DHS has unveiled a web-based hub to address all questions concerning the new STEM OPT regulations: studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub
UPDATE: Students may now file for OPT online through USCIS. Students must still request the OPT I-20 through ISSP Connect. DO NOT APPLY FOR OPT ONLINE WITHOUT YOUR NEW I-20 ISSUED WITH STEM OPT EMPLOYMENT REQUESTED.
The OPT STEM Extension is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 36 months). One may benefit from this extension twice per lifetime so long as the 2nd extension is for a higher degree level. STEM OPT extension is available to F-1 students who are:
- Recipients of a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s, and/or Doctoral degree in a STEM designated degree program (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
- Currently authorized for OPT and have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
- Basing their STEM OPT extension on the same degree as the post-completion OPT, or a previous STEM degree if the employment is related to the previous degree.
- Employed or have an offer letter related to the student's STEM field of study from an employer who is participating in the USCIS E-Verify progam.
- Applying no earlier than 90 days prior to the end date of the current 12-month OPT expiration date or the end of an approved cap gap period, and submitted no later than 60 days after the STEM OPT I-20 is issued. No applications are accepted after the EAD expires.
- A student who timely files will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
- Able to complete the Mentoring and Training Plan (Form I-983) attested by student and employer. (Form I-983 Instructions) See the Resource page for more information and instructions: studyinthestates.dhs.gov/form-i-983-overview
- Must be a paid position of at least 20 hours per week whereby the "duties, hours, and compensation, must be commensurate with terms and conditions applicable to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment."
- Must have a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the Form I-983 signatory
How to Apply
Step One: Submit a complete STEM OPT Process, which will require the uploading of Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan, and Form I-765. Visit USCIS for more information and instructions. Please complete Forms I-765 and I-983 online, save it sign and upload. Do not submit your STEM Extension application to our office earlier than 90 days prior to the end of your current EAD. Submit only 1 request. You can return to an incomplete application by logging into ISSP Connect.
Step Two: The new STEM OPT I-20 will be placed in your connect.issp application under Documents. Follow the OPT USCIS Filing Instructions. USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days after the OPT I-20's issue date and prior to the expiration of the EAD. To apply for OPT you must first obtain a new I-20 from the ISO documenting your eligibility for STEM OPT. You will subsequently submit an online application for employment authorization to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS).
The STEM OPT application follows the basic guidelines for submission as your post-completion OPT application. The primary differences are that the I-765 is filed with significant changes and that you must also enclose a copy of your EAD and either a copy of your diploma or transcript to show your STEM degree.
To include with application:
- A color passport-sized photo taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance. Do not use old photos that you previously used for your passport or visa application as they will get rejected. Use the Department of State’s photo composition tool.
- I-765 (Completed online. Do not submit without your OPT STEM I-20 uploaded to USCIS!)
- An original OPT STEM I-20 that was issued by ISO within the past 60 days (page 1-3). Don’t forget to sign it!
- Copy of current EAD.
- Photocopy of paper Form I-94 (both sides) or electronic I-94 record.
- Photocopy of your diploma and official transcript showing the major and degree level that matches your eligible STEM degree.
- If basing application on prior degree, include an official transcript and copy of degree from the prior degree program.
Reporting Requirements while on OPT STEM
While on STEM OPT, students must validate their information every six months and update the ISO within 10 days of any changes to the following information. You must also submit the self-evaluation from Form I-983 at the 12 month point of STEM and at 24 months or when the job ends. Use the ISSP Connect Portal on our home page to comply.
- Residential Address
- Phone & Email Address
- Employer Information including full address
- Start Date of Employment and End Date(if known)
- Job Title
- Supervisor's Name, Email Address and Phone Number
- Any period of unemployment. You must inform your employer that they are also required to inform the ISO of a loss of employment.
- Date of departure from the U.S. (if students leave prior to the OPT STEM end date)
- Submitting a formal Mentoring and Training Plan (Form I-983) to the University before the STEM OPT application can be processed. The Mentoring and Training Plan (Form I-983) will be filled out by the student and signed by the student and employer. It may be subject to DHS review and will be a required part of the record maintained by the University.
- Submitting a formal employer-signed self-evaluations of the training progress to our office at the 12 and 24 month points in the STEM OPT Extension period through Form I-983, or after the end of any employment. The self-evaluations will be subject to DHS review and will be a required part of the immigration (SEVIS) record. You have 10 days to submit the Form I-983 evaluation at the 12 and 24 month milestones.
- If new employment is begun under the STEM OPT extension, you must submit a new Form I-983 and receive an new I-20 from ISO as a result within 10 days of the new employment.
- