Students who have successfully completed a degree designated as STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security may apply for a 24 month extension of their off-campus work authorization.
Interested students should apply for the STEM extension before the end of their Standard Post-Completion OPT period. Standard OPT plus the STEM Extension results in a total of 36 months of work authorization. Students can use two STEM extensions per lifetime, as long as they follow two different degree levels (for example, after a Bachelor’s degree and then after a Master’s degree).
how to apply
Gather the below requirements to apply for the STEM Extension.
- Form I-765 (Use code C 3 C on Question 16)
- Form G-1145
- Form I-983
- Copy of your I-20 recommending you for the STEM Extension (provided by DSO)
- Copy of previous EAD card
- Copies of passport biographical page, passport visa page (with latest arrival stamp), latest I-94
- Copy of diploma for most recent degree
- Copy of official transcript for STEM degree
- $410 in the form of a money order or personal check (I-765 fee)
- 2 travel size photos
- Letter from employer/Job offer letter which includes: a brief job description, Employer Identification Number (EIN), and employer’s E-Verify Number
Once you have compiled all requirements besides the updated I-20, submit this OPT Update and indicate you are applying for the STEM Extension. The DSO will then be alerted to your request and provide you the updated I-20. Note: Because your application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the creation of the updated I-20, do not request the I-20 before gathering all your documents.
Mailing: Make copies of your application for your records and mail your packet to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox (address here for USPS, FedEx, UPS, and DHL options).
frequently asked questions
How can I qualify for the STEM Extension?
You qualify if you:
- Have earned a STEM-designated degree from an accredited U.S. college or university
- Are currently working on Standard OPT and are within 3 months of your OPT End Date
- Are currently working in a STEM field and for an employer who participates in E-verify
- Will work with your supervisor to develop a training program
- Have not already used two separate STEM extensions
Can I apply for the STEM Extension without doing Standard (12 month) OPT?
No, the STEM Extension is an extension of your current, valid, unexpired Standard OPT employment.
I am working on Standard OPT after a non-STEM degree. However, in the past, I completed a STEM degree for which I never used OPT. Can I apply for the STEM extension based on that prior degree?
Yes, but as always, USCIS makes the final decision on your application.
After earning a STEM degree and using both Standard OPT and the STEM Extension, can I directly apply for another STEM Extension that is based on a previously-earned STEM degree?
No, the STEM extension must be extended from Standard OPT.
I submitted my STEM Extension application within the appropriate timeframe (within 3 months of my OPT End Date), but I am still waiting for its approval and my OPT End Date is approaching. Can I keep working?
Yes, as long as you applied within the appropriate timeframe, USCIS allows you to continue working up to 6 months past your OPT End Date. Once you then receive word of your STEM Extension’s approval, contact your DSO.
What are my STEM OPT reporting requirements?
Reporting is extremely important while you are on STEM OPT. The timeframe for reporting is 15 days before or 15 days after your reporting deadline. Failure to meet reporting deadlines may result in termination of your F-1 status and employment authorization.
Here is a helpful timeline for your required reporting, where you work for the same employer throughout your STEM Extension:
6 months after STEM OPT Start Date: Submit OPT Update to confirm your current employment and contact information
12 months/1 year after STEM OPT Start Date: Submit OPT Update with updated I-983 attached- the top section of Page 5 must be filled out.
18 months after STEM OPT Start Date: Submit OPT Update to confirm your current employment and contact information
24 months after STEM OPT Start Date: Submit OPT Update with updated I-983- the bottom section of Page 5 must now be filled out.
What are my employer’s responsibilities during my STEM Extension?
When you apply for the STEM Extension, your employer must participate in E-verify and must ensure that the position for which you are hired pays the appropriate amount for the position and does not displace U.S. workers. They also must work with you to complete the training plan, I-983, and update it with you throughout the 24 months. During your extension, your employer must make sure you are meeting the objectives and outcomes of your training plan.
What is the difference between OPT and H1-B?
Both of these give non-immigrants permission to retain off-campus employment in the U.S. However, OPT is a benefit of F-1 status, while H1-B is its own immigration status. Students must fulfill the above reporting requirements because they are still in F-1 status and therefore their school is still maintaining their immigration record.
OPT is not competitive: any F-1 student who qualifies can apply for and be approved for OPT. In contrast, H1-B is very competitive and students receive an H1-B based on a combination of displayed skill and luck.
What is the Cap Gap Extension for H-1B Petitions?
If your employer plans to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, they will generally apply for your visa on April 1. Students approved for H-1B will begin their new immigration status on October 1. If your OPT expires between April 1 and October 1, you may be eligible for the Cap Gap extension. Cap Gap grants you an extension of your F-1 OPT from your OPT expiration date until your H-1B begins on October 1. If you are approved for Cap Gap, you may request an updated I-20 to reflect this extension.
Please note that if you are on the Cap Gap but have not yet received official H-1B approval, you may not be eligible for drivers license renewal.