STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT)
What is STEM OPT?
The STEM OPT extension allows some students with science, technology, engineering, or math degrees to apply to extend their post-completion OPT authorization. Eligible students who are currently on 12-Month OPT may qualify to apply for a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension to receive an additional 2 years of employment authorization directly related to their STEM degree program. Detailed information for students and employers can be found on the DHS webpage Study in the States OPT STEM Hub.
To be eligible for STEM OPT, you are required to:
- Be on post-completion OPT and hold an appropriate degree in one of the DHS-approved STEM fields.
- Be employed in a paying job by, or have a paying job offer from, an employer who is registered with the E-Verify employment verification system.
- E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration. Note: E-Verify is not a searchable system, you will need to ask your employer if they are enrolled in E-Verify.
- Employment relationships such as work for hire, self-employment, employment agencies (unless working as an employee of the agency itself), and owning a business as a sole proprietor are not eligible for STEM extension.
- Have had fewer than 90 days of unemployment during your 12-month period of post-completion OPT.
- Demonstrate that the job is directly related to your STEM field of study.
- Work with your employer to prepare and sign the I-983 Training Plan.
- Ensure that the appropriate USCIS Service Center receives your completed application before the expiration date on your current post-completion OPT card.
You must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that
- Participates in the E-Verify program and
- Agrees to follow the terms of STEM OPT and complete the employer-specific sections of the I-983 Training Plan
You are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment, for a total of 150 days (90 days from OPT + additional 60 days).
- Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. There is no grace period after 150 days of unemployment.
- Prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the U.S., or change to a different immigration status.
The International Students and Scholars Office provides information about STEM OPT, but we do not approve the application or have the authority to influence the process. If there is a request for information or to correct a problem, USCIS will notify you of the request and it is your responsibility to contact your assigned International Student Advisor and respond to the request on time.
- The major code on your I-20 must be listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time of application.
- Work with your employer and fill out the Form I-983.
- Upload the completed I-983 and notify your International Student Advisor.
- Your assigned International Student Advisor will review the submission and issue STEM OPT I-20.
- It signs you up for email/text message notification of your application’s arrival at USCIS
- Lightly print your name and the I-94 number on the back of each photo in pencil, not ink pen.
- Place the photos in a small clear sandwich or snack bag.
- Personal Check, Cashier’s Check or Money Order are acceptable. NO CASH
- Make the fee payable to: U.S. Dept of Homeland Security
The packet includes the following items:
- Form G-1145, e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
- Copy of STEM OPT I-20 with your signature
- Copy of Diploma
- Copy of current EAD card
- Copy of passport picture page
- Copy of most recent F-1 visa with most recent date entry stamp
- Application fee
- Two U.S. passport sized photos
Keep a copy of the application materials for you record.
- If you reside outside of California, review the USCIS mailing instructions to find the correct Lockbox location.
- If you live in California mail the entire application to:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
Attn: NFB AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Phoenix, AZ 85034
There are significantly more reporting requirements while on STEM OPT Extension.
- 6-month STEM OPT Report:
- Email your assigned International Student Advisor and confirm your SEVIS information every 6 months.
- I-983 Annual Evaluation: Upload the first self-evaluation within twelve months.
- I-983 Final Evaluation: Upload the final self-evaluation at the end of practical training.
- Changes in Employment/Practical Training: Report employment changes within 10 days. Upload I-983 Final Evaluation (old position) and new I-983 Training Plan (new position).
- 24-month STEM OPT: Do not exceed 150 days of unemployment.
Report the following changes using the SEVP Portal:
- Address changes: Report within 10 days of moving.
- Learn about the portal on the SEVP Portal Help
Email your assigned International Student Advisor and request help with the following SEVP portal issues:
- Reset password or change your email address
- Unlocking a locked portal account
- Never received the link to set up your account
Email your assigned International Student Advisor to report the following:
- Request a new Form I-20
- Final departure from the U.S. (if earlier than your OPT end date)
- Download Travel Guidelines
- Travel signature on your I-20 is valid for 6 months
- Request a new travel signature
- If you are unable to pick up your I-20 in person, you can have it shipped via UEMS
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find additional government resources about the STEM OPT extension?
- STEM OPT Hub –from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Study in the States
- OPT Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) –from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Where can I find my CIP code?
- I-20s from June 2015 or earlier: the CIP code is printed at the top of page three of your I-20. The code is 6 digits long (xx.xxxx). Once you find your code, you can consult the entire list of individual eligible CIP codes for the STEM extension available on the SEVP website.
- I-20s from July 2015 to present: the CIP code is printed next to your major on page one of your I-20.
What is the CPP SEVIS School Code?
If I have a dual major, can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on one of the degree programs?
- Yes, if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and any job worked while on the extension is related to your STEM degree.
Can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on my minor or certificate program?
When does my 24-month extension of OPT start?
- If you have properly filed for a 24-month STEM extension, the period of extension starts the day after the expiration of your original OPT period.
Can I work with an expired EAD while my 24-month extension is pending?
- Yes. Your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the 24-month STEM extension application is pending. There is no interim documentation of the extended authorization. If your employer needs information about what documents to collect as proof of extended work authorization, please refer to them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Central.
Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my original EAD expires and my 24-month extension is still pending?
- Yes, your EAD is considered extended for up to 180 days while your STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS. During that period, you can travel outside the U.S. even if your previous EAD is expired.
- For more information about what documents to carry, and citations for this rule, see the “Travel” section on this webpage.
Can I change employers while the 24-month extension is pending?
- Yes, you can change employers while your 24-month STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS.
- If you change employers, fill out Form I-983 (list the information of the new employer) and report the change to your International Student Adviser. Employment changes must be reported within 10 days.
- Your International Student Adviser will provide a copy of an updated I-20 directly to USCIS.