Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension

What is the STEM OPT Extension?

STEM OPT is an additional 24 months of OPT, for a total of 36 months for certain STEM degree holders whose employers are registered in E-Verify. Students who are authorized STEM OPT continue to be in F-1 status with reporting requirements to IPI.

Regulatory Requirements

  • The student’s area of study must be within STEM. Check the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program list.
  • The student must hold a bachelor's degree or a higher degree in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application.
  • The student must be authorized for post-completion OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s field of study.
  • The student has not exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
  • At the time of application for STEM OPT, the student must have a job-offer from or be employed by an employer registered with the E-Verify federal employment verification system.
  • Form I-983 must be submitted with the student’s STEM OPT request to IPI. The student’s employer must agree to ongoing evaluation and reporting during the 24-month STEM OPT period.
  • Students are eligible for two STEM OPT authorizations in their lifetime, if they complete two STEM degrees at different academic levels. However, they are only eligible for one STEM OPT per STEM degree level.

When to Apply for the STEM OPT Extension

STEM OPT applications must arrive at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 90 days prior to the current OPT end date. Students filing the application timely may continue employment while the STEM OPT application is pending, until a final decision is made, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

How to Apply for the STEM OPT Extension

STEM OPT applications must be submitted to and approved by USCIS. Students can submit a STEM OPT application to USCIS online or by mail (paper application).

IMPORTANT: Do not pay the I-765 filing fee or submit the application online or by mail until you have an I-20 endorsing STEM OPT from IPI.

 Paper Application Process:
  1. Submit the following documents to IPI:
    1. Completed STEM OPT Request Form.
    2. Completed Form I-983.
  2. IPI reviews the submitted documents and issues an I-20 endorsing STEM OPT. The student will be informed when the new I-20 is ready for signing and pickup. Students not in Fairbanks will have to request shipment to receive their original I-20.
  3. Once the student has received their I-20 endorsing STEM OPT, the student must collect and prepare the following documents:
    1. Form I-765 and signed with black ink.
    2. Form G-1145.
    3. Original I-20 for STEM OPT signed by UAF IPI and the student.
    4. Pay the filing fee. Currently the filing fee is $410. Postal or personal money order is preferred but a personal check is also accepted. Payment must be payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security".
    5. Two (2) passport photos taken within the last 30 days. Photos must look different from the student’s visa or passport photos.
    6. Photocopy of the student’s most recent I-94 and visa inside their passport.
    7. Photocopy of the student’s passport identification page, which includes their picture. The passport must be valid.
    8. Copy of the student’s current employment authorization document (EAD) card (both sides) and any previous EAD cards (if applicable).
    9. Copy of the student’s most recent degree that shows: degree name, date awarded, and field of study. This can be a copy of a diploma, official transcript, or an unofficial transcript.
    10. Since employment must directly relate to the STEM field, a statement from the employer must be included regarding how the employment relates to the STEM field of study.
    11. Photocopies of all other previous I-20s issued to the student by all schools.
  4. The student is responsible for mailing the STEM OPT application package to USCIS in a timely manner. The package must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the I-20 issue date with the STEM OPT endorsement. If it is received later, the application will automatically be denied.

Students should receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action from USCIS after it has received the STEM OPT application. It may take 3-4 months for USCIS to process a STEM OPT application. Once approved, a Form I-797 Approval Notice and STEM OPT employment authorization document (STEM OPT card) will be sent to the student to the mailing address used in the application. 

IMPORTANT: Students must send copies of the documents received from USCIS to IPI.

Online Application Process:
  1. Submit the following documents to IPI:
    1. Completed STEM OPT Request Form.
    2. Completed Form I-983.
  2. IPI reviews the submitted documents and issues an I-20 endorsing STEM OPT. The student will be informed when the new I-20 is ready for signing and pickup. Students not in Fairbanks will have to request shipment to receive their original I-20.
  3. Student prepares and submits the STEM OPT application online:
    1. Create an account with USCIS. See the USCIS account tutorial for help.
    2. Completed Form I-765.
    3. Make sure to follow instructions carefully and read through every page.
    4. Do not submit the application until all required documentation has been uploaded, including the signed I-20 endorsing STEM OPT.

Students should receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action from USCIS after it has received the STEM OPT application. It may take 3-4 months for USCIS to process a STEM OPT application. Once approved, a Form I-797 Approval Notice and STEM OPT employment authorization document (STEM OPT card) will be sent to the student to the mailing address used in the application. 

  • IMPORTANT: Students must send copies of the documents received from USCIS to IPI.

Student Reporting Requirements While on STEM OPT Extension

Students must report the following to IPI while on STEM OPT:

  • Any changes in personal contact information (name, physical and mailing addresses, phone, email).
  • Any changes in employment (start/end date, employer address, work location address, position changes… etc.).
  • An updated Form I-983 must be submitted to IPI if there are any changes in the student’s current employment and a new Form I-983 must be submitted to IPI if there is a change in employers. Students are responsible for keeping the Form I-983 up-to-date and submitting it to IPI.
  • A Form I-983 initial evaluation is due at 12 months and final evaluation is due at 24 months. Students are responsible for submitting both evaluations in a timely manner to IPI.
  • The student must provide employment verification every six months to IPI. Students who use the SEVP Portal will receive a reminder via email 30 days before any validation is due.
  • The employer must agree to report the student’s departure or termination to IPI.

All changes must be reported to IPI within 10 days of the change using the STEM OPT Update Form.

Travel on STEM OPT Extension

If a student is planning on traveling outside the U.S. while on STEM OPT, they must still have their I-20 signed for travel. If the student is not located in Fairbanks, they must ship the original I-20 to IPI for signature. Please email before shipping so we know to expect the I-20.

Unemployment Days

Students are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment during STEM OPT. This is in addition to the 90-day maximum period of unemployment that students are allowed during the initial period of post-completion OPT.

Each day (including Saturday and Sunday, national holidays, days outside the U.S.) during the period when STEM OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. STEM OPT authorization start date and end date are shown on the student's EAD.

If the student accumulates 150 days of unemployment they SHOULD plan on leaving the U.S. on day 151 or before. If the student was hired on day 150, they must be working on day 151. It is important that students keep track of their unemployment days since they are considered out-of-status after exceeding 150 days of unemployment, and this could impact future immigration benefits.

 

See STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions here.