Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM Extension

What is the STEM OPT Extension?
Recipients of a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a field listed among the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM-Designated Degree Program List, and who are currently on post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension for a maximum of two periods based on different STEM degrees.

A complete list of eligible CIP Codes is available online at STEM Designated Degree Program list. DHS will announce any changes to the list on the Study in the States website.

  • The CIP code is used to determine eligibility for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension
  • Please check your CIP Code on page 1 of your Form I-20 form (under ‘Program of Study’ in the middle of the page) against the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Program List to confirm that your program is a STEM-designated degree program

Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for the 24-month STEM extension, individuals must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Must have earned Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a field that is currently on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Programs List
  • Is participating in post-completion OPT in a field that is based on your most recent degree on May 10, 2016
  • Employed/have a job offer from an employer registered in an E-Verify Program; STEM OPT Extension restricts work to E-Verify employer only
  • Be able to complete the Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer
  • Accumulated no more than 90 days of unemployment during the current post-completion OPT authorization
  • Employment during the 24-month STEM OPT Extension must be directly related to your primary/major field of study and the STEM degree in which you qualify for the extension
  • Have not previously received the 24-month STEM OPT extension under the STEM degree
  • Be within 90 days of the end of the current OPT benefit period

Prior Degrees
Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school to fulfill this eligibility requirement.

To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the F-1 student must:

  • Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be a STEM Designated Degree Program) from an SEVP-certified school that is currently accredited.
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree* (at the bachelor’s level or higher) within 10 years preceding the date of application for the STEM OPT extension with USCIS.

*The qualifying STEM degree needs to be on DHS’s STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT extension, rather than at the time that the student received the degree.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be advised that not all employers are certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for E-Verify for a number of institutional reasons. Therefore, please check with your current employer to ensure that they are an E-Verify certified employer before you assume that you are eligible to continue work with the 17-month STEM OPT extension.

E-Verify Employer Search Tool - It is recommended that even if your employer appears on this E-Verify listing that you contact your employer to confirm that your employer is E-Verify for the position for which you are hired.

How to Apply for F-1 STEM OPT Extension
Application and Authorization Procedures

  1. OPT Extension Request Form for STEM Degree Holders
  2. Form I-983 (student and their employer must complete and sign as specified in the Form I-983 instructions)
  3. Form G-1145 “E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance.”
  4. Form I-765 (Enter eligibility code (c)(3)(C) in item #16)
  5. Two U.S. passport-style photos as specified in the I-765 instructions (with name and I-94 number written on back in pencil). Photos must be taken within the last 30 days and not previously used. (Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure that the photographs comply with the I-765 instructions, and that it is your decision and responsibility if the photographs are sent to USCIS as part of this application. ISSS does not assume any responsibility for USCIS’ decision whether your photographs meet the Form I-765 specifications.)
  6. Official University of Miami STEM degree transcripts
  7. Copy of your STEM degree diploma
  8. Original SEVIS Form I-20 (signed by student on page 1)
  9. Copy of all previous Forms I-20
  10. Form I-94
  11. Copy of passport pages (biographic data, photo, F-1 visa, and passport page with last entry stamp)
  12. Copy of any previously issued EAD's
  13. Money order for $410.00 made payable to the Department of Homeland Security (obtainable from your bank, any US Post Office, CVS, Western Union).

The earliest you can submit your STEM OPT Extension application is 90 days before your OPT end date. USCIS must receive your STEM OPT extension application before your current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date. Applications for OPT extension for STEM degree holders must be submitted to ISSS for processing before they can be sent by ISSS to the USCIS Service Center. Please be aware that it will take USCIS from 120 to 150 days to adjudicate OPT extension applications.

Click here for a comprehensive timeline of the OPT STEM Application and Approval Process.

Other Important Information
Types of Employment

A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP. The location of the OPT employment must be within the US. This employment may include:

  • Multiple employers. A student may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to his or her degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, the student must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract period and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm. A student on a 24-month extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.

STEM OPT students may participate in entrepreneurial ventures where the student is an employee. However, they may not act as their own employer or as the signatory for the employer for the purposes the STEM 24 month extension.

