Students applying for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM Extension OPT may file Form I-765 online or via regular post. You should NOT mail your documents to USCIS if you choose to file online. If you choose to mail in your OPT application to USCIS, you can find the filing address for the USCIS Chicago Lockbox Facility on the USCIS website at uscis.gov/i-765-addresses. If you choose to file online, here are some things to consider:
- Students must still obtain an OPT-endorsed I-20 or STEM OPT-endorsed I-20 from the Office of International Affairs before filing Form I-765
- Students must be within the United States when filing their OPT application online
- USCIS may require you to appear for an interview or provide biometrics (fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature) at any time before making a decision on your application
- USCIS must still receive your OPT application within 30 days of the OPT-endorsed I-20 issuance date
- You must upload a passport-style photograph (2 inches by 2 inches) of you must be uploaded in JPG, JPEG or PNG file formats
- Other files such as I-20 copies, passports and/or previous EAD must be uploaded in JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, or TIFF file formats (max size: 6 MB per file)
- Foreign language documents must have an English translation
- All uploaded files must have titles in English and no special characters (#, ?, etc.)
- Do not enter “N/A” for non-applicable fields on the online application
- The application will be submitted once the non-refundable $410 payment has been made. If you would like a student immigration coordinator to review your OPT application during a virtual appointment, please do not submit payment until we have reviewed your application
F-1 students on OPT pursuing certain STEM degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education can apply for an extension of the OPT period by 24 months (a STEM OPT extension). Please visit studyinthestates.dhs.gov for additional information.
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 United States 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 you meet all the criteria above.
When to apply
Here are the basic steps of a STEM OPT application:
The application must be submitted to the 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
- Complete the Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer – learn more about completing the form
- Complete the Office of International Affairs STEM Application Form
- Scan and email all above mentioned documents to firstname.lastname@example.org, and an immigration coordinator will contact you once they begin processing your STEM-endorsed I-20.
- 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 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.
Students must submit to the Office of International Affairs self-evaluations via the I-983 during the first 12 months of 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.
Students and employers must report to the 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 the 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 in employers. If you change employers, you and your employer will need to complete a new I-983 and submit it to the Office of International Affairs.
Students are required to report to the 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
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 United States 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 United States
Required documents to re-enter the United States 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 has expired, you must apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to your 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 United States without evidence of a job offer, you may be questioned at the port of entry.
Please contact an immigration coordinator at email@example.com to report any of the above-mentioned required information.