How to Apply for OPT Extension ("STEM Extension")

An overview and some helpful tips on extending your work authorization for Optional Practical Training.

If you are an F-1 student working on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you may be eligible for a 17-month extension. This extension is commonly referred to as a "STEM extension" and is available only if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your degree is in the field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and is listed by the Department of State as a "STEM Designated Degree Program."
  • Your employment is related to your field of study; and
  • Your employer is enrolled in E-Verify, an Internet-based system that allows employers to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

Application Process

Once you have determined your eligibility for a STEM extension, you will need to request a new Form I-20 from your Designated School Official (DSO). Your new I-20 will include the extension dates on page three, which should cover a 17-month period from the date after your current OPT expires. Each institution will have its own process for requesting a new STEM extension I-20.

At some institutions, you may only need to have your employer fill out a request form confirming that it is an E-Verify company. At other institutions, you may need to have a complete STEM extension application ready to go before you can make your request.

The STEM extension application will be filed on the same form you used for your original OPT - Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. At the top of the form, you will check the box indicating that you are applying for a renewal of your permission to accept employment. As you complete the rest of the form, the answers to the following questions will be different:

Question 11 - This question asks if you have ever applied for employment authorization from USCIS before. The answer to this question will be "yes" because your initial OPT was an application for employment authorization from USCIS.
Question 12 - This question asks for the office, dates, and results of your previous application for employment authorization. The office will be the service center you where you filed your OPT application. The dates will be on your OPT employment authorization document (EAD card) and the results will be "granted."
Question 16 - This question asks for the eligibility category code. The code is "(c)(3)(C)" for a STEM extension.
Question 17 - This asks for your degree and your employer’s E-Verify name and number. Your employer should provide you with its E-Verify information.

Once you have completed the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, you will need to attach the following supporting documents:

  • Copy of your new I-20 with your STEM extension dates.
  • Copy of the front and back of your OPT EAD card.
  • Copy of your STEM degree and/or final transcript.
  • Copies of all form I-20’s that have been issued to you since you entered the United States in F-1 status.
  • Copy of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
  • Copy of the biographic page of your passport.
  • Copy of your current visa stamp.
  • Two U.S.-passport style photos; and
  • Filing fee in the form of a check or money order. As of 2017, the filing fee is $410. Make sure to check the fee on the USCIS website before you file, as it is subject to change.

Important Tips and Reminders

The following are important to keep in mind as you prepare your application:

  • If you graduated with two degrees and only one of them is a STEM Designated Degree Program, your employment must be related to the STEM degree. For example, if you double majored in business and biology, your employment must be related to your biology degree.
  • You must file your STEM extension application within 30 days of the date your new I-20 is issued.
  • USCIS must receive your STEM extension application before your current OPT EAD card expires. If you do not file your application on time, you will not be eligible for the extension.
  • If you file your application on time, your employment authorization will automatically be extended for up to 180 days while the application is pending.
  • International travel is not advised while your application is pending.
  • Your employer must agree to notify your DSO of your termination or departure from employment within 48 hours of it occurring.
  • You can still work for more than one employer, but all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify. If you start your own business during your STEM extension period, you must register your business with E-Verify.

If You Need Help

Remember that as long as you are working on OPT, you are still in F-1 status and are still required to report in with your DSO. Your DSO is a valuable resource if you require assistance with your STEM extension application or have questions about your eligibility.

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