F-1 students who hold degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible to apply for a 24 month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for a total of 36 months of post-completion OPT.

Only students who have completed degrees in a STEM designated field qualify for this extension. You can locate your field of study (Major 1 and Major 2, often referred to as a CIP Code) on page 1 of your Form I-20. To verify whether you qualify for the STEM OPT Extension (sometimes referred to as just “STEM”), check the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program List. If your field of study does not appear on this list, you are not eligible for this extension. It might be possible to apply for the STEM extension based on a prior U.S. degree in a STEM field. That degree must have been conferred within the past 10 years by an SEVP-certified school that is currently accredited.

In addition to having completed a degree in a STEM field of study, you must have a job offer or be working for an employer registered with “E-Verify,” a federal employment verification system and you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT students.

Employment criteria

Employers of F-1 students on STEM OPT Extensions, or those who wish to support an employee applying for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension, must meet the following requirements:

See DHS page on Employers and the Form I-983 for more details on the I-983 and employer responsibilities.

To be considered employed while on STEM OPT Extension, you must work at least 20 hours per week in paid employment. You may work for multiple employers at the same time, but regulations state that you must work for each job at least 20 hours per week. You must have a current or future job to apply for STEM. Regardless of the type of work, all STEM employment must be directly related to your program of study. Types of activities that constitute employment while on STEM OPT Extension:

Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student’s program of study. You may work for multiple employers, as long as all employment is directly related to your program of study.
Payment by multiple short-term employers: Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may participate in multiple short term employment opportunities (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, their dates and duration.
Employment through an agency: You must be able to provide evidence showing you worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency. Note that the agency must be able to confirm an employer/employee relationship and provide the training agreed on as part of the I-983.

Unpaid employment, contract work, and self-employment are not permitted while on STEM OPT Extension.

WashU hiring departments

F-1 students seeking a STEM OPT Extension who are employed by WashU will need this information to complete the Form I-983:

  • WashU EIN (Employer Identification Number): 43-0653611
  • Full-time employees: 19,479 (as of March 2024)
  • NAICS Code: 611310
  • E-Verify Number: 175097 (Danforth Campus) or 175102 (Medical Campus)

Apply for STEM OPT (3 steps)

Step 1: Complete the I-983 Training Plan

  • Work with your employer (this may include your supervisor and Human Resources or other managers) to complete the I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students together.
  • Be sure that all parts of the I-983 are correctly and fully completed. Reference the I-983 Instructions Guide if you have questions about the I-983.
  • Leave the last page blank. This page will be completed during your time on approved STEM OPT.

Step 2: Complete the STEM OPT Extension request in MyOISS

All STEM OPT Extension applicants must obtain a STEM Extension recommendation on a new I-20. The STEM OPT Extension request will appear in your MyOISS profile ONLY IF you have completed a degree listed in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List AND it is 100 days or less from the end date of your Post-Completion OPT. If you are applying for STEM OPT based on a previous STEM degree, notify your OISS Adviser as the request may not show up in your MyOISS profile.

As part of the MyOISS request, you must submit:

Processing time for the STEM OPT Extension request is 7 business days. You will receive an email notifying you when your I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation is ready. You will be able to access and download your new I-20 from the “Requests and Documents” section of your MyOISS profile.

Be sure to:

  1. Review the top of page 2 of your I-20 to verify your STEM OPT recommendation information is correct.
  2. Sign (in ink) your updated I-20 on the bottom of the first page in the “Student Attestation” section. USCIS does not allow students to digitally sign or insert electronic signatures. You will need to include a scanned copy of the STEM OPT I-20 as part of your I-765 application to USCIS.

Step 3: Submit your I-765 application to USCIS

You may apply to USCIS for the STEM OPT Extension up to 90 days before your Post-Completion OPT expires, but within 60 days from the date the STEM OPT recommendation was issued.

Gather digital copies of required documents
  1. Your I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation from your OISS adviser
  2. Passport identification page showing your photo and expiration date (submit as government-issued ID)
  3. Current Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) for your post-completion OPT
  4. Form I-94 arrival record (retrieve your most recent I-94 record and save as a .pdf)
  5. WashU transcript and copy of diploma
  6. NOTE: If you are applying for the 24-month OPT STEM Extension based on a prior STEM degree (i.e., a degree received before your WashU degree), you must submit proof of completion of the STEM degree. This may include a copy of your diploma, transcript, and/or I-20 from your previous school, showing that you received a degree in a STEM field that is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List. Your previous degree must have been awarded from an accredited U.S. institution of higher education currently eligible to sponsor F-1 students.
Prepare your digital photo

You must prepare a digital passport-style 2-inch-by-2-inch photo taken within the last 30 days. The photo must follow the U.S. Department of State Photo Composition Template.

