Services for International Students and Scholars

24 Month STEM Extension

F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other requirements (see below) are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. As of May 10, 2016, the 24-month STEM extension replaced the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students.

Eligibility

All four of the below criteria must be met in order for a student to be eligible for the 24-month OPT extension:
  1. Students who have already been approved for 12 months of post-completion OPT; and
  2. Who have earned a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. (certificate programs are not eligible) in a field included on the U.S. Government’s list of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields within the last 10 years (see below for more details about how to find out if your degree is STEM eligible); and
  3. Who are employed for at least 20 hours per week in a paid job directly related to his/her field of study; and
  4. Who are working for an employer that is enrolled in the U.S. Government’s E-Verify program.
List of degrees in STEM fields

In order to verify that your degree is on U.S. government’s office list of STEM fields, look at the code listed under “Primary Major” on Page 1 of your I-20 form, and then look for that code in the CIP code column of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Programs list: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf.

E-Verify Program

E-Verify is a database system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees. E-Verify is currently voluntary in most states. For more information visit www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

24-Month Extension Available Twice

The 24-month extension of OPT is available to each student at TWO non-consecutive periods of time. Please note that this rule is different from the application rules for the “standard” 12-month OPT, under which students could be approved for multiple OPT periods for each higher degree earned in the U.S. (i.e. bachelor’s, then master’s, then doctoral). Each STEM extension must meet the above-listed STEM eligibility requirements.

24-Month STEM OPT Extension based on previous degree

Students now have the ability to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on a previously earned STEM degree from an accredited U.S. institution within 10 years under which the student has not previously applied for STEM OPT Extension. Example: a student had a bachelor’s degree in Engineering, didn’t have STEM OPT based on that degree, then got an MBA, received regular (12-month) OPT based on the MBA; the student is eligible (if meeting all other STEM OPT eligibility requirements) to apply for 24-month STEM OPT at the end of the 12-month OPT after his/her MBA.

Training plan

Students and employers are required to complete the new Form I-983 in order to begin the STEM OPT extension process

Travel Outside USA during STEM OPT

If you travel outside the United States or U.S. possessions during the approved STEM OPT extension period, to re-enter the country, you must present the following documents at the border:

  • Your passport valid for at least six months into the future and your unexpired F-1 visa stamp
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature. While you are participating in OPT, travel signatures are valid for only 6 months.
  • Your EAD card for STEM OPT Extension*
  • Proof of employment

*If your STEM OPT application is pending and you plan to travel abroad, please make sure your Post-OPT EAD is still valid. If your Post-OPT EAD is already expired, traveling abroad is NOT recommended.

Application Timeframe

Students must apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension prior to the expiration of the first 12 months of “regular” OPT. The application must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the first OPT period EAD in order to be properly (timely) filed. USCIS will not accept I-765 applications for STEM extensions any earlier than 90 days before the current EAD expiration date. Accordingly, OGS will process a STEM recommendation I-20 no more than three months and three weeks in advance of your current OPT end date.

*Please note: you cannot apply during the 60 day grace period.

Starting and Ending Dates

The start date of the 24-month STEM OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization. The end date will be 24 months later. (It is not possible to request smaller increments of time for the OPT extension.)

Work authorization status while STEM extension is pending: If you successfully file the application for your 24-month STEM OPT extension prior to the expiration of your current 12-month OPT period EAD, you may continue employment even if your previous EAD card is expired until your OPT extension is processed or until 180 days has passed, whichever is sooner.

How can I apply for STEM OPT?

