Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM Extensions
Certain F-1 students who are already approved for Post-Completion OPT may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their current OPT work authorization (called “STEM OPT”). For a comprehensive source of information about this topic, we highly recommend that you review the STEM OPT Hub created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It has all of the most important and up-to-date information on this topic.
Commonly Asked Questions & Other Information
What is the OPT-STEM Extension?The OPT-STEM extension is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT for which eligible students with specific STEM degrees can apply. Please carefully read this entire page and the STEM OPT Hub for details.
STEM OPT Eligibility Requirements
- You must be currently authorized for Post-Completion OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to your field of study.
- You must be employed for at least 20 hours per week.
- You are not eligible for a 24-month OPT-STEM extension if you are self-employed or employed as a volunteer.
- You must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a field on the STEM Designated Degree Program list. A SEVIS-certified U.S. college or university with educational accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education must have conferred your degree. (You might be able to use a degree received from a U.S. school other than SUNY Plattsburgh, provided that you meet all of the requirements).
- At the time of application for the 24-month OPT-STEM extension, you must have a job or a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify system.
What Is E-Verify?
According to the USCIS, “E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States." It is a complimentary addition to the I-9 Form that all employees must complete and submit to a U.S. employer before working. This program is operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration.
- If you wish to find an E-Verify Employer, you can use the E-Verify Employers Search Tool.
- If your employer is not currently enrolled in this government program, they can start the process to enroll through E-Verify. There is no cost to sign up for the program.
Important Notes About the 24-Month OPT Extension
- Volunteering and self-employment are NOT permitted while on the OPT-STEM extension. In addition, most temporary agency and contract work will not be eligible for STEM OPT.
- Students' compensation must be comparable to that of similarly-situated U.S. workers, as per labor laws.
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may conduct employer site visits to confirm that training plan goals are being met.
- Some students currently in a non-STEM degree could be eligible for a OPT-STEM extension based on a previous STEM degree (BA, MA, or PhD) already obtained in the U.S. from an accredited institution. If you think this applies to you, please meet with an International Student Advisor (ISA) in the Global Education Office (GEO) to discuss.
- Each F-1 student is permitted a lifetime maximum of two OPT-STEM extensions. To qualify for a second OPT-STEM extension, your second STEM eligible degree must be at a higher level than your first STEM eligible degree and you must have a valid EAD card. For example, if you applied for your first OPT-STEM extension on the basis of a Bachelor’s degree, you must complete a Master’s in a STEM eligible degree in order to qualify for another OPT-STEM extension. Once you’ve been approved for two OPT-STEM extensions, you are not eligible for another OPT-STEM extension--even if you complete another STEM eligible degree at a higher level.
- Your application to the USCIS automatically extends your work authorization for up to 180 days while your application is pending. This means that you can continue working while waiting for the new EAD for the OPT-STEM extension to arrive.
Application Process for the 24-Month OPT Extension
- Contact the ISA at GEO to express interest in applying for STEM OPT a few months before your current OPT ends. All STEM extension applications MUST be received by USCIS before the current Post-Completion OPT expires. The earliest an F-1 can apply is 90 days prior to the expiration date on their EAD card.
- Students applying for the 24-month STEM OPT extension must work with their employers to fill out Form I-983 (individualized training and evaluation plans). This form must be submitted to GEO (scanned copies sent via email are acceptable). For instructions on how to fill out certain parts of the I-983, see the next section on this page, “Information Needed for the Form I-983."
- After the I-983 has been submitted to GEO, the ISA will review it for completeness, then recommend the STEM extension in SEVIS and issue a new I-20.
The F-1 visa holder gathers the following documents and sends them to USCIS:
- Form I-765
- Form G-1145
- New I-20 from GEO recommending the STEM OPT
- Photocopies of all previous I-20s
- Copy of your diploma (or official transcripts) proving your STEM degree
- Copy of your current EAD card
- Copy of your passport (the page with your identification information)
- Copy of your most recent F-1 visa sticker inside your passport (if you have one)
- Copy of your I-94 record (legal admission to the U.S.)
