OPT STEM Extension

The OPT STEM Extension is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT that can be requested by students who have received a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This application may be based on a previously earned STEM degree. Current regulations allow a total of 2 lifetime STEM extensions, the second AFTER earning a new STEM-eligible degree at a higher level and obtaining a new, higher level of 12-month initial OPT.


Am I Eligible?

You are eligible for the OPT STEM Extension if you:

  • Have maintained F-1 status during your initial OPT;
  • Have a degree CIP code on page 1 of your current OPT I-20 is on the STEM List;
  • Have a paid, full-time job or job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify;
  • Are or will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan. The employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

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When Should I Apply?

USCIS must receive your OPT STEM Extension application before the expiration date of your current EAD and within 60 days of the OPT STEM recommendation, whichever is earlier. You can apply up to 90 days before your EAD expiration date. Students may continue to work for up to 180 days after your current EAD expires while your OPT Extension application is pending with USCIS, as long as you have filed your application on time.

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Employment Restrictions & Unemployment

Employment must be directly related to your field of study as indicated on your OPT I-20. During the OPT STEM Extension you can ONLY work for employers enrolled in E-Verify and the employment must be PAID and for at least 20 hours per week. Volunteering, unpaid, self-employment, and employment through employment agencies are NOT allowed. DHS has confirmed that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Students can have no more than 150 days of unemployment for the entire 36 months of OPT and OPT STEM Extension.

Students are required by immigration regulations to report their OPT information to ISSS within 10 days of any change. Students must do so via the OPT Reporting Form. Students on STEM OPT Extension are also required to resubmit their employment and personal information to ISSS every 6 months starting from the date the extension starts, even if there are no changes. For more information on reporting requirements, please visit our page on Maintaining Status on OPT.

The new rule requires significant responsibility of the employer to provide a training plan related to the field of study, and attestations to wages and compensation being commensurate with "similarly situated U.S. workers" by completing the required Training Plan and Form I-983.

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How to Apply

  1. Pay the $100 (non-refundable) STEM OPT maintenance fee to ISSS via the Online Payment Portal.
  2. Complete ISSS's 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Request (includes guidelines).
  3. Complete USCIS Form I-765 (see guidelines for completion).
  4. Complete ICE Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer.
    1. For Section 1 on the I-983 all information can be found on your current I-20
      1. Contact information for Advisors can be found here: https://isss.ucsc.edu/about/isss-staff/index.html 
      2. Address for UCSC can be found here: https://isss.ucsc.edu/about/contactandhours.html
  5. Submit copies of your 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Request, I-983, I-765, and EAD card to an ISSS advisor in person or via email (if by email, please attach as one PDF file).
  6. If you have previously had a STEM extension or if your extension is based on a previously-obtained STEM degree, start gathering proof of your degree or previous STEM usage.
  7. Receive your OPT STEM I-20. An ISSS advisor will email you when it is ready for pick-up or has been mailed.
  8. Prepare and mail your STEM OPT application to USCIS. For a list of required documents, see the guidelines.

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