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

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 of employment 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 website for more information

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.

When to apply

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.

*You cannot apply for STEM extension after your Post-OPT EAD has expired.

How to apply

STEP 1 – Prepare Form I-983 Training Plan with employer. – See guidelines in tab below

 

STEP 2 – Submit STEM Extension I-20 Request to OGS

 

You must upload the following documents on the eform:

  • I-983 completed by you and your employer
  • Copy of OPT EAD
  • Northeastern Transcript

STEP 3 – Apply for STEM OPT extension with USCIS:

  • Original I-765 – please refer to the tab at the end of this section
  • Original G-1145
  • Copy of new I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation on page 2
  • Copy of all previous I-20s
  • Copy of passport identity page — include all correction and extension pages
  • Copy of most current F-1 student visa stamp or change of status approval notice
  • Copy of I-94
  • Copy of previous EADs (front and back)
  • $410 check, money order or bank check made 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)
  • Two passport photos with white background (lightly print name and SEVIS ID on back of each photo; passport photo MUST be less than 30 days old and glasses should not be worn in photo)
  • Copy of your official Northeastern transcript
  • Provide a letter from your STEM OPT employer that includes job duties and specifies if employment is part-time or full-time.

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

  • 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:

                                                Meaghan Sturtevant

                                               405 Ell Hall, 360 Huntington Ave

                                                Boston, MA 02115

                                              ogs@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.

 

□     Unless you are applying for a replacement of a lost EAD card, you should indicate that you are applying for “Permission to accept employment”.

Field 1: Name: Print clearly or type your family name in capital letters, followed by the first or given and middle name(s) if any.  Write your name as it appears in your passport.

Field 2: Other Names Used: Fill this out only if you have used other names on official documents or if you have a maiden name (name used prior to marriage, usually applies to women who have married).

Field 3: US Mailing Address: The address you enter here should be the address to which correspondence can be sent for the next 3-4 months during the OPT application period.  Address errors (i.e. undeliverable address, moving before OPT is approved, etc.) are a common cause of delay or failure to receive OPT EAD.

  • If you are using someone else’s address, 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.

Field 4: Country of Citizenship or Nationality: The country of citizenship should match what appears on the applicant’s I-20.

Field 5: Place of Birth: Enter the city, state and country in which the applicant was born.

Field 6: Date of Birth: Enter the numerical date of birth as month, day, and year (4 digit) e.g., June 29, 1988 should be entered as 06/29/1988.

Field 7: Gender: Check the appropriate box.

Field 8: Marital status: Check the appropriate box.

Field 9a: Has the Social Security Administration (SSA) ever official issued a Social Security card to you?: Check the appropriate box.

  • If Yes then jump to 9b. If No then jump to 10.

Field 9b: Provide your Social Security number (SSN): Fill in appropriately with your SSN.

Field 10: Do you want the SSA to issue you a Social Security card?: Check the appropriate box.

  • If Yes then jump to 11. If No then jump to 14.
  • Field 11: Consent for Disclosure: Check the appropriate box. If you check “No” then you will not receive a SSN.
  • Field 12a: Father’s Name (Family Name): Enter your father’s last name or surname.
  • Field 12b: Father’s Name (First Name): Enter your father’s first name or  given name.
  • Field 13a: Mother’s Name (Family Name): Enter your mother’s last name or surname at birth (not her married name).
  • Field 13b: Mother’s Name (First Name): Enter your mother’s first name or given name.

Field 14: I-94 Number: Enter the 11-digit I-94 number, which can be found on the electronic I-94. It is called “Admission (I-94) Record Number.” If you still have the older version of the I-94 which is a small white card, you can find the I-94 number at the top left side of the card. If there is a handwritten number, enter this one instead of the pre-printed one.

Field 15: Previous Employment Authorization: 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
  • Dates: Enter the dates of employment listed on your EAD card.
  • Results: Enter “Granted” and attach a copy of your EAD

Field 16: Date of Last Entry into U.S.: 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.

