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24-month STEM OPT Extension


What is the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension?

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training directly related to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field. Eligible students who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of Post-Completion OPT have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension. We strongly encourage you to attend one of our webinars on the STEM OPT program. These are typically offered each semester; please see our schedule of events for more information and registration links.

Students should start by reviewing this website thoroughly and completely. This website provides detailed information regarding the regulations, requirements, and risks associated with your application timeline and process, employment eligibility, and travel.


The Basics

Am I eligible to apply?

To be eligible to apply, you:

  • Must have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of post-completion OPT;
  • Must have earned your most recent degree (which is not required to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited and SEVP-certified school (i.e. Virginia Tech).
  • Must have earned a prior, qualifying STEM degree at the bachelor's level or higher; the qualifying STEM degree must be:
    • Listed on the STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time your application is submitted to USCIS;
    • Earned from a currently accredited and SEVP-certified school within the past 10 years.
  • Must have current employment or an employment offer related to your STEM degree before applying, and:
    • The employer is required to be E-Verified;
    • The employment is required to be paid and be 20 or more hours per week;
    • Self-employment, employment through a temporary employment agency, and volunteering are not allowable.
  • Must not have exceeded 90 days of unemployment while participating in Post-Completion OPT.
  • Must not have participated in more than one previous STEM OPT extension authorization.
    • You are eligible for a total of two STEM OPT extensions overall, provided that the second STEM OPT extension is at a higher qualifying degree level.

Additional resources for students regarding eligibility can be found on: Students: Determining STEM OPT Extension Eligibility page.

When can I apply?

The completed STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS before the current Post-Completion OPT authorization end date, as listed on the EAD card, but no earlier than 90 days before this date.


Applying for the STEM OPT Extension

E-filing your STEM OPT application

Once you have reviewed everything and are ready to start the application process for the STEM OPT extension, you can request your STEM OPT Form I-20 by submitting the STEM OPT Request e-form through the IntlHokies Portal.

You will need to have your Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students) completed, signed and ready to upload before submitting your request. You may also upload the Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) if you would like for an advisor to review it. The following resources can be helpful when filling out these two forms:

Additional tips when filling out Form I-983

  • Your International Student Advisor will assist you in filling in the DSO information;
  • The "SEVIS School Code" and the "Qualifying Major and CIP Code" can be found on page 1 of your current Form I-20;
  • The "Employment Authorization Number" is the USCIS # listed on your current EAD card;
  • The "Start Date of Employment" is the date you will begin your STEM OPT authorization period and begin following your training plan, not the date you actually began working with your employer;
  • Do not fill out page 5 when submitting your initial STEM application.

If you wish to have any additional documents in your application packet reviewed, you may combine them into one document and upload it to your request, as well; please note that this is not required.

Once your STEM OPT Form I-20 request has been submitted, an International Student Advisor will review your submission and create your STEM OPT Form I-20. You will be notified via email if any additional information or corrections are needed OR once your STEM OPT Form I-20 has been created. You can find the processing time for the STEM OPT e-form here.

YOU MUST RECEIVE YOUR STEM OPT I-20 BEFORE YOU SUBMIT YOUR E-FILE APPLICATION. Uploading the I-20 after submission to USCIS has led to denial of STEM OPT requests.

Once you receive your STEM OPT Form I-20, you will need to e-file your application within 60 days of the issue date listed on the Form I-20. Your application will be denied if it is submitted more than 60 days from the issue date.

Payment

  • Payment of $410 USD (as of 12/1/2023) - payment can be in the following forms:
    • Bank account information – you will need account number and routing number.
    • Credit card.
  • If you wish to pay for expedited processing you may do so. See more information about expedited processing.

