OPT STEM Degree Extension

(The following information is an adaptation of information available at NAFSA.org and StudyInTheStates.DHS.gov)

F-1 students with Bachelor, Master, or Doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) - certified institutions of higher education may apply for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension from a valid period of 12-Months Standard Post Completion OPT. The start date of the 24-month OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization and the end date will be 24 months later. This will allow for a total of 36 months of OPT. You may not request only a portion of the 24-month.

After completing another qualifying degree at a higher degree level and receiving another period of standard post-completion OPT based on that degree, a student would be eligible for one more 24-month STEM OPT extension.

A student is limited to two STEM OPT extensions during his or her lifetime.

  • Eligibility for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension
  • Restrictions on Certain Types of Employment Arrangements
  • OPT STEM Extension Facts
  • Applying for STEM OPT Extension

    Eligibility for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension

    To qualify for the 24-month extension, you must:

    • Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT,
    • Have a STEM OPT major which is on the STEM Designated Degree Program list - ICE
    • Have earned a Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral degree* from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by SEVP
      • Previously obtained STEM degrees: If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.
      • STEM degrees you obtain in the future: If you enroll in a new academic program in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
    • Work for an E-Verified employer who meets all the requirements in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities (For more information, employers and students may refer to the DHS STEM OPT Hub.)
    • Submit a complete 24-month STEM OPT application packet up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your Designated School Official (DSO) [same as International Student Advisor (ISA)] enters the recommendation for  the STEM OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.    

    *Master or Doctoral students who have not yet completed thesis or dissertation may still be eligible for STEM OPT extension and must:

    • Be on a period of standard post-completion OPT, and
    • Have completed all course requirements but still completing his or her thesis or dissertation, so long as the thesis requirement or equivalent is the only degree requirement still outstanding at the time of application; this is not an available option when using a previously obtained STEM degree.

    Restrictions on Certain Types of Employment Arrangements

    DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience. Types of employment which do not constitute employment under the 24-month STEM OPT (including the additional 7-month balance to the 17-month STEM OPT):

    • volunteer/unpaid position,
    • self-employment/entrepreneurial arrangements,
    • sole proprietorship,
    • multiple employer arrangements,
    • employment through “temp” agencies,
    • employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide “work/labor for hire,” (also known as 1099 employment) and
    • other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.

    OPT STEM Extension Facts

    • The DSO/ISA must recommend the 24-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying the student's eligibility, certifying that the student's degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, and ensuring that the student is aware of their responsibilities for maintaining status while on STEM OPT.
    • Student will have to apply for the 24-month extension on Form I-765 with fee and qualifying documentation.
    • Students who timely file an application for the 24-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
    • The employment authorization period for the 24-month OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion Standard OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.
    • Students may apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension in the 90 days prior to the expiration of the Standard OPT EAD card.
    • Applications for the 24-month STEM extension must be filed and received at USCIS/DHS before the current Standard OPT EAD expires.
    • Limited Periods of Unemployment to Maintain Status
      • During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.
      • Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any post completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization.
      • Students granted the 17-month OPT extension are allowed an additional 30 days of unemployment, for an aggregate of 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month OPT period.
        • Effective May 10, 2016, students who apply for and are granted an additional 7-month extension in addition to the 17-month STEM-OPT (for a total of 24-month STEM OPT extension) may be unemployed for a total of 150-days during the OPT period.
      • Students granted the 24-month OPT extension are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment, for an aggregate of 150 days of unemployment during the total 36-month OPT period.
    • Must report theirOPT/STEM OPT Employment and Home Address to the UFIC within 10 days of any changes to their name, address, or employment status in the U.S.
      • Must also make a validation report to the UFIC every six months starting from the date OPT/STEM OPT begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the OPT extension ends, whichever is first.

    Applying for STEM OPT Extension

    Each F1 Advisor is assisting students with urgent deadlines. Each student’s personal deadlines are important, however, the government issued deadlines require priority. We can assure you, we are processing each student’s request to the best of our abilities.

    We have students who we are helping whose current Employment Authorization Document (EAD, the OPT/STEM OPT card) may expire before yours still pending review, and must review them also. We must look through the following categories of expiration dates to see which application to process next based on USCIS deadlines.

    • For students currently on Standard 12-Month OPT, who wish to apply for the 24-Month STEM OPT, we must take into account their EAD expiration date.
    • For students who applied for the 17-Month STEM OPT, whose applications were still pending on May 10, 2016 and which will be adjudicated based on the 24-Month STEM OPT regulations, we have to first receive the RFE from USCIS and then take into account the deadline which USCIS provides in the RFE.

