STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension
F-1 students with degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) and ar currently engaged in Post-Completion OPT may be eligible for a 24 month extension of OPT. Please review this web page and see the USCIS website for detailed information about STEM OPT including eligibility criteria, and responsibilities for students and employers.
STEM OPT Extension Process
Stage 1: Before Applying for STEM OPT
To be eligible for an OPT STEM Extension you must:
Be maintaining valid F-1 status
Be on an authorized period of Post-Completion OPT
Have a degree in an eligible STEM field as indicated on the DHS STEM Designated Program List (from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS).
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.
Have an offer of employment from an employer that is enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program.
Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer
Be employed in a paid position
Not be self-employed
To be eligible for an STEM OPT Extension, your employer must:
Be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program.
Have a Federal Employer Identification Number
Agree to the terms of STEM OPT by completing their sections of the Form I-983.
Stage 2: STEM OPT Application Timeline
Students can apply for STEM OPT up to 90 days prior to the end of their current OPT period (the end date listed on your EAD).
A STEM OPT request for a Form I-20 recommendation must be submitted in the ISSO Portal no later than 10 business days prior to the end of your current post-completion OPT.
- The OPT STEM application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of your STEM OPT recommendation date.
USCIS must receive the STEM OPT application before the expiration of the current OPT period (the end date is listed on your EAD card and OPT approval from USCIS).
- If your STEM OPT application is filed in a timely manner (before the OPT end date) you may continue working up to 180 days past the OPT end date noted on your EAD.
- If your OPT application is filed in a timely manner and your application is pending for over 180 days you must stop working but may remain in the U.S. until your application is processed.
- Processing times vary but may take on an average of 2-3 months.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) offers Premium Processing for certain F-1 students applying for STEM OPT. Premium Processing provides expedited processing (30 -calendar days) of a STEM OPT application for an additional fee of $1,500 filed with Form I-907.
Premium Processing would rarely be needed for STEM OPT applications since STEM OPT applicants are allowed to continue their employment up to 180 days after the end date of their OPT.
- Starting now, USCIS will accept requests for a pending Form I-765, for Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, and STEM OPT.
- Starting April 3, 2023, USCIS will accept requests for Premium Processing for a new Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, and STEM OPT applications when Form I-907 is filed concurrently with Form I-765. Please note that USCIS will reject any premium processing request for an initial or concurrently filed Form I-765 received before April 3.
We recommend that you give careful consideration prior to submitting a Premium Processing application to USCIS. Given current USCIS processing times. You can monitor USCIS I-765 processing times and consider the points below before deciding to pay for premium processing:
- The date your STEM OPT application was received by USCIS
- Your requested STEM OPT start date
- Potential travel plans
- Go to USCIS My Account
- Choose “File a Form Online”
- Choose “I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service” in the drop-down menu under “Select the form you want to file online.”
- Click “Start Form”
- Your pending STEM OPT case should display under “Add Premium Processing to a Case."
- Starting now, USCIS will accept requests for a pending Form I-765, for pre-completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, and STEM OPT.
- Starting April 3, 2023, USCIS will accept requests for new Pre-Completion OPT, Post-Completion OPT, or STEM OPT when Form I-907 is filed concurrently with Form I-765. Please note that USCIS will reject any premium processing request for an initial or concurrently filed Form I-765 received before April 3.
We recommend that you give careful consideration to current USCIS processing times prior to submitting a Premium Processing application to USCIS. Monitor USCIS I-765 processing times and consider the points below before deciding to pay for premium processing:
- The date USCIS received your STEM OPT application
- Requested STEM OPT start date
- Potential travel plans
Stage 3: STEM OPT Application Process
Stage 4: Maintaining F-1 Status on STEM OPT
To maintain status while you are on STEM OPT you must:
- Be in a paid position (volunteer employment and unpaid internships are not allowed on STEM OPT)
- Have an employer (not self-employment)
- Hold a position that is directly related to your STEM degree
- Be employed for at least 20 hours per week. If you have multiple employers at the same time, each position must be at least 20 hours per week
- Complete all STEM OPT Reporting Requirements every six months (as described above)
- Report all changes to your employment information through the ISSO Portal within 10 days of the change.
- Report all changes of address through the SEVP Portal and complete Form AR-11, Alien's Change of Address Card within 10 days of the change.
- Notify the ISSO regarding any updates or changes to your immigration status within 10 days of the change by submitting a "Change of Visa Notification" Request in the ISSO Portal
- Unemployment time is limited: You must not accumulate more than 150 unemployment days over the total time of your OPT and STEM OPT. Unemployment days are cumulative between both your initial 12-month OPT and your STEM OPT. (For example, if you used 30 days of unemployment during your initial 12-month OPT, you would have a balance of 120 unemployment days left during your STEM OPT)
- Unemployment days are days when you are not employed with a company. Weekends, holidays, and days that you take off for vacation (can be inside or outside the U.S.) are not considered unemployment days if you will return to continue your employment.
- Remember that you do not have a grace period after reaching your 150 day unemployment limit.
Stage 5: STEM OPT Reporting Requirements
If you are authorized for STEM OPT you are still in F-1 status and to maintain your status, you must:
- Submit a STEM OPT Validation Report every six months. Validation Reports are due at 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months after the start date of STEM OPT.
- Submit your STEM OPT Validation Reports to the ISSO by submitting a "STEM OPT Check-In Request" in the ISSO Portal.
- You may receive automatic email reminders from the SEVP Portal when your Validation Reports are due. However, it is ultimately your responsibility to keep track of when your Validation Reports are due, and to submit them in a timely manner.