- Two passport style photographs taken within the past 30 days
- Required application fee (currently $410)
It is strongly recommended to photocopy your entire OPT application for your personal records, before mailing it. GEO will only keep certain parts of the application for our purposes. You may find it helpful to review a completed example of an I-765 form for STEM OPT.
Information Needed for the Form I-983
Section 1: Student Information
- Name of school recommending STEM OPT: State University of New York at Plattsburgh
- SUNY Plattsburgh’s school code is: BUF214F00386000
- Your SEVIS ID Number can be found at the top of your I-20. It begins with the letter “N”.
- Designated School Official (DSO) name and contact information. If you are applying
on the basis of a degree earned at SUNY Plattsburgh, you should use the following
SUNY Plattsburgh Global Education Office
101 Broad St, Plattsburgh NY 12901
Email: [email protected]
- Your CIP Code: This can be found in the Program of Study section on Page 1 of your I-20. It is the 6-digit number that appears after your major field of study. Note: If you are applying on the basis of a degree earned from another school, the CIP code can be found on page 1 of the new format I-20 and page 3 of the previous format I-20.
- If you are applying based on your most recently-completed degree from SUNY Plattsburgh, you should answer “No” to the question asking if your application is based on a prior degree. If your application is based on a prior degree, you should answer “Yes”.
- Your Employment Authorization Number can be found on your EAD card. It is a nine-digit number, also known as the “A Number” or “USCIS number”.
- STEM OPT Requested Period: Enter the period during which you are requesting to work on STEM OPT. This is essentially the period of time when you will be on a 24- Month OPT-STEM extension. (Note: This field is not asking for your employment start and end dates.)
Section 2: Employer Information
- Start Date of Employment: This refers to the date you will begin STEM OPT training with your employer. If you are continuing employment with your current employer, this date will be the first day of your OPT-STEM extension (usually the day after your current OPT ends). If you are starting new employment, this date will be the start date of your new employment.
- At the time you apply for STEM OPT, you do not need to complete the “Evaluation on Student Progress” or “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” (on page 5 of the I-983). These parts will be filled out later, if your STEM OPT application is approved.
Where Do I Mail the STEM OPT Application?
IMPORTANT: The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the DSO’s signature on the new I-20 and prior to the OPT expiration date listed on the EAD.
Where you send the application depends on the location of the address you put in item #3 on your Form I-765. Please use the USCIS website to determine where you need to mail your application.
You are welcome to use the GEO mailing address for item #3 on your Form I-765. If you use this address, you MUST mail the application to the Dallas Service Center (find the Dallas Service Center address on the link above). When GEO receives any correspondence from USCIS for you, we will then email you and forward it on. See the sample I-765 for STEM OPT for GEO’s address.
Reporting Requirements While on the OPT-STEM Extension
In order to maintain their legal F-1 status, a STEM OPT student must regularly check in with their ISA throughout the duration of the extension to validate your SEVIS information and report changes made to the student's training plan. For more information and an overview of STEM OPT reporting requirements, please visit the Department of Homeland Security website.
In summary, you are required to notify GEO when any of the following information changes:
- Any change in your name.
- Any change in your residential address (GEO must be notified within ten days of your move).
- Any change of employer, Employer Identification Number or employer’s address.
- Any change or deviation from the training plan outlined on Form I-983.
- Any reduction in compensation not tied to a reduction in work hours.
- Any decrease in the number of hours worked per week.
- Any other change in your employment details.
A new Form I-983 must be submitted to GEO within 10 days of any change in employment details:
- Any interruption of employment lasting longer than 10 days.
- Any change in your immigration status (e.g. change to H-1B).
- Report any employer non-compliance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If you believe that your employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-month STEM OPT regulations or the Form I-983 Training Plan, contact the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at [email protected] or the Department of Homeland Security.
- Submit the 6-Month Report. Students on the 24-Month OPT-STEM extension must also submit a report to the school every six months. When the school receives the report, it will notify SEVIS that the student has complied with this reporting requirement. Note: If students do not submit the required six-month report, their SEVIS record is supposed to automatically terminate. Therefore, it is imperative that you not only maintain employment, but that you report it to GEO and submit the required six-month report in a timely fashion.