Students should prepare jpg or pdf versions of the following items:

  • One color, passport-style photo (see specifications for details).
  • Copy of the signed STEM OPT Form I-20 - please be sure you sign the front before scanning. Your signature cannot be digital - it must be physically signed.
  • Copy of your current passport ID page.
  • Copy of your current EAD card, as well as any previous EAD cards issued to you.
  • Copy of your most recent Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record).
  • Copies of any other supporting documents from page 7 of Form I-765, if applicable.
  • Proof of degree completion for STEM degree you are applying with. This can be a copy of your diploma, official transcripts, or an Enrollment Verification Certificate.
  • Copies of previous Form I-20s (if applicable) - you only need to include those that show previous CPT or OPT authorizations, as noted on page 7 of your Form I-765.

Mailing your STEM OPT application

If you prefer or find it necessary to mail your application to USCIS instead of e-filing, please speak to an international student advisor at Cranwell about the process and additional documentation you may need. You can make an appointment with an advisor here.


While You Wait for your STEM OPT Approval

What should I expect?

Once you have e-filed your application

  • You will automatically receive an electronic notice that your application has been accepted and is now pending processing.
  • You will receive a receipt notice (Form I-797C - Notice of Action) by mail - this will be mailed to the address listed on your Form I-765 and can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to be mailed.

Once your request is pending:

  • Current typical processing time is 1-3 months for your application to be processed but you can check the current USCIS processing times here;
  • Your current post-completion OPT authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while your STEM OPT application is pending - the 180 days begins the day after the end date of your current OPT authorization period.
  • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS, this could be because the application is missing a document or signature, there was an issue with your payment, your photo does not meet specifications, etc. If you receive such a request, reach out to your International Student Advisor immediately so that you can respond to USCIS with the requested evidence as soon as possible. When you respond to the RFE, place the original sheet on top and be sure to make copies of the additional materials before you respond to the RFE, and send them by courier mail.
  • If your address changes before the arrival of your new EAD card, you will need to update USCIS as soon as possible to avoid delays or denials.
  • If your employer requires documentation during this 180-day period for Form I-9 purposes, you may provide your expired EAD card, along with your Form I-20 recommending the STEM extension on page 2. Your employer will need to enter the following information under List A in Section 2 on the Form I-9:
    • Document Title: EAD
    • Document Number: 9-digit # on EAD card
    • Expiration Date: Expiration date on EAD card
    • Additional Information: 180-day extension

Am I allowed to travel?

While traveling outside the U.S. is allowed while your STEM OPT application is pending, there are still some risks involved:

Travel While OPT STEM Extension Application is Pending

If your post-completion OPT authorization period has not expired yet, you can travel as you normally would on approved OPT; you will need the following documents for reentry to the US:

  • Valid F-1 visa*;
  • Valid passport;
  • Valid post-completion OPT EAD card;
  • STEM OPT Form I-20 listing your post completion OPT in "Approved" status and your STEM OPT in "Requested" or "Pending" status that has been endorsed for travel on page 2 - a travel signature must be less than 6 months old at the time of re-entry while on OPT;
  • Letter from employer stating job offer and conditions of employment.

If your post-completion OPT has expired and your STEM application is still pending, we recommend you do not travel outside the U.S. If you believe you must travel, you should ensure you have the documents listed above, as well as a Form I-797c Receipt Notice showing that USCIS is currently reviewing your STEM application.

*Please note it is extremely difficult to renew your F-1 visa while your STEM OPT application is pending, so it is highly recommended that you only try to renew your F-1 visa after the STEM EAD card is issued and you have it in hand along with the other evidence required to apply for a visa application.

Travel After OPT STEM Extension is Approved

If your STEM OPT extension has been approved and you wish to travel, you will need the following documents for reentry to the US:

  • Valid F-1 visa;
  • Valid passport;
  • Valid STEM OPT EAD card;
  • STEM OPT Form I-20 listing your STEM OPT in "Approved" status that has been endorsed for travel on page 2 - a travel signature must be less than 6 months old at the time of re-entry while on OPT;
  • Letter from employer stating job offer and conditions of employment.

Rules and Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT

What kind of employment counts as STEM OPT?

