How to Qualify for STEM OPT Extension?

Did you know international students can request extensions to study in STEM fields? Learn about the STEM OPT requirements to see how to qualify.
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  • F-1 visa students must earn a degree in a designated STEM field to qualify for a STEM OPT Extension, which can allow them to stay in the U.S. for up to 24 months after graduation.
  • In July 2023, the Department of Homeland Security updated the list to include more STEM fields.
  • It can take 90-120 days to receive approval for your STEM OPT Extension application.

International students earning a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields can now extend their studies to include work training in the U.S. in their designated field. Through the post-completion STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) Extension, eligible F-1 students may extend their program of study for up to two years after earning their degree to gain valuable work experience.

Students who wish to apply for the STEM OPT Extension will have to meet specific requirements. However, the process is simple if you know the steps to follow.

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How do I Qualify for an STEM OPT Extension?

To qualify for a STEM OPT Extension, you must be an international student and meet the following eligibility requirements:

F-1 Status

International students wishing to apply for a STEM OPT Extension must have an F-1 visa in good standing. Immigration regulations include having maintained full-time enrollment at your I-20 institution during your course of study and possessing a valid passport. Students with a J-1 visa are not eligible for this particular extension.

Eligible Degree in STEM Field

The STEM OPT Extension is not available for all STEM degrees. All fields in the four primary STEM areas of biological science, physical science, engineering, and mathematics are eligible. The Department of Homeland Security maintains the STEM Designated Degree Program List that lists all qualifying fields. In July 2023, DHS updated the list to include more qualifying fields.

Earned Degree

The student must have already been awarded their bachelor's or advanced degree in a STEM field to qualify. The school they attended must also be accredited and SEVP-certified.

Currently Enrolled in Post-Completion OPT

One of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requirements for the STEM OPT Extension program is that students are currently enrolled in the post-completion OPT. On average, post-completion OPT enrollment lasts 12 months. There is a 60-day grace period following a period of post-completion OPT. Students may not apply for STEM OPT Extension until after the 60 days.

Complete I-983 Training Plan

F-1 students who wish to apply for the STEM OPT Extension must complete the I-983 form. The student must work together with their prospective employer to complete the form and then submit it to their Designated School Official (DSO). This requirement must be completed before applying to USCIS for the STEM-OPT extension.

Have a Verified Employer

According to the DHS, employers who want to sponsor STEM OPT students must be E-Verify participants. Verified employers must have an E-Verify number and an EIN (Employment Identification Number). The USCIS website can guide employers on how to enroll in the program.

How to Apply for a STEM OPT Extension

Familiarize yourself with all the requirements to get a STEM OPT Extension to make your application process easier. Some institutions, like the University of Washington, have institutional forms to complete and ask you to proceed in a specific order, so contact your school before you begin the process. Here's a general quick-step guide to help you get started:

  1. Determine if you are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension
  2. Notify your school of your intention to pursue STEM OPT Extension by completing their required paperwork and paying any administrative processing fees.
  3. Complete your I-983 Training Plan with your employer.
  4. Complete Form I-20 and submit it to your school alongside your training plan.
  5. Complete Form I-765 and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  6. If approved, report your STEM OPT Extension to your school and submit any remaining required paperwork.

What to Expect

After submitting your application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), your work authorization is extended for up to 180 days while your STEM OPT application is pending.

The response time for STEM OPT approval is 90-120 days. During your waiting period, you could receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a returned or denied application. Should this happen, you should contact your school immediately. They may need to issue a new I-20 before you proceed.

Once your application is approved, there are continual reporting requirements for you, your college, and your employer. You are required to report to your Designated School Official (DSO) every six months to verify your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Additionally, you must complete a self-evaluation each year.

Employers are required to report to the DSO if a student's employment is terminated before its official end date.

Benefits of a STEM OPT Extension

One of the benefits of this type of extension is that it helps you stay in the U.S. to receive formal training in your field. The learning objectives are directly related to your qualifying STEM degree.

Another benefit of the STEM OPT Extension is that you will be working for a U.S. employer. This gives you time to build a strong, professional relationship. Your employer may be more likely to sponsor you for an H-1B visa so that you can continue working for them.

Frequently Asked Questions About STEM OPT Extensions

Can I begin a new degree program during OPT?

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You may submit an application to another academic program to start a new degree program. However, once the program begins, the DHS will revoke your authorization for OPT. Your employment will then terminate.

Are there ongoing requirements for STEM OPT Extensions?

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There are ongoing reporting requirements for F-1 students to be in good standing and maintain their STEM OPT Extension. Every six months, the student must report to their Designated School Official (DSO) to verify their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). F-1 students must also complete a self-evaluation each year to submit to the DSO. The student's employers must also report to the DSO if the student's employment is terminated before the designated end date.

How many years is a STEM OPT Extension?

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A STEM OPT Extension lasts up to two years (24 months). In order for the DHS to grant the STEM OPT Extension, the temporary training must be in an approved STEM field.

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