STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT)
In order to be eligible for the 24-month extension benefit, international students must:
already be on a valid OPT, based on a STEM-eligible degree
have had fewer than ninety (90) days of unemployment while on their originally approved 12-month OPT
be employed by, or have a job offer from, an employer who is registered in the E-verify employment verification system. E-verify is a database operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows participating employers to electronically verify the eligibility of newly hired employees.
STEP 1: How to Apply for STEM OPT Extension
In order to request the 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation from the DSO, you must pay the Administrative Fee and submit the following documents all at once to the International Students Office (ISO) by email to email@example.com:
1. Copy of your current valid EAD card (front and back)
2. Letter on company letterhead signed by your employer verifying
- That the employer is enrolled in E-Verify (provide E-Verify number) program
- Employer’s name and complete address (including zip code)
- Supervisor’s name, title, and contact information (email and phone number)
- Employment start date
- Position title and description of how the employment is directly related to your primary field of study
3. A completed Form I-983 signed by you and your employer
4. A summary of previous and current employment while on post-completion OPT including names and addresses of companies, start and end dates of employment, job title and description of how the position is related to the major of your degree program, supervisors contact information. It should be typed, dated and signed by you
5. A completed 24-month STEM OPT Extension Request Form
6. Copy of completed Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization
Upon all and completed documents are submitted and eligibility is determined, the International Student Advisor (ISO) will issue a new Form I-20 with a recommendation for 24-month STEM OPT Extension.
It takes approximately ten (10) days for the ISO to issue the STEM I-20 for you.
STEP 2: Submitting your STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS
After you receive your Form I-20 with the 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation, mail the following documents to the correct USCIS Processing Center. Please note that the Processing Center (Lockbox) address where you mail your documents depends on the address and state, you write on the Form I-765, Section 3. See Form I-765 instructions and USCIS Processing Center (Lockbox) at USCIS website to determine the correct USCIS mailing address for your application.
HERE IS WHAT YOU MUST SEND TO USCIS (in this order):
- Check for $410 made payable to US Department of Homeland Security
- Two (2) passport photos (put your name, date of birth, and I-94 # in pencil on back of each photo)
- Completed From G-1145 e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
- Completed and signed Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Check on 'Renewal of my permission to accept employment' for Reason for Applying. Indicate (c)(3)(C) for eligibility code on Information About Your Eligibility Category.
- School original Recommendation Letter for STEM OPT Extension (student will receive it along with Form I-20)
- Photocopy of new Form I-20 with 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation, pages 1 and 2 (remember to sign the Form I-20)
- Photocopies of all previously issued Form I-20s
- Photocopies of all previously issued EAD cards
- Photocopy of F-1 entry visa stamp in passport (received from US Consulate abroad)
- Photocopy of most recent I-94 record (either I-94 paper card - front and back; or PDF retrieved from CBP website)
- Photocopy of identity page(s) in passport (which include full name, passport number, photo, birth date, and issue/expiration date of passport)
- Photocopy of STEM degree (a copy of your diploma with level and program of study)
- Letter from STEM OPT eligible employer as mentioned above (confirming position offer and E- Verify information)
IMPORTANT: Your complete application and required documents must be mailed and received at the USCIS Processing Center within sixty (60) days from the date the ISO issued/signed the Form I-20 with the STEM OPT Extension recommendation. We strongly recommend that you express mail the application to USCIS and keep a photocopy of the full application package for your records.
- You may submit your application for STEM OPT Extension to USCIS no earlier than ninety (90) days prior to the expiration date of your current OPT authorization/EAD card
- The complete application package must be received at the USCIS processing center before your current OPT authorization/EAD card expires
- The 24-month STEM OPT Extension begins on the day after the approved OPT end date printed on your current Employment Authorization (EAD) card
- The student’s employment authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days if the 24-month STEM Extension application remains pending after the current post-completion OPT EAD expires
(This allows for continued employment at the STEM OPT employer while the application is pending. However, travel outside the U.S. is not recommended. See below for details.)