We strongly recommend that you use a professional visa/passport photo service (such as the photo department at Walgreens or CVS) to ensure the photo meets all requirements for the OPT application. We are aware of numerous circumstances in which students initially received approval utilizing the online photo tool, and later had their OPT application rejected due to issues with the photo. The acceptance of your digital image or photo is at the discretion of USCIS. Please also check specifics on the U.S. Department of State Photo Requirements page.

Check your photo file for an acceptable name that follows USCIS file name formatting outlined in the instructions and that it is saved as either a .jpeg, .jpg or .png file type. The online OPT application also has a photo tool you can use to check your photo.

Log in to or create your MyUSCIS account

If you don’t already have a MyUSCIS account, you will need to create one. See instructions on how to create a USCIS account.

If you already have a USCIS account, you can simply “sign in”.

Complete the online I-765

OISS has prepared to a Guide to Completing the Online I-765 to assist you as you complete your OPT application.

Monitor your USCIS account for status updates

Monitor your USCIS account

After submitting your STEM OPT application, you are responsible for monitoring your USCIS account for messages and updates. Through your USCIS account, you should be able to:

  • print an electronic receipt (a paper receipt will also be mailed to you) from under the “Documents’ section
  • view status updates under “Case History” such as date USCIS sent you receipt notice, date EAD card is produced, etc.
  • send additional information, in case you receive a request for additional evidence (RFE) from USCIS
  • communicate with USCIS about your case
  • print a PDF version of your application for your records
If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE)

Students with a pending STEM OPT application may receive a document from USCIS titled “Request for Evidence” (RFE) in the mail. If you receive an RFE, don’t panic! This document asks for additional information that the USCIS adjudicator needs to make a decision about your pending case.

RFEs are sent to the mailing address that you input in your I-765. The RFE will tell you exactly what documents or evidence are required.


  1. Read the entire RFE document carefully.
  2. Contact OISS. We can guide you through the process and determine whether you may want seek help from an immigration attorney.
  3. Collect all the documents and evidence requested in the RFE. Ensure that your documents are accurate and complete.
  4. Make clear scans of all required documents.
  5. Upload the documents to your MyUSCIS account in the designated upload link. Alternatively, you can mail your documents to the address indicated on the RFE. If you choose this option, follow the mailing instructions in the RFE.

USCIS will contact you directly when a decision is made on your case.

If your I-765 is pending beyond normal processing timeline

OPT processing times vary greatly. If your application is pending past normal processing time, you can submit an e-request and a USCIS official will check on the request for you. You will only be allowed to submit an e-request if your I-765 application is actually outside of normal processing time.

To check processing times, visit Check Case Processing Times. Fill in the fields on the form as indicated below:

To request an update on your case that is past the normal processing time, fill out the Outside Normal Processing Time form. You will need the receipt number from your pending I-765 application. You can view your receipt number in your MyUSCIS account.

If your start date has passed, but your application is still pending

Depending on when you applied for the STEM OPT extension, your STEM OPT start date might pass while you are still waiting for it to be approved.

  • You may continue working for up to 180 days past the end date of your Post-Completion OPT EAD card if your STEM OPT application is pending.
  • You should reverify your Form I-9 with your current employer.
  • Follow STEM OPT reporting requirements even if your STEM OPT application is still pending.
  • We recommend refraining from international travel while your STEM OPT application is pending. However, if you must travel, be sure to have the receipt of application (I-797c) in addition to other required travel documents to present to the port of entry official upon arrival to the U.S.

Most common USCIS denial reasons

  1. Online filing without OPT STEM I-20
    Be sure to include the OPT STEM I-20 before submitting your online application.
  2. Submitted STEM OPT Application after deadline
    Your OPT STEM application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT EAD card.
  3. Applied for the wrong I-765 category
    You are applying for category (c)(3)C) STEM Extension – Watch out for drop-down menu errors!
  4. Copy of STEM OPT I-20 is TOO OLD
    USCIS must receive your complete STEM OPT application within 60 days of the date the STEM OPT Extension I-20 was issued and signed by your OISS adviser.


