The STEM OPT extension is a 24 months period of temporary training for those who have earned a degree in a field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). To be eligible you should have a completed degree in eligible STEM field, you should be currently on Post-Completion OPT, your employer should participate in E-Verify Program and should also complete all steps of I-983 Training Plan. You can apply 90 days prior to the end date of your Post-Completion OPT with the help of all the documents mentioned in the article. Your application will be processed by the USCIS with the duration ranging from 1–3 months. USCIS may send a REQUEST FOR EVIDENCE asking for additional documentation on your application otherwise if the application gets approved, you will be mailed an EAD. If OPT Extension is denied, you will be granted a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S., or to re-enroll in another school with new degree, or to change your status.
What does STEM OPT mean?
The STEM OPT extension is a 24 months period of temporary training for those who have earned a degree in a field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students once per degree level (i.e., bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate). A student may participate twice in the OPT extension over the course of their academic career. Eligible F1 students with STEM degree who finishes their program of study and participate in initial post completion OPT, have an option to apply for 24 months STEM OPT Extension.
Am I eligible for STEM OPT?
Anyone who satisfies below conditions is eligible:
· You must have completed a degree in an eligible STEM field.
· You must currently be on Post-Completion OPT in a field directly related to your course of study, and not have exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
· Your STEM extension employer must participate in the E- Verify Program at the time of your application and throughout your employment.
· You and your STEM extension employer must complete all steps of the I-983 Training Plan before you apply for the STEM extension.
· You must keep all information up-to-date with your university (including your employment information, home address, and contact details). Any changes should be reported to the University within 10 days.
When do I apply?
· The earliest you can apply for the STEM extension is 90 days prior to the end date of your current Post-Completion OPT. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive your STEM OPT application before your current OPT ends.
· As long as the USCIS receives your STEM extension application before your original Post-Completion OPT expires, you can continue to work while your STEM extension application is pending, until a final decision is made on your application or it has been pending 180 days with the USCIS (whichever comes first).
How do I apply?
While the rules and requirements might change any moment, the current application process requires you to send a complete OPT application, including all of the below documents, to the USCIS:
a. Completed I-765
b. Completed G-1145
c. Copies of all previous I-20s, including a copy your new OPT I-20 (issued no more than 25 days ago)
d. Copy of passport bio page (passport should not be expiring within the next six months)
e. Copy of F-1 visa stamp (except for citizens of Canada and Bermuda)
f. Payment of $410 (select one payment option and provide the below):
i. Check or money order for $410 made payable to the US Department of Homeland Security, with SEVIS ID number written in Memo section, OR
ii. Completed G-1450 for $410 credit card payment.
g. Copy of most recent I-94 record
h. Two US passport-style photos (must be taken with the last 30 days, cannot have been used for any other immigration applications, and should measure 2”x2”). Write on the back of each photo:
i. Full Name
ii. Date of Birth (MM/DD/YYYY)
iii. SEVIS ID Number
iv. I-94 Number
i. Copies of previous EAD cards (from previous OPT, including current Post-Completion OPT)
j. Official Transcript for the degree upon which your STEM extension application is based (must be original, copies are not acceptable).
Note: You do not need to include your I-983 training plan with your application. However, you must retain the copy of the training plan for your records.
What can I expect as the USCIS processes my application?
· Within a week or two of submitting your OPT application to the USCIS, you will receive an electronic receipt notice. A paper receipt notice from USCIS can be expected approximately two weeks later. Your receipt number can be used to track your application status via the USCIS site.
· Application processing time varies — usually between 1–3 months, but sometimes even longer.
· Occasionally, USCIS may send a follow-up “Request for Evidence” notice, asking for additional documentation. If you receive such a request, please consult your DSO about the proper response. Failure to respond to your request for evidence in a timely manner will seriously jeopardize your OPT application.
· If your application is approved, you will be mailed an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a photo identification card that serves as your proof of permission to engage in OPT employment.
What if my OPT Extension is denied?
Students who do not exceed 90 days of Unemployment during Initial post completion OPT are granted a 60-day grace period after the end date listed on the Employment Authorization Document. During this 60-day grace period, you have the following options:
· Depart the U.S. Once you leave the country you cannot enter with you current I-20.
· Reenroll in another school in a new degree program
· Apply to change of status in another visa category.
Immigration regulations require F-1 students on STEM OPT Extension to follow certain practices to avoid any hassles pertaining to their lawful status. Please be up to date with all the immigration requirements and submit any required information to your DSO within the specific timelines. Failure to comply with such regulations set by Department of Homeland Security may result in denial, revocation or termination of your work authorization and/or F1 status.