STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT)

STEM OPT is an extension of Optional Practical Training for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  You can determine if your major is a STEM field by checking the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code assigned to your major on your I-20 on page 1. Click here to view the CIP codes.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending its F-1 non-immigrant student visa regulations on optional practical training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. institutions of higher education. Specifically, the final rule allows such F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to certain STEM students. The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. As with the prior 17-month STEM OPT extension, the rule authorizes STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify. The rule also includes the “Cap-Gap” relief first introduced in a 2008 DHS regulation for any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status.  Click here to read more.

IMPORTANT: If you believe that your major should qualify as a STEM field but the CIP code does not appear on the STEM list, you should consult with your department chair. OIPS has no role in determining CIP codes or STEM fields.

We highly recommend that you use the most updated I-765 form found here.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for STEM OPT Extension you must:

  • Be maintaining F-1 Status
  • Hold a passport valid at least 6 months into the future
  • Currently be on Post-Completion OPT
  • Be applying for STEM OPT Extension for the first time at the current level of education
  • Currently be holding an OPT I-20 reflecting a degree in an eligible STEM field 
  • Update employment info on OIPS website: OPT Online Update Form
  • Currently be working for or have an employment offer from a company that is registered with E-Verify. Unpaid positions do not qualify. The company must agree to complete the I-983 Training Plan at the time you apply for STEM OPT and every 12 months thereafter.

STEM OPT Timeline

*Your STEM OPT I-20 is valid for 60 days.  You need to mail your STEM OPT application, STEM OPT I-20 and supporting documents to USCIS BEFORE your STEM OPT I-20 expires.

**USCIS accepts STEM OPT applications any time between 90 days before current EAD expires and up to current EAD end date.

When should I apply for STEM OPT?

The application window for STEM Extension is the last 4 months of your authorized OPT (120 days). We recommend applying as early within that window as possible. The procedure of requesting the STEM I-20 and gathering documents typically takes several weeks.

Your STEM Extension application, to include the STEM OPT I-20 created by OIPS, supporting documents, and payment must be received BEFORE your original OPT expires (end date on EAD card).

FAQs

Q: When can I apply for my STEM OPT Extension?
A: The earliest date you can apply is 90 days before your original OPT expires (end date on EAD card).

Q: The timeline states that I should submit my STEM OPT I-20 request 90-120 days before my original OPT expires.  What if I submit my STEM OPT I-20 request 80 days before my OPT expires.  Will OIPS still accept it?
A: Yes, OIPS will still accept your request. As noted above, you must apply for STEM Extension before your original OPT expires (end date on EAD card). We strongly recommend students to request their STEM OPT I-20 early (as early as 120 days before your original OPT expires). It takes time to gather all supporting documents and mail your packet. Do not wait until the last minute.

Maintaining F-1 Status

Students on STEM OPT are still in F-1 status and must maintain legal status:

  • You must be in a paid OPT position, at least 20 hours per week. Unpaid positions do not qualify.
  • Your job must be directly related to your major field of study and commensurate with your level of study.
  • Your employer must be registered in the E-Verify system;
  • You have an additional 60 days of unemployment you can use during your STEM OPT period.  Unemployment beyond 150 days OPT + STEM OPT is a violation of your F-1 visa status;
  • You may change employers during your STEM OPT period.  The new employer must be an E-Verify and they must agree to complete the I-983 Training Plan. The previous employer must sign the Final Evaluation (I-983, last page, and last box). Both forms can be submitted through the OPT Online Update Form.
  • Full-time study (BA/MA/PhD) cancels your STEM OPT.  You may take occasional courses to enhance your skills while working.

Important Travel Information

You can travel while on STEM OPT, but keep in mind that you still must have:

  • Valid OPT STEM I-20 signed by DSO every six months;
  • STEM OPT Extension EAD Card;
  • Letter from employer or current contract, pay stubs to show that you are still employed by your E-Verify Employer working in your field of study;
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future;
  • Valid F-1 entry visa in your passport—Be sure to allow plenty of time for a new visa and schedule your visa appointment several months ahead of time before you travel.

Questions? Consult with an OIPS advisor. Call the OIPS front desk to schedule an in-person appointment or a phone appointment.

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

You must report every six months, even if you have not changed jobs:

You must also complete the OPT/STEM OPT Employment Update Form if you:

  • Move to another address in the U.S. or abroad
  • Change employer, to include company (merger/acquisition), supervisor, and location information (a new Form I-983 must be submitted to OIPS)
  • Discontinue employment
  • Change your status to another visa type
  • Leave the U.S. before the end of your OPT

NEW: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students (plus evaluation) Sample

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

STEM OPT Application Process (step by step instructions)

Step 1: Update your employer name, address, and contact information

To update your information, go to OPT Employment Update Form

Step 2: Request a STEM OPT I-20 from OIPS

To request a STEM OPT I-20 from OIPS, you need complete the STEM OPT I-20 Request form and attach the I-983 Training Plan.  You and your employer need to complete and sign pp. 1-5.  I-983 Training Plan Instructions for Employer and Student can be found on the Study In The States website: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/assets/stem-opt-hub/story.html. I-983  needs to be typed with original signatures.

Step 3: Prepare and mail OPT application and required documents to USCIS.

 

How to Construct the STEM OPT Application Packet and Complete the I-765 Application Form

International Advisors and Immigration Specialists review how to construct your STEM OPT application packet and complete the I-765 application form. Learn helpful tips about the application process and what to expect after you have mailed your application to USCIS. Watch these videos after you have received/applied for your STEM OPT I-20 and are building your STEM OPT application packet.

Documents To Include:

Include the following documents in your OPT application to USCIS in the following order:

  1. G-1145 e-Notification (optional)
  2. Credit Card Form (G-1450), check, or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (see information on fee above)
  3. Two color passport-style photographs with name, SEVIS ID, and date of birth printed on back
  4. I-765
  5. Copy of OPT I-20
  6. Copies of other previously issued I-20s (most recent I-20 first)
  7. Copy of passport (your passport must be valid)
  8. Copy of F-1 Visa or F-1 Change of Status Approval Notice
  9. Copy of I-94 card
  10. Copy of previously issued EAD card
  11. Proof of Degree
  12. Proof of Employment
  13. Optional: A letter of support from your employer detailing how your work is related to your degree.

Mailing

For more detailed and up-to-date information on mailing your OPT application packet to USCIS, including address, see the USCIS Phoenix and Dallas Lockbox facilities website.