Some F-1 students who earn degrees in designated science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) programs may be eligible for a 24-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension.
- The 24-month extension is only available to students who are currently in a period of approved Post-Completion OPT.
- The STEM Extension is granted in one 24-month period; it cannot be “split” into two periods. The employment start date for a STEM Extension is the day immediately after the day your post-completion OPT expires.
For details on this, review the information available at the U.S. government website’s STEM OPT Hub.
STEM Extension Requirements
To be eligible for the STEM Extension a student must:
- Have completed a degree in a qualifying STEM program.
- The STEM-designated degree program list includes all STEM fields that qualify an F-1 Student for a STEM Extension of OPT.
- The CIP Code assigned to your degree is the number that follows your major on page 1 of your I-20.
- Be currently in an approved period of Post-Completion OPT (students on Pre-Completion OPT are not eligible).
- Work for an employer that participates in the E-Verify program and will complete an I-983 Training Plan.
- Employment on the STEM Extension must be compensated.
- Students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983.
- Students may not be self-employed on the STEM Extension because students may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf. However, STEM OPT applicants can participate in a start-up or small business so long as all regulatory requirements are met.
- The employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.
- Maintained valid F-1 Status.
- Have not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment.
- Submit a timely STEM Extension application.
- USCIS must receive your STEM Extension application no more than 90 days before a student’s OPT expires and no later than the end date of their OPT.
For a student to be eligible for the STEM Extension they must work for an employer that meets the following requirements:
- The employer must participate in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
- The employer must complete an I-983 Training Plan with the student and agree to the conditions in the employer certification sections, including:
- The employer must agree to report to the Center for International Services when an F-1 student on a STEM OPT extension terminates or otherwise leaves their employment before the end of the authorized period of STEM OPT. The employer must report this change to the center no later than five business days after the student leaves employment. For more information about employer requirements, please visit the Study in the States Employer Reporting Requirements page.
- Both the student and employer are obligated to report to the Center for International Services any material changes to or material deviations from the student's formal training plan, Form I-983.
- The employer must remain in good standing with E-Verify and have the resources to comply with the proposed training plan.
STEM OPT Application Process
The STEM Extension application process first requires you to obtain a STEM Extension recommendation I-20 from the Center for International Services and then submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) online. DO NOT submit an online application to USCIS without first obtaining your STEM Extension Recommendation I-20.
Step 1: Prepare Documents for STEM Extension Recommendation I-20 Request
Your request for a STEM Extension Recommendation I-20 will require the following documents:
- Your final transcript or diploma for your STEM degree - If you are submitting your Syracuse University transcript, it must indicate the date your degree was awarded in the upper left corner. If you are a Ph.D. student applying for the STEM Extension OPT, and you have not yet completed your degree, upload a letter from your academic department indicating you have completed all your coursework and are still enrolled while working on your thesis or dissertation.
- Your most recent I-94
- Your completed I-983 Training Plan – Signed by you on page 1 and signed by your employer on pages 2 & 4. You do NOT need to complete the evaluations on page 5 at this time.
Step 2: Request a STEM Extension Recommendation I-20
- Log in to the International Student and Scholar (ISSS) Portal through MySlice. If you do not have access to the portal please email email@example.com with a detailed description of the issue (include screenshots if possible) or visit the Center for International Services during walk-in advising (Monday – Friday from 11am to 3pm).
- Go to the Student Request Center.
- Find the STEM Extension Request.
- Complete the Questionnaires.
- Upload the Required Documents:
- Your final transcript or diploma
- Your most recent I-94
- Your completed I-983 Training Plan
- Read the Next Steps and Confirm.
- Submit Request.
Within 3-5 business days you should receive an email that your STEM Extension Recommendation I-20 has been processed and is available in the ISSS Portal. You must complete and submit your I-765 within 60 days of when your new I-20 is issued.
Step 3: Prepare Documents for the STEM Extension Application (I-765)
- Print OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISSS Portal and sign on the bottom of page 1, scan the newly signed I-20 and save a digital file of it.
- Download your most recent I-94.
- Obtain a passport style photograph. 2 X 2 inches, white or light background, no glasses.
- A digital copy of the front and the back of your EAD card
- Your final transcript or diploma for your STEM degree
- If you are applying for a STEM Extension based on a STEM degree you earned prior to the degree your current OPT is based on evidence that the institution that granted that degree is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and certified by SEVP. Most students will not need this.
Step 4: Log in to your USCIS Account & Complete the I-765
- If you already have a USCIS Online Account log in. If you do not have a USCIS Online Account, create one.
- After logging in, click on “File a Form Online” to begin your application process.
- Select “I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.”
- Complete the I-765 form and upload your documents.
- Complete instructions for filing the I-765 can be found online here.