STEP 1 – Prepare Form I-983 – Training Plan.
  • See guidelines in tab below
STEP 2 – Request STEM OPT I-20 from the Office of Global Services (OGS):
STEP 3 – Apply for STEM OPT extension with USCIS:
  1. Complete an original Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (optional) which can be found at: uscis.gov/files/form/g-1145.pdf
  1. Complete original Form I-765, which can be downloaded from: uscis.gov/files/form/i-765.pdf
    • See more guidelines in tab below
  1. There is a filing fee required by Form I-765. Write out a personal check or money order for the amount of $410, payable to the ‘U.S. Department of Homeland Security.’
    • If USCIS receives your application with the wrong fee payment, your application will be rejected and returned to you. (If this occurs, do not resubmit your application; contact an OGS advisor as you may need a new OPT recommendation)
  1. Provide your official transcript to show your eligibility for STEM OPT extension.
  1. Provide a letter from your STEM OPT employer that includes job duties and specifies if employment is part-time or full-time.
  1. Include photocopies of the documents indicated below:
    • Pages of all previous I-20s, including the last I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation.
      Your new 24-month STEM OPT extension I-20 which will be issued to you as part of this application process, will need your signature before you copy it and include it with other I-20s copied by you for this application.
    • Form I-94 (front and reverse sides if you have a paper form);
    • Previous Employment Authorization Card(s) (EAD) (front and reverse sides). You may have more than one EAD if you have been authorized Pre-completion OPT or have been authorized for OPT at another program level or at another university;
    • Copy the following pages from your passport(s):
      • Biographical page;
      • Page with expiration date and/or renewal dates (if different from the biographical page);
      • Pages that include your F-1 visa(s)
        (If you had the first F-1 visa in an expired or older passport, you need to copy the biographical page, page with expiration date and/or renewal dates of that older passport, and previous F-1 visa(s) from the older passport, especially if you have not been home since your initial arrival to the U.S.)
    • If you entered the U.S. initially in a status other than F-1 and you changed your status in the U.S., you will need to include a copy of the Change of Status approval Form I-797 and the I-94 (front and reverse sides) attached at the bottom of that form.
  1. Obtain (2) full-frontal passport style photos as required. Visit the following link for additional information on photo requirements: travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/photos/photos.html. The photos must be taken within the last 30 days.

IMPORTANT:  All documents must be received by USCIS prior to the expiration date of the 12 month period of Post-Completion OPT.

Suggestions for Completing Form I-983 Training Plan

  • In Section 1 of the Training Plan:
    • SEVIS School Code can be found in the school information section on P. 1 of your I-20, under school code and approval date.
    • CIP Code is in the Program of Study section on P. 1 of your I-20, under MAJOR 1.
    • For DSO Name and Contact Information, please use the following:

                                                 Elena Gruzdeva

                                               405 Ell Hall, 360 Huntington Ave

                                                Boston, MA 02115

                                              e.gruzdeva@northeastern.edu

                                             617.373.2310

  • Employment Authorization Number: USCIS# on your EAD card.
  • Evaluation of Student Progress sections do not need to be completed for the initial STEM OPT I-20 request. Evaluations are required at the 12-month and 24-month points of the student’s STEM OPT.
  • The Training Plan does not need to cover your regular 12-month OPT period, only the STEM OPT period.
  • If you have more than one job while on STEM OPT, you must submit Form I-983 for every one of these jobs. Please note that each job you have while on STEM OPT must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • It is best to type up the information on Form I-983, if possible. If not possible, you may handwrite it, but make sure that it is easy to read.

Please note: if you are employed through a staffing or temporary agency, the agency cannot complete and sign Form I-983. Only the E-verified employer that provides the actual training is authorized to sign and complete Form I-983.

For any other assistance completing Form I-983, please refer to U.S. Department of Homeland Security web site: studyinthestates.dhs.gov/form-i-983-overview.