- Submit the 12-Month and Final Evaluations. In addition to the 6-Month Report, the student and the student’s employer must complete a performance evaluation every 12 months, and at the end of the employment period. GEO must receive the completed evaluations within 10 days of the 12-month period, and/or within 10 days of the end of employment. Note: If you leave an employer, you are required to submit the Final Evaluation to GEO within 10 days of your employment end date. Every six months, mail your I-20 to GEO for a new travel signature or contact us and we will re-print you a new I-20 with a new signature.
Employer’s Responsibilities Under the 24-Month OPT-STEM Extension
- The employer must be registered in E-Verify and give its E-Verify number to the USCIS on the Form I-765.
- The employer must assist with the completion of, and sign off on, Form I-983 “Training
Plan for STEM OPT Students.” By signing this form, the employer is attesting to the
- They have sufficient resources and personnel available, and are prepared to provide the training outlined in the Form I-983. Note: DHS may conduct a site visit of any employer to ensure that the employer is able to meet the goals and objectives of the training program set forth in the Form I-983.
- The STEM OPT student will not replace any full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. workers, and the employment terms and conditions (including pay, hours, duties and benefits) are consistent with those offered to U.S. workers in similar situations.
- The employment opportunity will assist the student in reaching his/her training goals as outlined in Form I-983.
- The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to GEO within 5 days. Note: If the student has not reported to work for five consecutive business days without the employer’s consent, the employer should assume that the student has left the job.
- The employer must review and sign a 12-month and final self-evaluation of the student’s performance.
Days of Unemployment Allowed Under STEM OPT
Students will receive an additional 60 days of unemployment allowed during the time they are authorized for the OPT-STEM extension. According to the STEM OPT Hub:
"Students granted a 24-month OPT-STEM extension “will receive, for a total of 150 days of allowable unemployment, 90 days during the initial period of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the extension period.”
Important Reminders While Your Application is Pending
- While your 24-month OPT-STEM extension application is pending, we strongly advise against changing the address listed on Form I-765. The USCIS does not always process change of address notifications in a timely manner. If you change your address while your application is still pending, you may not receive your EAD Card, and then you will need to start over: file a new application and pay the fee again. Note: EAD cards may also not be forwarded by the U.S. Post Office to your new address. Therefore, you must be certain that the address you list in item #3 of your Form I-765 is (and will be) your address when your application is processed, which could be more than 3 months after you submit it to USCIS.
- If you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level at SUNY Plattsburgh, then your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated.
- If you are accepted to begin another degree program at SUNY Plattsburgh or elsewhere, and your OPT has not yet expired, your OPT will terminate on the first day of classes for your new degree program.
- If you later decide not to mail your 24-month OPT-STEM extension application to USCIS for any reason, you must notify GEO immediately so that we can cancel your OPT recommendation in SEVIS.
- While on OPT, you are still in F-1 status.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Can I travel outside the U.S. while my 24-month OPT-STEM extension application is pending and after my Post-Completion OPT EAD card has expired?
NO, you cannot!
After I receive my new EAD card, what should I carry when I re-enter the U.S. while on OPT?
Employment letter on employer’s letterhead verifying your OPT employment, both EAD cards, I-20 with OPT recommendations and a valid signature (not more than 6 months old) from GEO on page 2, originals of all previous I-20’s, valid F-1 visa, and a valid passport.
Can I change employers while my 24-month OPT-STEM extension application is pending?
Yes. However, you are required to report any change of employment to GEO and to the USCIS. GEO must issue you a new I-20 reflecting your new employment information. Note: Your new employer must be registered in E-verify and you must submit a new Form I-983 to GEO. To report your new employment to the USCIS, you must submit the updated OPT-STEM extension I-20 along with a new Form I-765, a new Form I-983, a copy of your 24-month OPT-STEM extension application I-797 Receipt Notice and a letter explaining that your employment changed. Submitting new documentation to amend a pending application could delay the processing of your application. Therefore, please think carefully before switching employers while your 24-month OPT-STEM extension application is pending.
The information on this page is based on information currently available on the websites of the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) offices at Binghamton University and University at Buffalo, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website, policy guidance published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the DHS website.