your application: We recommend using a track-able mail service such as Priority mail USPS, FedEx or United Parcel Service (UPS). The address you use on the I-765 determines where you should send your application (see I-765 instructions).
- If your OPT extension is approved, you must submit a scanned copy of your EAD card to the OIS.
- Please read During the STEM Extension below for more details on how to meet the requirements for properly maintaining your F-1 immigration status.
If an application for a 24-month extension is approved, USCIS will issue an EAD with a validity period that starts on the day after the expiration date stated on the 12-month OPT EAD.
How to Maintain Your F-1 Status
Information reporting requirements are more strict during the 24-month OPT extension. Take special care to comply with these obligations. Failure to do so can jeopardize the validity of your OPT and your legal visa status in the U.S.
- You must report any change of address within 10 days of moving to your new residence. Your address must describe where you live. It cannot be a P.O. Box or an office address.
- If the name or address of your employer changes, you must report this information to the OIS within 10 days of the change.
- If you experience an interruption in employment, you must report it to the OIS. Students are allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment time, which is cumulative including the 12 month OPT and the 24 month STEM extension.
- You are required to make a validation report to the OIS every six months starting from the date your 24-month OPT extension is approved. You can submit this via email to email@example.com.
The validation report must contain the following information:
- Legal name
- Residential/mailing address
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Confirmation that you are currently employed by the employer named
Ending Your OPT
Your F-1 status remains valid until 60 days after the expiration of your EAD card. During this 60-day grace period, you are no longer authorized to work, however you may legally stay in the U.S.
- If you plan to return home after the end of your OPT, please make sure that you depart the U.S. before the end of your 60-day grace period.
- If you decide to abandon your OPT and depart the U.S., please inform the OIS immediately.
- If you plan to change your visa status, we recommend you begin this process before your OPT is expired. Notify the Registrar’s Office if your immigration status does change during the OPT period.
- If you plan to start a new degree program at another college or university, please make sure to contact the OIS regarding the transfer of your SEVIS record.Transfers must be done before the end of the 60-day grace period.