STEM Extension

Students whose primary degree is in a qualified STEM field are qualified to receive an extension of the Standard OPT period. The new STEM OPT rule has officially taken effect (effective May 10, 2016). It will take some time for DHS (including SEVIS and the Service Centers), employers and universities to define the application procedures and reporting requirements of STEM OPT. GPS will continue to update our STEM OPT materials here and keep students informed.

ELIGIBILITY

The F-1 student must:

  • Be on a current period of standard Post-Completion OPT
  • Hold a degree in a field of study (indicated on the I-20) which qualifies as STEM eligible according to the official STEM Designated Degree Program List [PDF]
  • Have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify
  • Demonstrate the job is directly related to a STEM field
  • Prepare and sign the Training Plan (Form I-983)
  • Apply before your current Post-Completion period of OPT expires.

The employer must:

WHEN TO APPLY

The application must be submitted to USCIS no later than the end date of your current Post-Completion OPT.

You can submit an application to USCIS as early as 120 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.

ELIGIBILITY FOR SECOND PERIOD OF STEM OPT

If you enroll in a new academic program in the U.S. in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for a second period of 24-month STEM OPT  (i.e. two 24 month STEM OPT extensions may be permitted).

Example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in computer science, and you later earn a master’s degree in computer science or another STEM eligible field, you may apply for Post-Completion OPT and then the additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.

ELIGIBILITY BASED ON PREVIOUS STEM DEGREE

If you are currently in a degree field (or on Post-Completion OPT from that degree) that is not identified as STEM eligible, but have previously earned a STEM eligible degree from an accredited U.S. higher education institution, you may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension under certain conditions:

  • You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions
  • Your previous degree can not have been conferred more than 10 years ago at the time of application
  • Your previous degree is assigned a STEM eligible code found on the STEM Designated Degree Program List [PDF] at the time of application
  • You haven’t already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree
  • Your practical training opportunity is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree
  • Your employer meets the criteria listed above

Example: If you are currently participating in Post-Completion OPT based on a master’s degree in business and management, but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in mathematics as long as meets the other criteria above.

THE NEW STEM RULE

  • What has changed?
    • The new rule extends the STEM extension period of OPT from 17 months to 24 months beyond the initial post-completion OPT period
    • Students currently in a non-STEM degree can be eligible for a STEM OPT extension based on a previous STEM degree obtained in the U.S. from an accredited institution.
    • There is a new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes.
    • The student and employer will be required to use the new Form I-983; more information about this form and how to fill it out can be found here.
    • There are now additional reporting requirements (complete employer evaluations, exit survey, and more)
    • Employers must provide an Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
    • DHS is permitted to conduct employer site visits to confirm that training plan goals are being met.
    • Volunteering is no longer permitted on the STEM OPT extension.
    • Students’ compensation must be commensurate to similarly situated U.S. workers.
    • Self-employment is not permitted.
    • Small start-up companies: There appear to be ways for some to qualify as long as the employer has an FEIN,  student is considered an “employee” and a supervisor can complete the I-983.
    • Most temporary agency and contract work will not be eligible
    • During the STEM OPT extension you could have up to 150 days of unemployment time (90 days from initial 12-month period of OPT, plus 60 additional days of unemployment time during the STEM extension; any unused days from the initial period of OPT roll over into the STEM extension period).
  • I have a currently pending STEM extension petition in with USCIS

    Any STEM OPT extension applications approved before May 10 will be adjudicated under the old 17-month rule. If this happens, you would be eligible to convert to the 24-month STEM OPT extension if you file a request for the additional 7 months between May 10 and August 8, 2016. Speak to an advisor in GPS about how to proceed. If you choose not to move to the 24-month STEM OPT, you will be required to follow the old 17-month rules regarding employment reporting and unemployment time.

    Any STEM OPT extension applications still pending on May 10 or later will be sent a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) to update their I-20 to the 24-month STEM OPT benefit. At that time, a completed Form Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared when USCIS requests it.

  • I have an approved period of STEM OPT under the 17 Month rule, can I get the additional 7 months?

    Once the rule takes affect on May 10, 2016 you will have a limited window of time to apply for an additional 7 months of STEM OPT. Eligible students must have at least 150 days of STEM OPT remaining on the day USCIS receives the application, and must file no later than August 8, 2016. To request the additional time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared to submit during the eligibility window. Please also contact your GPS advisor that you wish to file for the additional 7 months, so that we can inform you of the process as it develops.

  • I want to file my initial STEM Extension Application

    We recommend that you speak to a GPS advisor about the best time to file. All STEM extension applications, regardless of when they are filed, must be received by USCIS before your current Post-Completion OPT expires. In some cases, it may be better to wait until the new rule has taken affect but for others you may need to file now while you still can. Anyone considering a STEM OPT extension will be required to complete the Form I-983 with their employer. We recommend that you begin conversations now with your employer about the I-983 so that you have one prepared when you need to file the application.

  • Basic Steps for Applying for the STEM Extension
    • Prepare the Form I-983 with your employer
    • Submit completed Form I-983 to advisor at Wake Forest Center for Global Programs & Studies (GPS
    • GPS will mail you a Form I-20 recommending you for the STEM extension with your employment details notated on Page 2 with instructions on how to assemble and mail your application to USCIS
    • You will mail your completed STEM OPT application to USCIS
    • USCIS receives application and adjudicates