Federal regulations require that employment be directly related to your major area of study. As part of your STEM OPT reporting requirements, you must provide a description demonstrating a logical connection between your regular job duties and your major area of study. If the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship. We will not be able to advise you specifically on which jobs do or do not qualify, as we are not experts in your field of study. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic advisor and/or department, or you can review the available SEVP Policy Guidance.

Your STEM OPT extension employment must meet the following criteria:

  • Employer must be E-Verified;
  • Employment must be a paid - unpaid training and volunteering are not allowable;
  • There must be a bona-fide employer/employee relationship, with supervision, evaluation, and training;
  • You must be able to work 20 hours or more per week;
  • Multiple employers are allowed, however:
    • A Form I-983 must be completed and submitted to Cranwell International Center for each employer;
    • You must be able to work 20 hours or more per week at each employer.

What are my reporting responsibilities?

You are also responsible for several reporting requirements - failure to report any of the following within 10 days of the event may result in termination of your Form I-20 and loss of F-1 status:

Address changes must be reported through Hokie SPA and through your SEVP Portal account.

Every six months, you are required to confirm that your record in SEVIS accurately reflects your current circumstance. As part of this six-month reporting, you must confirm that your SEVIS information correctly identifies your:

  • Legal name;
  • Residential or mailing address;
  • Employer name and address;
  • Status of current employment;

You will receive a reminder from SEVP via email 30 days before any validation report is due. When you receive this reminder, you will need to submit the appropriate e-form through the IntlHokies Portal as follows:

  • 6-Month Validation Report
  • 12-Month Validation Report (your Initial 12-Month Self-Evaluation is also due at this time)
  • 18-Month Validation Report
  • 24-Month Validation Report (your final 24-Month Self-Evaluation is also due at this time)

You must complete and submit an annual self-evaluation describing the progress of your training experience, as follows:

  • Your initial evaluation is due 12 months after the STEM OPT start date;
  • Your final evaluation that recaps the training and knowledge acquired during the training period is due 24 months after the STEM OPT start date or when your STEM OPT employment ends - whichever happens earlier.

You will receive a reminder from SEVP via email 30 days before your self-evaluation is due. When you receive this reminder, you will need to complete the appropriate evaluation and submit it through appropriate e-form through the InltHokies Portal, as follows:

  • Initial, 12-month evaluation: You will need to complete the top half of page 5 of your Form I-983 and submit your completed form through the 12-Month Validation Report e-form.
  • Final, 24-month/end of employment evaluation: You will need to complete the bottom half of page 5 of your Form I-983 and submit your completed form through the 24-Month Validation Report e-form.

You must report any material changes to your formal training plan. Material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s EIN;
  • Any reduction in compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked;
  • Any significant decrease in hours worked per week;
  • Change in learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983;
  • Changes to worksite location.

If you have any material changes to report, a newly completed and signed Form I-983 is required and you will need to submit the Changes/Updates to Current Employment e-form through the InltHokies Portal with the updated document attached.

If you change employers, end current employment without starting new employment, or start new employment after a period of unemployment, you will need to submit the Changes to Employment Status e-form through the InltHokies Portal.

  • If you are changing employers, where your new employment begins within 10 days of your current employment ending, you will need to submit the following with your e-form:
    • Final evaluation for employment that is ending;
    • Form I-983 for new employment.
  • If you are ending your current employment without starting new employment within 10 days, you will need to submit your final evaluation with your e-form.
  • If you are starting new employment after a period of unemployment of more than 10 days, you will need to submit a new Form I-983 with your e-form.

Additional resources for students regarding their responsibilities can be found on the following "Study in the States" websites:

What are my employer’s responsibilities?

In addition to being enrolled in E-Verify, employers must also:

  • Comply with the terms and conditions of the STEM OPT extension program;
  • Have an IRS Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes;
  • Provide adequate and appropriate training;
  • Maintain a bona-fide employer/employee relationship;
  • Not allow the position you fill to displace a temporary or permanent US worker.

Additional resources for employers regarding their responsibilities can be found on the "Study in the States" website.