How long will it take for my STEM OPT application to be approved by USCIS?

Processing times vary greatly, but you should expect USCIS to take about 3 – 5 months to approve your STEM OPT Extension application.

USCIS now offers premium processing for both OPT and STEM OPT applications. The response timeline for premium processing is 30 business days and requires you to file a Form I-907 in addition to the I-765. There is a fee of $1,685 for premium processing for the I-765, which is in addition to the I-765 application. Learn more about USCIS Premium Processing.

Can I work while my STEM OPT application is pending?
  • Your work authorization and F-1 status is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the STEM OPT Extension application is pending.
  • The 180 days counts from the end date of your initial Post-Completion OPT period.
  • This only applies if your STEM OPT Extension application was received by USCIS before the end date on your initial Post-Completion OPT period.
  • Your I-797C Receipt Notice serves as documentation of your pending STEM OPT Extension application.
Can I travel outside the U.S. while my STEM OPT application is pending?

International travel while your STEM OPT is pending can be risky and is generally NOT recommended. Keep in mind the following:

  • If you receive a Request for Evidence, you will need to respond by a specific deadline, which could be difficult from outside the U.S.
  • If you are denied for STEM OPT Extension while outside the U.S. after your OPT EAD end date, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. or reapply for STEM OPT. Your F-1 status will end.
  • If you are approved for STEM OPT Extension while outside the U.S., you will need to arrange for someone in the U.S. to receive your EAD card and send it to you abroad in order to re-enter the U.S.
  • If you F-1 visa is expired or expires while you are outside the U.S., you will need to reapply for an F-1 visa with your EAD card and proof of employment.
  • It can be difficult to renew your F-1 visa while your STEM OPT application is pending. Therefore, we recommend you only try to renew your F-1 visa after you have received your STEM OPT EAD, as you will be required to present it along with the other evidence required to apply for a visa application.
What is a CIP Code?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NES) publishes Classification of Instructions Programs (CIP) codes. Your CIP code determines whether your major has been designated as a STEM major eligible for the STEM OPT Extension. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program List is a complete list of fields of study that DHS considers to be science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields of study for purposes of the 24-month STEM OPT Extension.

Your CIP Code is determined by the University Registrar and Department when the degree program was first approved. OISS cannot change the approved CIP Code.

When your EAD arrives

Upon receiving your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), check the following:

  • Verify personal information
    Check name spelling, date of birth, country of birth, and sex are all accurate.
  • Review work authorization dates
    Check the “valid from” and “valid to” dates. The authorized range should be no more than 24 months. Remember, you cannot start working until the start date listed on your EAD.
  • Confirm the correct category
    Post-Completion OPT category: (c)(03)(B)
    STEM OPT category: (c)(03)(C)

If your EAD contains incorrect information due to a USCIS error:

  • Return the original EAD to USCIS for correction. See Replacement EAD Card for detailed instructions.
  • If you are not sure if the error was made by USCIS or if you have questions, contact your OISS adviser.

Reporting requirements while on STEM OPT

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires schools to maintain certain information in SEVIS for all students who are currently on approved OPT or STEM OPT extension. As an F-1 student on STEM OPT, you continue to be under WashU’s sponsorship. Therefore, OISS continues to maintain your SEVIS record so you will remain in valid immigration status.

Compared to the 12-month Post-Completion OPT period, there are several additional requirements while on STEM OPT. The While on STEM OPT page contains information about:

  • Employment and unemployment
  • Rules and reporting requirements
  • Practical matters
  • Options after STEM OPT ends

Disclaimer statement

The WashU Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) offers guidance on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT processes as a courtesy to WashU students and alumni. We make every attempt to ensure that we share the most current guidance and information available. However, any advice provided by our office does not constitute legal advice. Students should always independently check deadlines and OPT/STEM OPT application documents for accuracy before submitting them to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS OPT process is a personal application for which the individual applicant is responsible. The application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts in a specific case. Be aware that USCIS may change its interpretation of applicable policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. OISS is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims liability for, any errors or omissions relating to your OPT/STEM OPT application and any decisions made by USCIS. For legal advice, students are encouraged to consult with a licensed, experienced immigration attorney at their own expense.