- Upload your documents to the application:
- Your 2 X 2 Photo
- Your most recent I-94
- Your EAD
- Form I-20 – Your SIGNED STEM Extension Recommendation I-20 (you do not need to upload any other I-20s in this section)
- College Degree - Your final transcript indicating your degree was awarded or diploma for your STEM degree
- Institution Accreditation - If applying for a STEM Extension based on a STEM degree you earned prior to the degree your current OPT is based (most students will not need this)
- Tips for completing the I-765:
- Answer the form questions in order — do not skip ahead. The form has conditional logic that will display the next set of questions according to your answers. Go in order so that you only see the questions you need to complete.
- What is Your Reason for Applying?
- You should select “Initial permission to accept employment.”
- Have you previously filed Form I-765?
- Since you are in an approved period of post-completion OPT you should answer yes.
- The system will review it but it will NOT check your answers for accuracy — you must make sure that the data you provided in your application is correct.
- An “error” simply means you may have missed something on the application or formatted something incorrectly.
- If an error is highlighted in red, it must be corrected before you can submit your application.
- A yellow error calls your attention to something that may need correction. Review it to make sure your information is correct.
Step 5: Review, Submit and Pay
- Complete a final review of your application.
- Sign and submit the application.
- Your will be redirected to pay.gov to pay the $410 application fee. It can be paid by credit or debit card.
After Submitting Your STEM Extension Application
Within a few minutes of submitting your application to USCIS a receipt notice will appear in the documents section of your USCIS account. The receipt notice will include a receipt number which can be utilized to check the status of your case. USCIS will also send a receipt notice to you in the mail within 2-3 weeks of receiving your application.
As long as your STEM Extension Application is timely filed with USCIS (submitted before the expiration of your current post-completion OPT EAD card), you are able to continue to work for up to 180 days beyond the expiration of your post-completion OPT EAD card. If your STEM Extension EAD card is not received within the 180-day period you must stop working until the card is received. This is a rare situation.
Checking the Status of Your Application
Once you have your application receipt number, you can check the status of your STEM OPT application online on the USCIS Case Status website.
Application Processing Times
STEM OPT application processing times vary. It is estimated that a typical application will take 2-3 months to process. You may check USCIS Official Processing Times online.
Changing your Mailing Address After Submitting Your Application
Your EAD card will be mailed to the mailing address that you put on your I-765. If your mailing address changes after you have submitted your I-765, you need to update USCIS with your new mailing address as soon as possible. You can inform them of your new mailing address through your USCIS account or by completing their change of address form.
Receiving your EAD Card
If your application has been approved by USCIS, you should receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card in the mail within approximately 90-120 days. Once you have received your EAD Card email a picture of the front and the back of your EAD Card to the Center for International Services.
Cases Outside of Normal Processing Times
If, after checking the normal processing times for I-765 STEM OPT applications, you find that your case is beyond the normal processing times, you can submit an inquiry to USCIS about your Form I-765 through their case inquiry form.
Requests to Expedite Applications
The criteria and processes for requesting an expedited case can be found on the USCIS website. Requests to expedite are considered on a case by case basis, but it is unlikely a STEM OPT application would be considered.
Maintenance of F-1 Status While on STEM Extension
- While on STEM OPT, you remain in F-1 status and employment is required to maintain status. In order to maintain status, you must work at least 20 hours per week in a paid position directly related to your field of study for an employer that participates in the e-verify program and has completed an I-983 Training Plan.
- Students on the STEM Extension are eligible for any of the unused employment time from the post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days, for up to 150 days of unemployment total across both post-completion OPT and the STEM Extension of OPT.
- As part of your maintenance of status, you are responsible for reporting changes in personal and employment information within 10 days of the change. You must report changes to any of the following information through the methods described below:
|Information That Has Changed||How It Can Be Reported|
|Any change of address (within the U.S. or your foreign address) or Phone Number||Either through your SEVP Portal Account or through the ISSS Portal Address and Phone Number Update|
|Any change of name||Notify the Center for International Services by email, include copies of your passport with your new name|
|Changes in employment or employer information (including changes to your I-983 training plan)||Can only be done through the ISSS Portal Employment Update, may include uploading a new I-983 or an evaluation|
- STEM OPT students must report their personal and employment information to the Center for International Services every 6 months, even if there has been no changes. Student’s must also submit 12 month and final I-983 self-evaluations about the progress of the training experience. Students and their employers must sign the self-evaluation prior to submitting it to the Center for International Services, who will include it in the student’s record. Both the validation reports and the I-983 self-evaluations must be submitted through the STEM Extension Student Validation Report in the ISSS Portal.
Traveling While on STEM OPT
While on the OPT STEM Extension you are still in F-1 status. In order to enter the U.S. while on STEM OPT you must have the following documents:
- Most recent I-20 with a travel signature no more than six months old on the day you plan to reenter the U.S.
- Your STEM Extension EAD card
- A letter from an employer indicating that you will be returning to resume your employment or other proof of current employment
- Valid passport
- Valid* F-1 U.S. visa
- Most recent I-94
*If you are returning to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island, please check above criteria to see if you will require a valid visa to reenter the United States or consult a Center for International Services Advisor.
It is not recommended that you travel outside of the U.S. while your STEM Extension application is pending with USCIS.