STEP 3: Wait for the EAD card
Within one (1) month of sending the application to the USCIS, you should get a standard receipt notice. Processing times vary at each USCIS Service Centers. It takes approximately ninety (90) days from the receipt date for USCIS to process your application.
If approved, all students are required to submit a copy of their new updated EAD card (front and back) to firstname.lastname@example.org immediately.
What You Need to Know about STEM OPT Extension
NOTE: The requirement to report any updates while on OPT continues if the student’s 24-month STEM OPT Extension is extended further by the automatic Cap-Gap extension.
Feel free to contact us at email@example.com if you have any questions.
For more information please refer to SEVP website.
Travel While on 24-month STEM OPT Extension
During the 24-month extension, you must carry the following documents in order to return to the U.S.:
STEM OPT Employment Authorization (EAD) card
STEM OPT Form I-20 with a valid travel signature (valid for six (6) months) and the most updated STEM information on it. If you dont have it, you can request it here.
Valid F-1 entry visa stamp on passport issued by US Consulate abroad, to enter the U.S. in F-1 status for STEM OPT
Letter from your employer confirming your STEM OPT employment
Periods of Unemployment while on 24-month STEM OPT Extension
During the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, maintenance of your F-1 status depends on your employment. You are not permitted to accumulate more than a total of one hundred fifty (150) days of unemployment for the entire period of OPT (including the first 12 months of OPT prior to the STEM OPT Extension). The limits of unemployment time are ninety (90) days for the first 12-months of OPT and sixty (60) days during the 24-month STEM OPT extension.
Qualified Employment while on 24-month STEM OPT Extension
- Paid employment, full or part-time for one or more employers, contracting activity, employment through an agency or through a consulting firm, as long as all employers are registered with E-Verify and the employment is at least 20 hours/week (variable schedule, within a month, must average out to at least 20 hours/week)
- Employment in a position directly related to the student’s STEM degree on which the STEM OPT is based and/or earned at CalUMS-VA
- Valid Form I-983 completed for each employer and position
Alumnus/ae Responsibilities While on Authorized STEM OPT
After a student is granted the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, he/she must report to the ISO within ten (10) days any change in:
- Alumni/ae’s legal name, residential or mailing address, email address and phone number
- Employer name, address or employer contact phone number
- Supervisor’s name and contact information (phone, email address)
- Dates of employment (beginning and ending dates) at each employer
- Verification of how the job is related to the degree/field of study
- Loss of employment within five (5) business days
Student Self-Evaluation Required Every Twelve (12) Months
During the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you are required by law to send a Self-Evaluation Report on the Form I-983 to the ISO every twelve (12) months starting from the date the 24-month extension begins and ending when the student’s F-1 status is completed or the 24- month extension ends, whichever is first.
Annual Self-Evaluation #1: Complete page 5 of the Form I-983 (top section)
Annual Self-Evaluation #2: Complete page 5 of the Form I-983 (bottom section)
Additional concluding evaluations (page 5 of the I-983) must be submitted each time you complete a training opportunity, no matter how long the position lasted.
Please note that STEM OPT students must report a change in this information, including any loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.
Be advised that your F-1 record may be terminated for failure to submit these required updates on time.
Validation Report Required Every Six (6) Months
During the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you are required by law to submit a Validation Report to the ISO at firstname.lastname@example.org every six (6) months starting from the date the 24-month extension begins and ending when the student’s F-1 status is completed or the 24-month extension ends, whichever is first.
The Validation Report must include the student’s:
Residential or mailing address
Employer name and address
Status of current employment
This Validation Report is required even if there have been no changes in your employer, living address, or other required reporting information.
Students should complete the Validation Report no more than 15 days before and no later than 10 days after it is due.
Be advised that your F-1 record may be terminated for failure to submit these required updates on time.
Request 24-month STEM OPT Extension Employment Update
Any change in the employer’s EIN.
Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.