What is a STEM OPT Extension?
If you are an international student who completed a STEM designated degree (“Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”) at a United States college or university under the F-1 student visa program, you may be aware of the opportunity to engage in on-the-job, practical training in your field upon graduation. Post-completion Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) permits up to 12 months of work authorization in the U.S., while a degree in a STEM field can provide an additional 24 months of OPT work authorization.
Who is eligible for the STEM OPT Extension?
The primary requirement for a STEM OPT extension of employment authorization is that you must graduate with a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in a STEM Designated field (identified by its 6 digit CIP code) from an accredited school that is also certified under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You must have already been authorized by the Immigration Service (“USCIS”) for the 12 month post-completion OPT, and be working at least 20 hours per week in your field of study for an E-Verify U.S. employer. Application for a STEM OPT extension must occur while your initial OPT is still valid.
If during your time in STEM OPT you earn a second higher STEM designated degree (ie: you earn a Master’s after your initial Bachelor’s Degree), you may be eligible to apply for an additional OPT extension.
What is the application process for the STEM OPT?
To begin your STEM OPT extension, you need to complete and submit Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization, Form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.
- Form I-765 – This form may be filed online or via mail. Your employer’s name and related identifiers must exactly match its listing in E-Verify, and you must include its “E-Verify Company Identification Number.”
- Form I-20 – This form must be endorsed by your college or university’s Designated School Official (“DSO”) within sixty (60) days before application.
- Form I-983: Training Plan For Stem Opt Students – This form must be completed by both you and your potential STEM OPT employer. This form provides details on the specific training plan your employer will provide in order to enhance your educational goals. Your DSO may have additional requirements for you to complete before endorsing your STEM OPT materials.
These forms and supporting documentation must be submitted together with the Form I-765 application fee (currently US$410) payable by check, money order, or credit card, as well as a photocopy of your STEM degree, to USCIS.
If approved, what must I do to maintain my STEM OPT?
The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) requires you to update your contact and employer information every six (6) months, even if nothing changes. Any change to your residence or employer must be reported to your DSO within ten (10) days of that change, to include filing Form AR-11 with USCIS to update them of your new home address.
If your employment terminates during your STEM OPT, you are permitted to be unemployed for no longer than sixty (60) days before you must depart the U.S. If you secure a new job, the new position must also be in your STEM field, and your new employer must satisfy all regulatory obligations as were required of your first employer; to include continuing E-Verify enrollment, adherence to your Form I-983 training plan, and affirming that your employment will not negatively impact the employment of U.S. citizens or green card holders.
Let us help you!
The immigration laws of the United States are both confusing and challenging. Philip Levin & Associates has been assisting people navigate these challenges since 1985, and our team of expert immigration attorneys are fully-versed in the requirements and processes to obtain STEM OPT for those who qualify. If you are a potential employer or school official who wishes to understand how to make STEM OPT opportunities available to international students, we can provide guidance for you as well. Reach out to us today, and let us put our experience to work for you!