STEM OPT Extension

On March 11, 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' 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.

The employer must:

  • 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)

See USCIS' web page on STEM OPT for more information on eligibility criteria, student and employer responsibilities.

To see if your Brandeis degree is STEM designated, look on your most recently issued Form I-20 under "major 1" or "major 2" in the "Program of Study" box. The CIP code will be in the form of 12.3456. Check to see if your CIP code appears on the USDHS STEM List.

Prepare Your Application

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 file your STEM OPT extension application in a timely manner, 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 120 days for USCIS to process STEM OPT extension applications.

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

In order to maintain legal F-1 status, a STEM OPT student must check in with their DSO every six months 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.

If there are any material changes to or deviation from the training plan as describe on the form I-983 that the ISSO has on file, a newly modified I-983 must be submitted. Material changes or deviations may include but are not limited to:

  • Changes to employer information

  • Changes to work hours

  • Changes to employer commitment or student learning objectives

  • Changes to supervisor information

Report an employment update

If there are no material changes to the I-983 to report, the following check-ins are required for all:

  • 6-month check-in: It is your responsibility to check-in with the ISSO at the 6 month mark of your STEM extension to confirm that you are still working for your employer with the same responsibilities as initially reported on your I-983.

  • 12-month check-in: It is your responsibility to provide your annual evaluation at the 12 month check-in. The progress evaluation can be found on Form I-983.

  • 18-month check-in: It is your responsibility to check-in with the ISSO for another check-in confirming that you are still working for your employer with the same responsibilities as initially reported on your I-983

  • Final evaluation: A final evaluation is required when you complete your STEM employment OR if you leave your job and switch to a new employer who writes a training plan for you. The final evaluation can be found on Form I-983.

The websites below include information about form I-983 and responsibilities while you are on STEM OPT:

Note: 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.