STEM OPT Extension
On March 11th 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The new STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field and effectively replaces the 17‑month STEM OPT extension.
The 2016 STEM OPT 24-month extension final rule is effective beginning May 10, 2016.
Study in the States launched the STEM OPT Hub in coordination with this new rule to help school officials, F-1 students and interested employers understand the new regulation.
STEM OPT Eligibility
The F-1 student must:
- Be on a period of Post-Completion OPT
- Have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS
- Pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
- Prepare and sign the Training Plan (Form I-983)
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
- Receive payment from their employer
- Not be self-employed
- Apply before your current Post-Completion period of OPT expires.
- Be enrolled in E-Verify
- Have a Federal Employer Identification Number
- Agree to a the terms of STEM OPT by completing their sections of the Training Plan (Form I-983)
Prepare Your Application
- Prepare the STEM OPT materials with the employer using the ISSO STEM OPT Extension Check List.
- Submit the STEM OPT Online ISSO Application to the ISSO (obtain new I-20 recommending STEM OPT).
- Mail STEM OPT application to USCIS.
- USCIS receives application and issues I-797C Notice of Action receipt, approval and EAD.
The application must be submitted to the ISSO no later than 10 business days prior to the end of your current Post-Completion OPT. The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of the current OPT period. You can submit the STEM OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days prior to the end of the current OPT period.
If you timely file your STEM OPT extension application, you will be able to continue employment while your application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days beyond the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT, whichever comes first. It normally takes up to 90 days for USCIS to process STEM OPT extension applications.
STEM OPT Reporting Requirements
In order to maintain their legal F-1 status, a STEM OPT student must regularly check in with their DSO throughout the duration of the extension to validate Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) information and report changes made to the student's training plan.
Change of U. S. Address and Employer (report to ISSO within 10 days)
The requirement to report continues if the student’s STEM OPT extension is extended further by the cap-gap extension.
Traveling on STEM OPT
While on STEM OPT, you are required to show your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) along with your other immigration documents in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. In some cases, students will also need to apply at their local U.S. embassy or consulate for a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S.
If you need to leave the U.S. before you receive your EAD, speak with an ISSO DSO before you depart the U.S.
If your employer has filed an H-1B petition on your behalf, check with your employer about any travel plans because leaving the U.S. while an H-1B application is pending may jeopardize your petition.
Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on STEM OPT Extension:
- Valid I-20 - Page two should list your employer's information and be signed by an ISSO DSO within the last six months.
- Valid F-1 Visa - If your F-1 visa has expired, you must apply for a new one at your local U.S. embassy or consulate prior to you return. (Exception: Canadian citizens do not need a visa.)
- Valid Passport - The expiration date should be at least six months into the future at any given time.
- Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- Evidence of a job offer or resumption of employment. If you are returning to the U.S without evidence of a job offer, you may be questioned at the port of entry.