- Validation Reports must be submitted within 10 days of the due date. An ISSO advisor will review your ISSO Portal "STEM Check-In" Request and submit the STEM Validation Report to SEVIS to validate your employment information and/or to report any changes in the Form I-983 training plan.
6-month check-in: It is your responsibility to submit a "STEM OPT Check -In" Request in the ISSO Portal 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 the Form I-983 training plan. No section of the Form I-983 needs to be submitted at this time.
12-month check-in: It is your responsibility to submit a "STEM OPT Check -In" Request in the ISSO Portal at the 12 month mark of your STEM extension to provide your annual evaluation. The evaluation section is located on page five of the Form I-983. Page five of the Form I-983 must be uploaded in the ISSO Portal as part of the "STEM OPT Check-In" Request.
18-month check-in: It is your responsibility to submit a "STEM OPT Check -In" Request in the ISSO Portal at the 18 month mark of your STEM extension to confirm that you are still working for your employer with the same responsibilities as initially reported on the Form I-983 training plan. No section of the Form I-983 needs to be submitted at this time.
Final Evaluation: It is your responsibility to submit a final evaluation when you complete your STEM employment OR if you leave your job and switch to a new employer. The final evaluation can be found on page 5 of the Form I-983. Complete the validation report by submitting the "STEM OPT Check-In" Request through the ISSO Portal and verify your employer and address are correct. Page five of the Form I-983 must be uploaded in the ISSO Portal as part of the "STEM OPT Check-In" Request.
During Cap Gap: STEM OPT reporting requirements continue during the Cap-Gap Extension (every 6 months).
Material ChangesIn addition to the required six month STEM OPT Validation Reports, you must also report any material changes to or deviations from the original Form I-983 Training Plan within 10 days of the change. This can be done in the ISSO Portal by submitting a STEM Employer Update request.
Material changes or deviations may include but are not limited to:
- Any change of 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 (Employers and the Form I-983) or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983
Please contact your ISSO Advisor if you have questions about updating your STEM OPT information when there is a change.
What happens if I miss the deadline for one of my STEM OPT Validation Reports?
If you do not submit your Validation Report on time, the ISSO will not have the ability to submit your report to SEVIS and the status of the STEM OPT Validation or Evaluation will remain as “past due” in your SEVP Portal.
If I end my STEM OPT before my STEM OPT end date, do I still need to submit the Validation Reports that are due after I have ended my STEM OPT?
No, you only need to submit Validation Reports that are due while you are actively on STEM OPT. However, you will need to submit the Form I-983 Final Evaluation to report you that you are ending your STEM OPT Extension.
STEM OPT Forms and Related Links
- Form I-765 & USCIS Instructions
- Form I-765 Brandeis Supplemental Instructions
- Track Case Status (USCIS)
- Form I-983 Overview
- Employers and the Form I-983
- Form I-983 Brandeis Supplemental Instructions
- List of STEM Fields (pdf)
- E-Verify Employer Search Tool
- SEVP Broadcast on STEM OPT Employer Site Visits
Travel on STEM OPT
Student on STEM OPT are still in F-1 status and must continue to be aware of F-1 regulations regarding travel. If you plan to travel outside of the U.S. while you are on STEM OPT you will need a valid F-1 visa to return to the U.S. See our website section on visa renewal (if necessary). You can refer to Documents Required for Re-entry for a list document you may need to re-enter the U.S.
If you need to leave the U.S. before you receive your STEM OPT EAD, please see the Department of Homeland Security final rule for more information about traveling while a STEM OPT application is pending.
If your employer has filed an H-1B petition on your behalf, check with your employer and immigration attorney about any travel plans, as leaving the U.S. while an H-1B application is pending may jeopardize your petition.
Changing Employers When Applying for STEM OPT
Before submitting your STEM OPT Application to USCIS
Submit a STEM OPT Request in the ISSO Portal with a new Form I-983 signed by your new employer.
When you receive your new STEM OPT Extension Form I-20, sign and date it and submit a copy to USCIS with the rest of your STEM OPT Extension application.
If you have already submitted your STEM OPT Extension application to USCIS, and it is pending, do not submit a second application. Instead, follow the instructions below.
While your STEM OPT Application is Pending
If you change employers while your STEM OPT application is pending, please contact your ISSO advisor to learn how to update your STEM OPT application with USCIS.
Verify that your new employer meets all of the requirements to be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension, including being registered with E-Verify.
Submit a new Form I-983, completed and signed by your new employer.
Request an updated STEM OPT Form I-20 from the ISSO with your new employer information and send a copy of it to USCIS to include with your application.
Please Note: Submitting this additional information to USCIS may affect the processing time of your STEM OPT application.
Changing Employers After Your STEM OPT is Approved
After your STEM OPT Is Approved
If you change employers while on approved STEM OPT, you will need to update your Form I-20 with the new employer information within 10 days of the change.
Submit a "STEM Employer Update Request" in the ISSO Portal with:
A new Form I-983 training plan signed by the new employer.
A Final Evaluation (page 5 of the Form I-983) to document the end date of employment with your previous employer.
Updating your Mailing Address While on STEM OPT
Changes to your mailing address should be submitted to your SEVP Portal.
Visa Options After OPT/STEM OPT
The ISSO organizes immigration attorney visits each semester to present visa options beyond OPT/STEM OPT. Event information will be available in the ISSO News and on our social media. If you have any questions about visa options after OPT/STEM OPT, please speak to an immigration attorney or see more information on the USCIS website's Nonimmigrant Pathways for STEM Employment in the United States page.
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