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24-month STEM OPT Extension

What is the STEM Optional Pracitcal 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. 

The Basics:

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 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 authorizations. 
    • 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 the "Study in the States" Students: Determining STEM OPT Extension Eligibility page

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 

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.  

 

Once you have reviewed everything and are ready to apply 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

Please have your Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students) completed and ready to upload before submitting your request; 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 acutally begin working with your employer;
  • Do not fill out page 5 when submitting your initial STEM application.  

 

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. We ask that you allow 10 business days for processing.

 

Once you receive your STEM OPT Form I-20, you can begin preparing your application for mailing; the STEM OPT application must arrive to the USCIS lockbox within 60 days of the issue date listed on the Form I-20. Your application will be denied if it is received more than 60 days from the issue date. 

After receiving the STEM OPT Form I-20, students should assemble their application packet with the following items:

  1. Payment of $410 USD - payment can be in the following forms:
  2. Two color, passport-style photos (see specifications for details) - we recommend writing your name and SEVIS ID # in pencil on the back;
  3. Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance) - this notifies USCIS that you would like to receive a text message and/or email notification when they accept your application for processing; 
  4. Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) - please be sure that you have signed on page 5! Your signature cannot be digital - it must be physically signed in black ink; 
  5. Copy of the signed STEM OPT Form I-20 - please be sure you sign the front before making a copy and remember to keep the original. Your signature cannot be digital - it must be physically signed in black ink;  
  6. Copy of your current EAD card, as well as any previous EAD cards issued to you;
  7. Copy of your current passport ID page
  8. Copy of your most recent Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record);
  9. 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;
  10. 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; 
  11. Copies of any other supporting documents from page 7 of Form I-765, if applicable. 

Please note the following:

  • We highly recommend using a trackable method in order to keep record of your application’s delivery.
  • Ensure your application is received by USCIS less than 60 days after your OPT Form I-20’s issuance date or your application will be denied. 
  • We recommend making a copy of the application for your own records before mailing to USCIS.
  • You will need to send your application as indicated below. You can also always find the most up-to-date mailing information directly on the USCIS website.

If using U.S. Postal service (USPS):

USCIS
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

 

If using UPS, FedEx, or DHL:

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

While You Wait for your STEM OPT Approval 

Once you have mailed your application:

  • If you have completed Form G-1145, You will receive an electronic notice that your application has been accepted and is now pending processing - this will be sent to the email and/or phone number you provide and can take 1-2 weeks to be sent. 
  • 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:

  • Be prepared to wait 3-5 months for your application to be processed; 
  • 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 on 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.

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

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 would recommend you do not travel outside the US. 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.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Given the dynamic nature of current travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, re-entering the US by your employment start date might not be possible. You will need to discuss this possibility with your employer in order to create a contingency plan in case your re-entry is delayed. 

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.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Given the dynamic nature of current travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, re-entering the US by your employment start date might not be possible. You will need to discuss this possibility with your employer in order to create a contingency plan in case your re-entry is delayed. 

Rules and Reporting Requirements while on 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 on specifically 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 allowedhowever: 
    • 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; 

Once your STEM OPT is approved, you can report your approval by uploading a copy of your EAD card to the EAD Upload and Form I-20 Reprint e-form through the IntlHokies portal - you can also request an updated STEM OPT Form I-20 at this time, if needed.

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, STEM OPT 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 InltHokies 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 assesment is due 12 months after the STEM OPT start date;
  • Your final assessment 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 approrpiate evaluation and submit it through appropriate e-form through the InltHokies Portal, as follows:

  • Initial, 12-month AssesmentYou 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 AssessmentYou 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;
  • Changes 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: 

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 following "Study in the States" websites: 

Additional information regarding STEM OPT an be found on the Study in the States STEM OPT Hub

IMPORTANT UPDATES:

01/08/2021 - USCIS Receipt Notice Delays:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in filings, current postal service volume, and other external factors, USCIS is experiencing delays of up to 4-6 weeks when issuing receipt notices for some applications and petitions. This delay will not affect the receipt date of when your application was received by USCIS, only the date when you receive your receipt notice. You can review the complete update regarding receipt notice delays on the USCIS website.

If you have applied for the STEM OPT Extension:

  • You may continue working for up to 180 days from the date your previous EAD card expired while you wait for your receipt notice. If you are close to reaching this limit, please reach out to our office for more information on the steps you should take. 
  • 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