Suggestions for Completing Form I-765 for STEM Extension

 The numbers below correspond to the numbered items on Form I-765. This form may be downloaded from uscis.gov. Please refer to USCIS I-765 Instructions. Below are some general guidelines for completing Form I-765 for STEM OPT Extension. Please read the instructions for each item and write the information on the form, printing clearly and legibly or you may type the form online and print it.
  • The Form I-765 should be completed in its entirety and signed in blue ink.
  • Item Number 1: Type your family name in capital letters, followed by a space, and then followed by your first name. If you have any middle name(s) enter it after your first name. Be sure to type your name as it appears on your passport.
  • Item Number 2: Other Names. Complete this section only if you use other names on official documents, or if you have a maiden name (name used prior to marriage, usually applies to women who have married and changed their family name). If this does not apply to you, then leave Box 2 blank.
  • Item Number 3:S. Mailing Address. The U.S. address you enter here should be the address to which correspondence can be sent for the next 3-4 months during the STEM OPT application period. If you are using someone else’s address (e.g., a friend’s), put “c/o … (person’s name)”. For example: “c/o John Smith” – “care of John Smith”. The post office will not deliver government mail if the name of the person on the mail is not on the post box as well.
  • Item Number 4: Country of Citizenship/Nationality. Enter the nation of your current passport. If you have multiple passports, then enter the passport nation under which you have received your F-1 visa
  • Item Number 5: Place of Birth – Enter first the town or city in which you were born, followed by the province or state name (if any), and then the country name of your birth.
  • Item Number 6: Date of Birth. Enter the numerical date of birth as month, day, and year (4 digit) e.g., March 8, 1992 should be entered as 03/08/1992.
  • Item Number 7: Select your gender, as it appears on your passport.
  • Item Number 8: Marital Status. Select your current marital status. If you will be getting married in the future, you should still enter what your Marital Status is on the date you submit the I-765, and not what your future plans are.
  • Item Number 9: Social Security Number. Enter your 9 digit Social Security Number, if you have one. If you do not currently have one, then leave this item blank.
  • Item Number 10: Alien Registration Number (A-Number) or I-94 Number (if any). If you do not have an A-Number number, then list your I-94 number. If you last entered the U.S. before July 2013, then you will have an I-94 Card stapled in your passport. It will have an 11 digit number on it, which is your I-94 number. If you last entered the U.S. after July 2013, then you will not have a physical I-94 card, but you will have been given an electronic number that you will need to retrieve though the I-94 retrieval website.
  • Item Number 11: Have you ever before applied for employment authorization from USCIS? Check “Yes” and answer the questions as follows. “Which USCIS Office” – Check your EAD for the number and note the three letter prefix.
    • EAC – Vermont Service Center
    • WAC – California Service Center
    • LIN – Nebraska Service Center
    • SRC – Texas Service Center
    • YSC – Potomac Service Center
    • For “Dates,” enter the dates of employment listed on your EAD card. Under “Results” enter “Granted” and attach a copy of your EAD.
  • Item Number 12: Date of Last Entry into the U.S., on or about.Enter the date of last entry listed on your I-94 card in your passport even if you have received more recent entry stamps from visits outside the U.S. lasting less than 30 days. Enter the date in mm/dd/year format: For example, if you last entered the U.S. on August 10, 2015, you will enter 08/10/2015.
  • Item Number 13: Place of Last Entry into the U.S. This information is on the stamp in your passport and also on your electronic I-94 record (or paper I-94 card if you have one).
  • Item Number 14: Status at Last Entry. Enter the visa status you entered the U.S. under the last time you came into the country. Unless you had a Change of Status while in the U.S., then this will likely be F-1 Student.
  • Item Number 15: Current Immigration Status. This should be entered as Student.
  • Item Number 16: As a former student applying for STEM Extension, please enter (c) (3) (c).
  • For Item 17:
    • Enter your degree as it appears on your transcript or diploma. Write out the degree and do not abbreviate.
    • Enter the name of the E-Verify employer, and the employer’s E-Verify number.
  • Certification: Please make sure you sign your name by hand (it cannot be typed), enter your telephone number, and enter the date on which you have signed the form. You’re done!

Mailing your application to USCIS

Once you have your documents and I-20 for the 24-month extension, and you have copied all documentation and assembled the packet, you should send it to one of the following addresses depending on where you live (the address you put on Form I-765). It is recommended that you mail your OPT packet certified return receipt requested if using U.S. Postal Service.

 

If you live in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands or West Virginia

You will be sending your application to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox.          

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:

USCIS
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

For courier service deliveries (non-USPS):

USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

 

If you live in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

You will be sending your application to the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox.

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:

USCIS
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For courier service deliveries (non-USPS):

USIS
Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

We strongly recommend that you make copies of your complete application for your records before mailing your application to USCIS.

What happens while the 24 month STEM OPT extension request is pending at USCIS?

The period of the 24-month STEM OPT extension starts the day after the expiration of your original period of approved Post-Completion OPT. While your 24-month OPT STEM extension application is pending, you may continue working for up to 180 days (6 months). The Code of Federal Regulations, 8CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C) and 8CFR 247a.12(c)(6)(iv), automatically extend your work authorization while the application is pending. However, you must have already submitted all the appropriate documentation to USCIS and paid the filing fee prior to the expiration date of your Post-Completion OPT.

