24-Month Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Extension: How to Apply
Students nearing the end of their post-completion OPT may be able to apply for an extension for 24-months, provided they meet the degree and employment conditions. Students with a degree (primary concentration/major) in a designated STEM field as defined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — check the USCIS website for an up-to-date list — AND who are employed by an E-Verify employer are eligible. The job must be related to their STEM major and their current OPT authorization must also be associated with their major.
Note that this is one of two opportunities F-1 students may have to apply for a STEM extension. If an applicant enrolls in a new academic program in the future and earns another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, they may be eligible for an additional 24-month OPT STEM extension. For example, if a student receives a 24-month OPT STEM extension based on their bachelor's degree in computer science and they later earn a master's degree in computer science, they may apply for an additional 24-month OPT STEM extension based on their master's degree.
Students with STEM degrees who are currently in their 12-month OPT period should review the eligibility requirements, application timeline, and instructions below.
To qualify for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, applicants must:
- Be in F-1 Status
- Be currently working in a period of post-completion OPT
- Have a bachelor's or higher degree in an eligible STEM field
Students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned in the U.S. for this requirement; to use a prior STEM degree, applicants must:
- Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S.
- Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree in the U.S. within 10 years of applying for the OPT STEM extension.
- The qualifying STEM degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time they submit their OPT STEM extension application (rather than at the time they received the degree).
Have a job offer that meets the following requirements:
- The job is with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program
- The job offers at least 20 hours of work per week
- The job will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to their qualifying STEM degree
- Be able to complete the I-983 Training Plan with your employer
Employment Requirements during the 24-month OPT STEM Extension
Applicants must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that a) participates in the E-Verify program and b) agrees to follow all the employer requirements under the 24-month STEM rule.
Please review the new guidance about acceptable types of activity during the 24-month OPT STEM Extension, which is substantially different than 12-month OPT.
When to Apply
Students with a STEM degree and currently in the 12-month OPT period:
- USCIS must receive their OPT STEM extension application before their current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.
- Apply as early as 90 days before their current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.
Take into consideration:
- The International Student Services (ISS) Office needs up to five business days to process a new I-20.
- Applicants should allow sufficient time to mail their application to USCIS.
How to Request a STEM I20
Students with a STEM degree and currently in the 12-month OPT period:
STEP 1: Report THEIR Employment/Training
- Complete and submit the STEM Extension Request Form by fax, mail, email or in-person along with the following:
- If the OPT STEM extension is based on a previous U.S. STEM degree not from Hamilton, also submit with this form:
- A copy of previous U.S. STEM degree
- A copy of I-20 issued for previous U.S. STEM degree
- A copy of Form I-983 Training Plan
- From the USCIS Website, download and complete Form I-983 Training Plan, with assistance from your employer.
- Send documents by email to the Director of International Student Services. Email is the preferred method for requests.
Students submitting paper forms should submit photocopies (not originals) of the I-983 and any previous degree documents, since requested materials must be kept and copies can’t be made.
Before processing a student's STEM extension request, their SEVIS record must be reviewed and updated (allow up to five business days). Then a new, updated I-20 with an OPT STEM extension recommendation printed on the second page is generated and provided to the applicant.
STEP 2: Prepare STEM Application After THEY receive THEIR new I-20:
- Applicants should sign their I-20 at the bottom of page one, scan it and prepare to use their previously created online USCIS account to complete their STEM Extension application. It’s important that they use the STEM code: (c)(3)(c) and accurately enter their STEM major and E-Verify employer.
- The process includes gathering and scanning or saving the following documents to support their I-765 application. The following are next steps:
- Complete online Form I-765 (applicants should be sure to include their employer’s name as listed in E-Verify and E-Verify Company Identification Number or valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number)
- Upload a copy of Form I-20 with their signature and STEM extension endorsement (must be uploaded within 60-days of issuance)
- Upload a copy of their diploma (if the applicant’s diploma only states the degree and not the program, upload a copy of their official transcript with or without the raised seal)
- Upload a copy of their most recent Form I-94
- Upload a copy of their current EAD card (front and back)
- Upload a passport-style/sized photo (taken within 30-days of filing their application). Photos must be 2” by 2” with white to off-white background.
- Payment of the $410 fee with a credit or debit card
Reporting Requirements During OPT STEM Extension Period
To maintain lawful F-1 status during their 24-month OPT STEM authorization period, applicants must report the following information to ISS:
Every Six Months
Confirm there have been no changes to their:
- Legal name
- Residential or mailing address
- Employer name and address
- Status of current employment
*Students must report the above information, including loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.*
Students must submit an annual self-evaluation about the progress of their training experience. This self-evaluation must be signed by the student and their employer in the I-983 Training Plan (page five). Email evaluations to the Director of International Student Services.
Within 10 Days of the Following Changes
- Material changes to an existing I-983 Training Plan
- Change in employer
The CIP code is printed next to their major on page one of their I-20.
\Yes, if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and any job worked while on the extension is related to their STEM degree.
If a student has properly filed for a 24-month STEM extension, the period of extension starts the day after the expiration of their 12-month OPT period.
Yes. Work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180-days while the 24-month STEM extension application is pending. There is no interim documentation of the extended authorization. If an employer needs information about what documents to collect as proof of extended work authorization, please refer them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Central.
No. They must wait to receive their new EAD prior to traveling. They may travel if their current EAD card is still valid.
No. They are not required to use the Hamilton address. However, they should provide an accurate and valid address for at least four months into the future to be sure the EAD card reaches them. The post office will NOT forward OPT mail. If there is any possibility that a student might change their address while their OPT application is pending, they should consider renting a post office (P.O.) box or using the Hamilton address.
Hamilton College, Director of International Student Services, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323
Changing employers while their 24-month OPT STEM Extension is pending can be risky because the regulations do not contemplate such situations.
If a student must change employers, they should submit a new I-983 and provide the E-Verify number to the Director of International Student Services. They should then complete a new OPT Reporting Form. Regulations state that employment changes must be reported within 10-days.
Note that the new employer information will not match the employer information in the OPT STEM Extension application submitted to USCIS. There is currently no immigration guidance about how to resolve this conflict. Some students have mailed an additional updated application with a letter explaining their situation. However, errors may occur with additional updated applications to USCIS. USCIS has rejected a few such applications because they simply think it’s a new application missing a filing fee. Another option is to provide the updated I-983 Training Plan, E-Verify number, and OPT employment reporting to ISS, but not mail any additional documents to USCIS unless they send a “Request for Evidence” (RFE).
Adapted from: University of Washington ISS Webpage
Office / Department Name
International Student Services
Director of International Student Services