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STEM Extension OPT

In March 2016, DHS published amended F-1 nonimmigrant student regulations on OPT for certain students with STEM degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education. The amended regulation, which provides for an extension of the OPT period by 24 months (a STEM OPT extension), will go into effect on May 10, 2016. Please visit studyinthestates.dhs.gov for additional information.
For STEM OPT applications received after May 10, 2016 for a 24-month work authorization extension to your Post-Completion OPT:

Eligibility

The F-1 student must:

  • Be on a period of standard Post-Completion OPT
  • Hold a degree in a field of study (indicated on the I-20) which qualifies as STEM eligible according to the official STEM Designated Degree Program List [PDF]
  • Have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify
  • Demonstrate the job is directly related to a STEM field
  • Prepare and sign the Training Plan (Form I-983)
  • Apply before your current Post-Completion period of OPT expires.

The employer must:

Eligibility for a Second Period of STEM OPT After Higher Degree

  • If you enroll in a new academic program in the U.S. in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for a second period of 24-month STEM OPT (i.e. two 24 month STEM OPT extensions may be permitted).

Example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor's degree in computer science, and you later earn a master's degree in computer science or another STEM eligible field, you may apply for Post-Completion OPT and then the additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master's degree.

Eligibility Based on a Previously Obtained STEM Degree

If you are currently in a degree field (or on Post-Completion OPT from that degree) that is not identified as STEM eligible, but have previously earned a STEM eligible degree from an accredited U.S. higher education institution, you may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension under certain conditions:

    • You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions
    • Your previous degree cannot have been conferred more than 10 years ago at the time of application
    • Your previous degree is assigned a STEM eligible code found on the STEM Designated Degree Program List [PDF] at the time of application
    • You haven't already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree
    • Your practical training opportunity is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree
    • Your employer meets the criteria listed above

Example: If you are currently participating in Post-Completion OPT based on a master's degree in business and management, but you previously received a bachelor's degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor's degree in mathematics as long as meets the other criteria above.

When to Apply

Here are the basic steps of a STEM OPT application:

The application must be submitted to Office of International Affairs no later than one week prior to the end of your current Post-Completion OPT. The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of the current OPT period. However, you can submit an application to USCIS as early as 90 days prior to the end of the current OPT period.

If you timely file your STEM OPT extension application, you will be able to continue employment while your application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days beyond the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT, whichever comes first. It normally takes up to 90 days for USCIS to process STEM OPT extension applications.

Prepare your STEM OPT Application

  1. Complete the Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer (Please reference the Ohio State Sample I-983)
  2. Complete the Office of International Affairs STEM Application Form
  3. Scan and email all above mentioned documents to iss@osu.edu and an Immigration Coordinator will contact you once they begin processing your STEM endorsed I-20. If you are still in the Columbus area, you are more than welcome to visit us during walk in advising hours Monday through Thursday between 1-4PM or you may schedule an appointment for Friday to meet with an Immigration Coordinator.
  4. Review the STEM Extension Materials Checklist and prepare all application materials to mail to USCIS. Please note – your application must be received by USCIS before your current OPT expires and within 60 days of the issuance of your new STEM OPT I-20.

Employment and Reporting Requirements

Employment Limitations

  • Employment must be paid.
  • Employment must be a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • Employment must be directly related to your course of study.
  • Limitation on Unemployment for the STEM OPT Extension. Students approved for the 24-month STEM OPT extension may not accrue more than a total of 150 days of unemployment throughout their entire 36 months on OPT. Time spent outside the United States, if not employed by a U.S. employer, is counted towards the 150-day period of unemployment. To count as "employed" a student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of reported employment.

Reporting Requirements

Students must submit to Office of International Affairs self-evaluations via the I-983 during the first 12 months on the STEM OPT extension and at the completion of the 24-month extension period or at the conclusion of employment, whichever comes first. Evaluations should be submitted within 10 days of the required date.

Student and employers must report to Office of International Affairs a change in any of the following via the I-983:

  • Employer name and address
  • Decrease in student's compensation
  • Reduction in hours worked to less than 20 hours a week
  • Employer's EIN
  • Termination of employment

Students are required to report to Office of International Affairs within 10 days, any change in the following:

  • Legal Name
  • Residential address
  • Employer name and address
  • Change in status of current employment, including loss of employment, change of status to H-1B, transfer to another F-1 program, or change employers. If you change employers, you and your employer will need to complete a new I-983 and submit to Office of International Affairs.

Students are required to report to Office of International Affairs every 6 months - regardless if there is a change or not - the following:

  • Legal name
  • Residential address
  • Employer name and address
  • Status of current employment

Students on the 17 month OPT STEM extension must still report to Office of International Affairs within 10 days any change in legal name, residential address, employer name and address, or a change in status. Students must also continue to report to Office of International Affairs every 6 months, regardless if there is a change or not, their legal name, residential address, employer name and address, and the status of their current employment.

Traveling on STEM OPT

While on STEM OPT, you are required to show your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) along with your other immigration documents (see list below) in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. In many cases, students will also need to apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S.

Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on STEM OPT Extension

  • Valid I-20 - Page two should list your employer's information and be signed by an Immigration Coordinator within the last six months.
  • Valid F-1 Visa - If your F-1 visa is expired, you must apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to you return. (Note: Canadian citizens do not need a visa.)
  • Valid Passport - The expiration date should be at least six months into the future at any given time.
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Evidence of a job offer or resumption of employment. If you are returning to the U.S without evidence of a job offer, you may be questioned at the port of entry.

Please contact an Immigration Coordinator at iss@osu.edu to report any of the above-mentioned required information. 

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