Processing period for the STEM OPT extension & Receipt Notice (Form I-797)

After the documentation leaves the respective Lockbox, it is forwarded to the USCIS Service Center where it is adjudicated within a period of 90 days. In about fifteen days of USCIS’ receipt of your application for the 24-month OPT extension, you should be receiving a Form I-797 – a receipt notice from USCIS, confirming that they received your application, including the filing fee, with a case number.  This will enable you to track your application on-line at the USCIS web site.

Employment During STEM OPT

Restrictions on types of employment permitted during 24-month STEM OPT

  • Any job the student has on STEM OPT must be related to his/her program of study.
  • Students on STEM OPT are only allowed to work for e-verified employers.
  • Volunteering/unpaid employment is not permitted during the STEM OPT extension
  • Self-employment is not permitted during the STEM OPT extension
  • Students on STEM OPT may not work for less than 20 hours per week, so working for more than one employer is only permitted if each job is at least 20 hours per week
  • Employment through consulting firms that provide labor for hire and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship is not permitted. In case ofemployment through a staffing or temporary agency, the agency cannot complete and sign Form I-983. Only the E-verified employer that provides the actual training is authorized to sign and complete Form I-983. Please see DHS web site for more information

Unemployment time during 24-month STEM OPT

Students are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment (previous rule allowed an additional 30 days) under the STEM OPT period in addition to the current 90 days of unemployment allowed under the initial 12 month post-completion OPT period; up to 150 days of total unemployment.

Changing Employers during STEM OPT

Students on STEM OPT are allowed to change employers, but every employer they work for while on STEM OPT must be enrolled in E-Verify. When a student leaves his/her 24-month STEM OPT employer, the student is required to provide his/her final self-evaluation as part of the Form I-983 Training Plan (please see more about 24-month STEM OPT reporting requirements below). When a student starts working with a new employer, he/she must submit a new Training Plan (Form I-983) for the new employer. 

Changing employers while the 24-month STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS

 A student who has a pending STEM OPT application can change employers, but if the STEM OPT extension period has started, the new employer must also be an E-Verify Employer. The student must report the change of employer to USCIS by doing the following:

  1. Request a new I-20 with an updated STEM OPT employer information (STEM Extension I-20 Request)
  2. Send the following document to USCIS (to the address on the STEM OPT application receipt notice, NOT to the address where the original application was mailed):
  • New Form I-765 (with new employer information)
  • Cover letter explaining why you are submitting new I-765 (change of employer) and referencing your pending case #
  • Copy of USCIS receipt notice
  • Copy of new STEM OPT I-20 (with updated employer information)

 

Changing employers after the 24-month STEM OPT extension application is approved by USCIS.

 

If a student changes his/her employer after the STEM OPT extension is approved, there is no need to notify USCIS about the change. The student needs to submit the update via Employer Update Form on OGS web site.

STEM OPT Extension Reporting

  1. You and your employer(s) must report to the OGS a change in any of the following by submitting a new Form I-983:
    • Material changes in the terms and conditions of the original I-983, such as
      • Any change in of Employer Identification Number
      • Any reduction in your compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
      • Any significant decrease in your work hours per week
      • Loss of employment (within 5 business days of termination of employment)
  1. You must submit to the OGS two self-evaluations via Form I-983: one at the end of the first 12 months on the STEM OPT extension, the second at the end of the of the 24-month extension period (or at the conclusion of employment, whichever comes first). Evaluations should be submitted within 10 days of the required date.
  1. You are required to report to the OGS within 10 days any changes in the following:
    • Legal name
    • Residential address
    • Employer name and address
    • Status of current employment, including loss of employment or change of employer. If you change employers, you and your new employer will need to complete a new I-983 and submit it to the OGS.
  1. You are required to confirm to the OGS every 6 months the validity of the following information (regardless if there is a change or not):
    1. Legal name
    2. Residential address
    3. Employer name and address
    4. Status of current employment

Please use the 6 Month Validation Report Form on the OGS website to submit your report.