Field 17: Place of Last Entry into the U.S.: The place of entry is often written in three letter abbreviations such as “BOS” for Boston and “SFR” for San Francisco.  Enter the place and date of last entry.

Field 18: Status of Last Entry: If “F-1” appears on your I-94, enter “student”.  If you entered in another status and changed your non-immigrant status in the U.S. and have not travelled outside of the U.S. since receiving your change of status, please indicate the status you held upon entering the U.S.

Field 19: Current Immigration Status: Enter “student”.

Field 20: Eligibility Categories: For OPT STEM Extension, enter the following codes in the three consecutive parentheses: (c) (3) (C)   Note: Pre-OPT and Post-OPT have different codes

Field 21: (c)(3)(C) Eligibility Category: Answer the questions as follows:

  • Degree: Enter your degree as it appears on your transcript or diploma. Write out the degree and do not abbreviate.
  • Employer’s Name as listed in E-Verify: Enter the name of your employer as it is listed in E-Verify.
  • Employer’s E-Verify Company Identification Number…: Enter your employer’s E-Verify number.

Certification: Be sure to sign your name by hand (it cannot be typed), enter your telephone number, and enter the date on which you have signed the form. If you forget to sign on I-765, USCIS will reject your application and it will be returned to you.

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 your mailing address on I-765 is 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 your mailing address on I-765 is 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.

eShipGlobal Mailing Option

eShipGlobal offers a shipping service for international students sending their OPT application to USCIS. eShipGlobal allows students to send OPT applcations to USCIS offices. Students can choose their carrier (UPS, FedEx, or USPS), what type of delivery (next day, 2-day, etc.) and ship at discounted rates.

This service is not a Northeastern service. All inquiries should be directed to eShipGlobal directly.

Northeastern does not ship OPT applications to USCIS for students. 

For More Information on how to use this service please see the instructions linked below:

eShipGlobal Instructions

Processing Time

  • The OGS requires 10 business days to process a request for STEM OPT recommendation.
  • Note that USCIS advertises normal processing time for STEM OPT requests as 90 days.
  • If you receive your EAD and there are errors on your card, please call the USCIS Customer Service line at 1.800.375.5283 to rectify any mistakes.

After the documentation leaves the respective Lockbox, it is forwarded to the USCIS Service Center where it is generally 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.

What happens after I submit my documents to USCIS?

  • You should receive a receipt notice from USCIS. You can look up your case status online using the case number.
  • Once your STEM OPT is approved, expect to first receive an approval notice and then an EAD card
  • While your 24-month OPT STEM extension application is pending, you may continue working for up to 180 days (6 months)*

*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.

Important reminders and most common application mistakes

  • Do not submit STEM OPT application to USCIS prior to obtaining I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation
  • USCIS must receive the STEM OPT application within 60 days of the STEM OPT recommendation by the OGS; if the application is not received by USCIS within 60 days after the issuance of STEM OPT I-20, the application will be denied.
  • Do not mail in your application so that USCIS receives it more than 90 days before your OPT EAD end date. Your application must be received by USCIS before your OPT EAD expires. Applications received outside of these times will be denied.
  • If your entire application is returned to you (in plastic), consult with an OGS Advisor before resubmitting the application; your application may not be considered “received” and you may need a new I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation.
  • Make sure that the address on I-765 is valid for receiving mail at all times while your STEM OPT is pending

Reporting Requirements

 

  • If you change employers while on STEM, you must update your Employer name and address within 10 days
    •  Note: If you change employers, you and your new employer will need to complete a new I-983 and submit it to the OGS.  You also must submit the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” section of the I-983 for your previous STEM employer.
  • You and your employer(s) must report any I-983 Updates to the OGS; updates are required for the following:
    • 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)

 

  • The following updates are mandatory to report for all students while on STEM:
    1. 6 Month validation – 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) Legal name, Residential address, Employer name and address, Status of current employment
    2. Evaluation on Student Progress(I-983) – You must submit “Evaluation on Student Progress” only after you have completed 12 months of the STEM employment with the same employer (Note: if you leave the employer prior to completing the 12 month during your STEM period, you do not need to complete this section.)
    3. Final Evaluation on Student Progress (I-983) – You must complete “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” for the following:
      • At the end of the 24 month STEM period
      • If you leave an employer at any time during the 24 month STEM period

 

Note: If you have more than one employer while on STEM, you will need to complete this for each employer.

