The Department of Homeland Security offers additional immigration benefits to graduates of STEM Fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In addition to the 12 months of Standard OPT, graduates who have successfully completed a STEM degree and work for a qualifying employer may apply for an additional 24 months of OPT for a total of 36 months of practical training without need for H-1B sponsorship.
STEM Extension Application Packet
- Pages 1 through 5 of the Form I-983 (view instructions)
- Form I-765 using code (C)(3)(C) on question 16.
- Form G-1145
- Copy of previous EAD card
- Copy of passport biographical page, visa page, and most recent I-94
- Copy of diploma for most recent degree
- Copy of official transcripts for most STEM degree
- $410 Money Order or Check for I-765 Fee
- 2 Travel Sized Photos
- Letter from employer including a brief job description, Employer Identification Number (EIN), and E-Verify Number
- After all documents are gathered, Request OPT STEM Extension to receive your updated I-20 recommending you for the STEM Extension.
- Make a copy of your new I-20 recommending you for the STEM Extension and include the copy of the I-20 in your STEM Extension application pack.
- Make a copy for your records and mail application pack to USCIS Lockbox for your area.
NOTE: Your Application for the OPT STEM Extension must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date when your I-20 was updated recommending you for the STEM extension. Do not request your OPT STEM Extension until all your documents have been gathered.
FAQ for STEM Extension and New Rule
This FAQ addresses the recent changes to the OPT STEM Extension effective May 10, 2016. For general an overview of practical training or frequently asked questions about standard OPT, please visit the links as provided.
Updates in the New Rule
What are the major changes in the new rule published March 11, 2016 effective May 10, 2016?
The rule changed in the following ways:
- Time of Extension from 17 months to 24 months
- STEM OPT Mentorship and Training Plan
- Use of STEM Extension after Non-STEM degree based on Previous STEM Degree
- Ability to use STEM Extension again after 2nd STEM Degree
What is the total duration of OPT for STEM graduates under the new rule?
In addition to 12 months of standard OPT, qualifying students may apply for a 24-month extension. Standard OPT (1 year) plus the STEM Extension (2 years) can give qualifying students up to three (3) years of work experience while maintaining their F-1 student status.
How can a student qualify for the STEM Extension?
Students can apply for an OPT STEM Extension if they:
- have earned a STEM Degree from an accredited US institution;
- are within 3 months of the end of a term of Standard OPT;
- work within their STEM field of study;
- work for an employer who participates in E-Verify;
- work with their supervisor to develop a training program
- have not already used two separate STEM extensions
Can I apply the STEM Extension on its own without Standard OPT?
No. The STEM Extension can only be added to an existing, valid, unexpired authorization for Standard OPT.
After earning a non-STEM degree and using Standard OPT, can I apply for a STEM Extension based on a previously earned STEM degree including certificates?
Yes. However, the final decision for whether you are granted the STEM Extension is made by USCIS.
The following situations are possible:
A student earns a STEM undergraduate B.S. degree, then begins a graduate M.A. degree. He can then apply for Standard OPT based on the M.A., then before the Standard OPT ends, he can apply for a STEM Extension based on the B.S. degree. However, during the 2 year extension he must work in a field that utilizes his STEM B.S. degree.
A student earns a STEM undergraduate B.S. degree, then uses one year of Standard OPT. She then decides to go back to school for a graduate MBA. After graduating, she can begin 12 months of Standard OPT based on the MBA. Before her OPT ends, she can apply for a STEM Extension. However, during the 2 year extension she must work in a field that utilizes his STEM B.S. degree.
After earning a STEM degree and using both Standard OPT and the STEM Extension, can I directly apply for another STEM Extension based on a previously earned STEM degree?
No. The STEM Extension has to be extended from Standard OPT. The STEM Extension cannot be extended again.
The following situation is NOT possible:
A student earns a STEM masters M.S. degree, then uses one year of Standard OPT. Then without using the extension, he decides to go back to school for a graduate PhD. After graduating, he can begin 12 months of Standard OPT based on his PhD. He can apply for a STEM Extension based on his PhD. But he can apply for a second extension at that time based on the M.S. degree.
Learn more at from Study in the States.
Can I apply for a STEM Extension based on previous degree earned in the US?