    We do our best to review and process documents in the order received, but also take into account the expiration date of the EAD and USCIS deadlines. If there are multiple EAD cards expiring on the same day, we process them in the order received. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

    Filing for the 24-month STEM OPT

    If you LIVE IN GAINESVILLE, visit the UFIC in person or call 352 273 1540 to make an appointment to see your DSO/ISA to assist you in assembling your STEM OPT application packet. Bring all of the items below with you to the appointment. Please complete all forms ELECTRONICALLY (especially Forms I-765 and I-983) so that there is not a misunderstanding in your handwriting.

    1. Receipt/Confirmation of Payment of the ISS $125.00 STEM OPT Fee
      To pay the ISS STEM OPT Fee, please click here and follow the instructions.
    2. 24-Month STEM OPT Questionnaire
    3. Form I-983; Please see “Student Guide for Completing Section 1 of Form I-983”
    4. Money Order or Personal/Bank/Cashier’s Check  for $410.00 made out to the Department of Homeland Security (cash will not be accepted)
    5. Two passport-regulation photos of yourself, which must be taken within 30 days of the filing of the application and meet the USCIS color photograph requirements. Print your full name and I-94 number in pencil or felt tip pen (thin sharpie) on the back of each photo. You may obtain passport photos at the UF Mail & Document Services, Bldg. 715, Radio Road or at a local Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens, etc.
    6. Form I-765 for STEM OPT
      • You MUST ELECTRONICALLY TYPE your responses; handwriting is NOT accepted.
      • Items number 3 and 16 have been completed for you, please do not change the information.
      • Leave number 18 blank, it does not apply to F1 students applying for OPT/STEM Extension OPT.
      • Do not complete the section which states “Signature of Person Preparing Form, If Other Than Applicant”.
    7. COPIES of your most recent immigration documents:
    8. Proof of the Degree and Major: provide a copy of your diploma AND a copy of your official transcripts; an unofficial transcript printout from your UF student Account is not acceptable.

    If you DO NOT LIVE IN GAINESVILLE:

    Email the following documents to your DSO/ISA as PDF or JPEG email attachments (we cannot open other document formats):

    • Receipt/Confirmation of Payment of the ISS $125.00 STEM OPT Fee
      To pay the ISS STEM OPT Fee, please click here and follow the instructions.
    • 24-month STEM OPT Extension Questionnaire (ELECTRONICALLY TYPED)
    • Completed Form I-765 (ELECTRONICALLY TYPED),
    • Form I-983 (ELECTRONICALLY TYPED),  and
    • Copy of the I-94 online printout.

    Please title your email “Applying for STEM OPT, Current Expiration Date (provide your current OPT Expiration date)”.

    • Once your DSO/ISA receives the above, s/he will verify your degree, major, and that you are on an approved and current period of OPT, and will process a new I-20 for you.
    • Your I-20 will be mailed to the US mailing address you specify on the OPT STEM Extension Questionnaire. Please indicate on the Questionnaire if you would like to have the I-20 sent to you via USPS or FedEx. If FedEx, you will be provided additional information regarding creating a FedEx Waybill.
    • Once you receive the new I-20, assemble your application packet by sending items 4 - 8 on the above checklist along with a copy of your new I-20 to the USCIS Service Center indicated on the OPT Mailing Checklist.

    OPT Students Who Currently Have a 17-Month Extension PENDING on/after May 10, 2016.

    As of May 10, 2016, USCIS will adjudicate all STEM OPT applications under the standards of 24-month STEM OPT extension. USCIS will send a Request for Evidence (RFE) to any applicant who filed for a 17-month STEM OPT extension under the current rule and whose application is still pending as of May 10, 2016. The RFE will “request documentation that will establish that the student is eligible for a 24-month OPT extension”, including a new Form I-20 endorsed on or after May 10, 2016, indicating that the Designated School Official (DSO) recommends the student for a 24-month OPT extension, a completed and signed Form I-983, and any other documentation to establish that the requirements for a STEM OPT extension under the standards of the new final rule have been met. Please do not attempt to send any additional documents to USCIS or to your DSO/ISA until receipt of the RFE. There is no need to contact your DSO/ISA until receipt of the RFE. You must wait until receipt of the RFE to address the matter. If you submit documents without first receiving the RFE, your documents may not be allocated to the correct pending application. You may prepare the Form I-983 in the meantime. If you do not respond to the RFE, you will not receive neither the 17-month not the 24-month STEM OPT. You must respond, or the application will be denied. You will not need to pay an additional USCIS fee or refile the Form I-765, but you will be required to pay the $125.00 UFIC ISS STEM OPT application fee.

    Resources