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 Evaluation on Student Progress (I-983). When a student starts working with a new employer, he/she must submit a new Form I-983 for the new employer. 

 

If your application is pending with USCIS

A student who has a pending STEM OPT application can change employers, but 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. Submit the STEM Extension I-20 Request to OGS
  2. Send the following documents to USCIS (to the address on the STEM OPT application receipt notice, NOT to the lockbox 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)

If your STEM OPT Application has already been approved

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. You and your previous employer will need to complete the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” on Form I-983.  You and your current employer will need to complete a new Form I-983.

Unemployment time during 24 month STEM OPT

Students are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment under the STEM OPT period, in addition to the current 90 days of unemployment allowed during the 12 month post-completion OPT period; up to 150 days of total unemployment. Students on STEM OPT are able to use unused unemployment days from their standard post OPT period during STEM.

Additional information that must be reported to OGS

  • A decision to discontinue STEM OPT and depart the U.S.—Submit the Request to Complete OPT & SEVIS Record along with a copy of a flight itinerary indicating you have/will depart the U.S.
  • Change of status to a status other than F-1
  • A decision to begin a new program of study at Northeastern or transfer to another school in the US

STEM Application

Can I work while my 24-month STEM application is pending with USCIS?

Yes, a student who files a timely STEM OPT extension application can continue working while the STEM OPT application is pending, for up to 180 days beyond the expiration of the student’s Post-completion OPT. All work done during this 180-day time period is considered STEM OPT extension time that counts towards the 24-month total.

Can I change employers while my 24-month application is pending with USCIS?

It should be noted that changing your employer while applying for STEM can potentially create delays in the application process.  However, if you need to change employers while your STEM application is pending with USCIS, please review the instructions in the Rules and Reporting Section.

My application was rejected and returned to me because of a missing signature on I-765 or an issue with check/money order. What do I do?

Do NOT mail the application yet. You may need a new I-20 with STEM recommendation and will need to reapply to USCIS. You cannot resubmit your application if there is any chance your I-20 with STEM recommendation will be more than 60 days old when it is received by USCIS; this would result in a denial.  If your packet has been returned to you, it is not considered received and your new application will need to be submitted before your OPT EAD card expires. Please contact OGS if you have any questions.

I received a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS. What should I do?

You are required to respond to the RFE by the deadline specified on the letter. If you can prepare the document(s) they ask for, you may respond on your own. If you have any questions, you may make an appointment with an OGS advisor.

Can I apply for STEM OPT extension if I have a pending H-1B application?

Yes, you may apply for the 24 month OPT STEM extension while you are also in your period of Cap Gap extension.

If you choose to continue on your 24 month extension rather than change to H-1B, you must ensure your employer requests the withdrawal of your H- 1B petition prior to October 1. If this is not done, your H-1B status will begin on October 1, and your eligibility for the 24 month STEM extension will be cancelled.

If you choose to change to H-1B and not proceed with your 24 month STEM extension application, you should send a letter to USCIS, requesting that your STEM application is withdrawn.

STEM General Questions

Can I study while on approved STEM OPT?

Studying while on STEM may be permissible as long as primary activity remains Practical Training.  Starting to a new degree program would automatically invalidate your STEM Extension OPT (i.e. If you start studying at the PhD level while working on STEM based on a Master’s degree, you would invalidate your STEM).

How many days of unemployment can I have on the 24-month STEM OPT?

Students are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment under the STEM OPT period, in addition to the current 90 days of unemployment allowed during the 12 month post-completion OPT period; up to 150 days of total unemployment.

Can I travel during the 24-month 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.