Yes. The updated rule allows students to apply for the STEM Extension based on a previous STEM degree. For example, if an F-1 student completes an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, then begins an MBA, she can apply for one year of OPT after the MBA, then extend the OPT for an additional two years based on the undergraduate degree in a STEM field.
Can I apply for a STEM Extension based on previous degree earned outside the US?
No. The previous degree must be from an accredited US institution, which is SEVP-certified to host F-1 international students. Degrees earned from foreign institutions which are partners with US schools are also not applicable for the STEM Extension.
STEM Extension Available Twice Per Lifetime
Rather than having the option for a STEM Extension once per lifetime, qualifying students can complete two separate stints of the STEM Extension. For example, a student completes an undergraduate STEM degree. He uses one year of OPT, then extends for an additional 2 years. He then goes back to school and earns a STEM master’s degree. He can use one year of OPT and extend for another 2 years with the STEM Extension. This was not previously possible under the earlier law.
Learn more at from Study in the States.
What are the employer responsibilities for STEM Extension Application and throughout the 2 years?Qualifying employers must verify that the position for which you are hired pays the appropriate amount for the position and does not displace US workers. They must also work with you to develop a training plan, using Form I-983. This form will be submitted along with your I-765 application for STEM Extension.
Throughout your 2 year STEM Extension, your employer must make sure you meet the objectives and learning outcomes of the training. They must report these benchmarks to USCIS once per year and before your STEM Extension expires.
What are the employer eligibility requirements for STEM Extension?
As previously, students must work for a company which participates in E-Verify. Employers will also have additional responsibilities during the STEM Extension application and throughout your training program.
Applying for the STEM Extension
How do I apply for the STEM Extension?
If you are eligible, apply for the STEM Extension 1-3 months before your Standard OPT ends. You will need to work with an international student advisor and your employer to submit the Form I-765, G-1145, I-983, copies of your immigration documents, an updated I-20 recommending the STEM Extension, copies of your diploma and transcript, two travel-sized photos, and pay a $380 fee. The application is adjudicated by USCIS and takes 90 days for approval. Detailed information is available at http://ualr.edu/international/applying-for-stem-extension/.
How will the new rule affect pending STEM Extension requests?
Students with a STEM Extension application pending with USCIS will most likely receive a request for additional information (RFE). When this occurs, please contact an international student advisor as soon as possible and we will assist you in responding to the request. If you are planning to apply for the STEM Extension in the coming weeks, we ask that you wait until further information is available to ensure a complete I-765 application.
How will the new rule affect students currently on an approved STEM Extension?
Students with an approved STEM Extension EAD ending between now and October 7, 2016 will not receive benefits from the new rule. Students with STEM Extension EADs ending after October 7, 2016 are eligible to apply for an additional 7 months of OPT for a total of 24 months on the extension and 3 years total.
Other Relevant Questions
What is the difference between OPT and H-1B?
Both of these terms give nonimmigrants permission to work in the United States. However, while H-1B is its own immigration status, OPT is a benefit of F-1 status. H-1B is a highly competitive process and students are not selected on merit alone, but a combination of skill and luck.
OPT is not competitive. Any eligible F-1 student can apply for OPT and receive work authorization (EAD) from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
You may decide to file for both the STEM Extension and H-1B processing. If you are not selected in the lottery, you have work authorization for another year and a half and may apply for H-1B processing in the following year.
Can I continue to work while the request for STEM Extension is pending?
Yes. Since the application for the STEM Extension involves more data to verify, USCIS allows graduates who have submitted an extension request before their Standard OPT expires to continue working beyond the EAD expiration for up to 6 months while the extension is pending.
What responsibilities do I have while on the STEM Extension?
Once your STEM Extension has been approved, you must continue to report any change of situation (address, employer, etc.) to your international student advisor. You may do this by submitting the OPT Update online form within 10 days of the change.
In addition to the regular reporting requirements, graduates on the STEM Extension must also report to their International Student Advisor every 6 months to confirm their current address and employment. The timeframe for your reporting is 15 days before or 15 days after your reporting deadline. Graduates may meet this reporting requirement by selecting “STEM Reporting” on the online form OPT Update. Failure to report every six months may result in termination of your F-1 status and employment authorization.