STEM OPT

The Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) developed this page for F-1s sponsored by Washington University in St. Louis.

Overview of the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now offering a 24-month STEM OPT Extension for for F-1 international students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) who are currently working on their 12 Months Post-Completion OPT. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students.

Eligibility for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

In order to be eligible for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must demonstrate that you have:


1) STEM Degree



1) A Qualifying STEM Degree

Students who hold a STEM degree that is a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in one of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved fields may be eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. Your program must have a Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code that is on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.

This degree must have been completed at an accredited US institution that has been certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The degree that is the basis for the extension may be the degree associated with your current post-completion OPT, or a previous degree conferred within the past 10 years. Minors do not qualify as the basis for a STEM OPT extension.

If this will be your second STEM OPT extension, the degree must be at a higher educational level than the degree that was the basis for your first STEM OPT extension.

2) Qualifying Employment



2) Employment that meets the requirements outlined in the STEM OPT regulations

The employment must be paid employment that is directly related to the degree that qualifies you to apply for the OPT extension. To qualify, you must work in the job at least 20 hours per week.

You are eligible to work more than one job as long as all jobs meet the STEM OPT requirements, including that you must work at least 20 hours per week.

Please note that it is the position of DHS that a student cannot qualify for the STEM OPT extension without a “bona fide employer-employee relationship.” If the employment that you are seeking to extend is self-employment, employment via a consulting firm or temp agency, or if you are employed as a contractor, please discuss this issue with your assigned OISS advisor prior to initiating the application process.

3) Qualifying Employer



3) An employer that meets the standards outlined in the STEM OPT regulations

The employment must be for an employer that is enrolled in the E-Verify program. You will be required to supply a valid E-Verify identification number on your application.

The employer must also have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

The employer must have sufficient resources and personnel available to provide the training outlined in the Form I-983.

The employer must agree to report departure or termination of employment within 48 hours of the event.

4) I-983 Training Plan



4) A completed Form I-983 Training Plan for your STEM OPT employment

In order to apply for OPT, you must submit the Form I-983 Training Plan which includes attestations about the employment and the employer. This form must be completed before the OISS can issue an I-20 recommending the 24-month STEM OPT extension. For the Form I-983 as well as some basic guidance on completing the Form I-983 please see:

5) Complete Application Filed on Time



5) A complete application that is filed on time with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

In order to be eligible for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive a complete STEM OPT application package before the expiration of your current post-completion OPT period, and no later than 60 days from the date your 24-month STEM OPT I-20 was issued.

Applications can be accepted as early as 90 days prior to the expiration date of your post-completion OPT. We strongly recommend filing the complete application within 30 days of the date you received your STEM OPT I-20. To help ensure that you are filing a complete application, we will mail you an instruction sheet along with the new I-20.


Applying for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

Application Process

STEP I: In order to start the application, you must complete and submit both the application form and the Form I-983 to the OISS. Both required forms can be found at:

The Form I-983 must also be signed and completed by your employer. You are responsible for completing Section I and 2 of the I-983. For more information on how to complete these sections, please see our sample.

Your employer is responsible for completing sections 3-6 of the form.

You can also find a helpful instructions and an online tutorial.

STEP II: Submit both the completed 24-Month STEM OPT application form and the Form I-983 to the OISS to begin the application process. See the application form for mailing instructions.

STEP III: Your advisor will issue you a new I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation and return it to you along with specific instructions on how you should file the STEM OPT extension application.

STEP IV: Follow the instructions carefully and submit the completed STEM OPT extension application to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE)

If you have filed your application for the 24-month STEM OPT extension and you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) you may need to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney. If the RFE is requesting documents from your Designated School Official (DSO), this means that something additional is required from the OISS. In this situation, please contact your OISS advisor.

A note about Requests for Evidence: How you respond to an RFE has a direct influence on the possible approval or denial of your application. It is wise to read the entire RFE carefully and seek the advice of an immigration attorney about how to respond if you have concerns about the questions that USCIS has about your application.