Unemployment
DHS allows STEM OPT students an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM OPT extension period.

This is in addition to the 90-day maximum period of unemployment that students are allowed during the initial period of post-completion OPT. Students who obtain a 24-month STEM OPT extension are therefore allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment.

If a student completes one period of OPT (including a STEM OPT extension), and then pursues a second period of OPT on the basis of having earned a second degree at a higher educational level, the student will be able to benefit from the rule’s authorized 90-day and 150-day periods of unemployment (as appropriate) at both educational levels.

In other words, a student receives unemployment eligibility each time they participate in a period of post-completion practical training (including STEM OPT).

Travel Outside the U.S. While Engaged in 24-Month Optional Practical Training Extension
Absence from the US during OPT is limited to 60 days. While engaged in the 24-month OPT extension for STEM degree holders, you must present the following documents to USCIS at the port-of-entry in order to seek reentry to the U.S.:

  1. SEVIS Form I 20, endorsed for travel by your ISSS advisor within the last six months;
  2. Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS;
  3. Valid passport;
  4. Valid F-1 visa; and
  5. A letter from the U.S. employer regarding the employment for optional practical training.

Students who do not meet these requirements may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. If your EAD has expired and the OPT extension request is pending with USCIS, you cannot travel outside the U.S., but must wait to travel until you have received the new EAD. Be sure to consult with ISSS when contemplating travel outside the U.S. and reentry to continue OPT while on the 24-month OPT extension for STEM degree holders.

Reporting Requirements for Students
Both STEM OPT students and employers are obligated to report to ISSS@miami.edu material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan.

Material changes or deviations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s Employer Identification Number, (i.e., the company’s Federal Tax ID number) resulting from a change in the employer’s ownership or structure.
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.
  • Any change of name or local address. Email ISSS@miami.edu within 10 days.

Annual Evaluation of Student Progress
The evaluation of a STEM OPT student’s training progress is a shared responsibility of both the student and the employer.

The STEM OPT student is responsible for conducting an annual self-evaluation based on their own progress. To complete the Self Evaluation, students should refer to page 6 of the I-983. The employer must review and sign the self-evaluation to attest to its accuracy. Although not required, employers may elect to attach and submit their own evaluation of a student’s progress.

Once completed and signed by the appropriate individual in the employer’s organization, the STEM OPT student must return the “Evaluation of Student Progress” to ISSS@miami.edu.

Termination of Employment
The employer and the student must agree to report the termination or departure of a STEM degree holder on the 24-month OPT extension to ISSS via e-mail ISSS@miami.edu with the subject line, "STEM OPT Employer Update" Please see further information on the Study in the States website Employers and the Form I-983.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. The extension of duration of status and work authorization automatically terminates upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

To request an updated I-20 for H-1B cap-gap extension, you must provide to ISSS the following evidence via fax or e-mail:

  • For a properly filed H-1B petition: A statement from the employer that you are the beneficiary listed on a properly filed H-1B petition and proof of delivery to a USCIS Service Center showing the date of receipt
  • For a wait-listed H-1B petition: A copy of the wait list letter from USCIS to the employer
  • For a receipted or approved H-1B petition: A copy of the Form I-797 and/or the I-797 receipt number

Students on H-1B cap-gap extension must continue to report all changes of name and address, and interruptions of employment just like all other students on OPT.

Making a Decision Regarding Optional Practical Training
DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students once per degree level (i.e., bachelor's, master's or doctorate). A student may participate twice in the STEM OPT extension over the course of their academic career. To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree, at a higher education level, and be participating in an initial period of OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension.

Authorization May Not Be Rescinded.
Once authorization to engage in optional practical training is granted, it may not be rescinded or canceled. Once the 24-month OPT extension has been granted by USCIS, it cannot be taken back regardless of subsequent occurrences.

Termination of Optional Practical Training
Authorization to engage in OPT is automatically terminated when you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level.

Additional Resources:

Employment Eligibility Verification and Form I-9 Information for F-1 Students.
Employment Eligibility Verification and Form I-9 Information for Employers of Students in F-1 Status.
What Employers Should Know About Hiring International Students