Reporting Requirements for Students on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

While on the STEM OPT extension, there are certain requirements students must follow to remain in legal status. The table below provides a summary of the reporting deadlines and instances that require a report. Please review the 24-Month STEM OPT Reporting Requirements for detailed information about each reporting requirement.

Within 10 days Every 6 Months 12 Months into STEM 24 Months into STEM
Report any change in the following:

  • Current employment (change of employers, loss of employment)
  • Legal name
  • Residential/mailing address
  • Employer name and address
Report to DSO to confirm the following has not changed:

  • Legal name
  • Residential/mailing address
  • Employer name and address
  • Status of current employment
12 months into your STEM OPT start date you must:

  • Complete and submit the “Evaluation of Student Progress” page on your Form I-983
24 months into the listed STEM OPT start date you must:

  • Complete and submit a second self-evaluation form.

Material changes to the Form I-983

The federal regulations require students on the STEM OPT extension and their employers to complete and sign a modified training plan whenever there are material changes to or deviations from the training plan that was most recently submitted to the OISS. The modified training plan must then be submitted to the OISS. This must be done “at the earliest available opportunity.” For more information on what constitutes a “material change” please see the 24-Month STEM OPT Reporting Requirements handout. Please contact your OISS advisor if you have questions about this reporting requirement.

Frequently Asked Questions


Eligibility


What STEM degrees qualify?

Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level degrees in STEM programs on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List qualify for the STEM OPT extension. Your degree eligibility will be determined by the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code that was assigned to your degree program. The CIP code for your program must appear on the designated degree program list. Additionally, your STEM degree must have been completed at and conferred by a U.S. institution that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), and accredited by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of State.

What’s a CIP code?

The Classification of Instructional Programs is a tracking and classification system developed by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) as a way to track fields of study and program completions activity. Each institution of higher education assigns CIP codes to the degree programs that they offer to track and report data on fields of study and program completion to NCES and the Department of Education.

Where can I find my CIP code?

If you have a new format I-20 (without a barcode) the CIP code for your program will be located on the first page in the “program information” section. If you are checking for the CIP code from a previous degree, on an I-20 that was issued in June 2008 or later, you can check the top of the third page of your I-20. If you cannot locate your CIP code in either of those places, you will need to contact the school that conferred your STEM degree to get this information. Your previous school’s international office or registrar’s office may be able to assist you.

How can I prove that I am eligible based on a previous degree?

Transcripts usually provide proof of completion of a STEM degree. However, you will also need to prove that the CIP code assigned to your degree program is included in the DHS STEM Designated Program List. You can usually document this by providing a copy of your I-20. CIP codes appear on I-20s issued from June 2008.

Do I need to be on post-completion OPT in order to apply for the 24-month STEM extension?

Yes. You must be on an unexpired period of post-completion OPT to be eligible to apply.

How many times can I apply for the STEM extension?

Under the new regulations, students are eligible for two STEM OPT extensions per lifetime. If you were previously approved for a 17-month extension this counts against the 2 per lifetime maximum.

Can I do two STEM extensions back to back?

No. You only qualify to apply for a STEM extension while on a period of post-completion OPT. To become eligible for another period of post-completion OPT, you must complete a degree at a higher level than your most recently completed degree. To qualify for another STEM OPT extension while on post-completion OPT, the application must be based on a degree at a higher level than the degree that was the basis for your previous STEM extension. If your current STEM extension is based on a master’s level degree, you would not be able to qualify for a second STEM extension based on a prior bachelor’s degree.

Can I apply for a STEM extension during the grace period after my post-completion OPT?

No. You must be on an unexpired period of post-completion OPT to apply for the STEM OPT extension. USCIS must receive your complete application prior to the expiration date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

I just completed a non-STEM eligible degree at Washington University and I am currently on post-completion OPT. I have a previous degree in a STEM field. Am I eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM extension?

To be eligible to apply for the STEM OPT extension based on a prior degree, you will need to meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the new regulations.This includes documenting:

1) Proof of a qualifying STEM degree;
2) Employment in a STEM field;
3) Employment with a qualified employer; and
4) A completed I-983 training plan.

You must also file a complete application with USCIS prior to the end of your current post-completion OPT. For more information on the application process for extensions based on a prior degree, please see the 24-Month STEM OPT Application. If you have previously applied for and received a STEM OPT extension, your prior degree may not qualify you for a second extension period. You will need to discuss this with your assigned OISS advisor.

I have already done a STEM extension. How can I get access to the 24-month extension?

To qualify for a second STEM OPT extension, you will need to be on a valid period of post-completion OPT and meet all eligibility requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. Remember that you only become eligible for another period of post-completion OPT when you complete a degree at a higher educational level than your previous degree. Additionally, your second STEM extension will have to be based on a degree that is at a higher level than the degree that was the basis for your first STEM OPT extension.

Application Processing


I’m eligible for the 24-month extension. When should I apply?

The regulations that became effective on May 10, 2016 allow students to apply as early as 90 days prior to the end date of their current post-completion OPT.

What if my STEM OPT extension is not approved prior to the expiration of my 12 month OPT card? Can I still work?

If your STEM OPT application is filed prior to the expiration of your current OPT and your OPT expires while your STEM OPT extension is pending, USCIS will automatically extend your employment authorization for 180 days. This will allow you to continue to work with your employer.

Do I need to submit the I-983 with the STEM OPT extension application?

The Form I-983 should not be submitted with the STEM OPT extension application, however USCIS can request to see the I-983 if they have questions in the course of processing your application. Your I-983 must be submitted to the OISS when the application process is started. Updates must also be submitted with the OISS.

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

If your original application was filed before May 10, 2016, you should contact your OISS advisor for assistance with the RFE. You will need to submit a new I-20 along with additional supporting materials with your response to the RFE.

What happens if my application is denied?

A denial can have a serious impact on your lawful presence, F-1 status and visa validity. If your application is denied, it is in your best interest to promptly seek the advice of an immigration attorney.

My 24-month STEM extension is still pending but I have a new job offer. Can I change jobs while my application is being processed?

It’s generally best to either apply for the STEM OPT extension based on the new employment or wait until the application has been approved to switch employers. It is not recommended to change employers while your application is still pending.

Can I travel while my STEM OPT application is pending?

In general, you should discuss travel plans with your OISS advisor, especially if your F-1 visa stamp has expired. However, under the new regulations that became effective on May 10, 2016, the expired post-completion EAD of an applicant for the STEM OPT extension is automatically extended for a period of 180 days and considered unexpired when it is combined with an I-20 that is recommending the OPT extension. Students who wish to exit and reenter the U.S. while on a period of post-completion OPT or STEM OPT extension must have:

1) a valid passport;
2) a valid F-1 visa entry stamp;
3) a valid travel signature on the OPT I-20 (this means it was done within 6 months of your travel date);
4) proof of OPT authorization; and
5) proof of employment.

For students whose STEM OPT extension application is pending, the I-20 recommending the STEM OPT extension along with your expired post-completion EAD card will qualify.

Approved STEM OPT Extension


Once my 24-month STEM extension is approved, is there anything I need to do?

Continue to follow the reporting requirements for students on the STEM OPT extension. For more information on the reporting requirements, please see the 24-Month STEM OPT Reporting Requirements handout.

Under what circumstances do I need to complete and submit a new I-983 training plan?

If there has been a material change or a deviation from the training plan that was last filed with the OISS, you and your employer must complete, sign and submit a modified training plan that reflects the changes.

For more information on what constitutes a “material change” please see the handout on 24-Month STEM OPT Reporting Requirements.

I’ve changed jobs, what do I need to do?

You will need to submit an updated Form I-983 completed with your new employer directly to your OISS Advisor. You will then receive an updated I-20 reflecting your new employment.

What if I become unemployed while on the STEM OPT extension?

You should report that you have stopped working using our form. The rules allow you to be unemployed for an additional 60 days while on the STEM OPT extension. This is in addition to the 90 days that were provided for you while you were on OPT for a total of 150 days. This gives you additional time to find a new employer. The new job and employer must meet the STEM OPT eligibility criteria. And, you must file a new Form I-983 with the OISS prior to starting the new job.


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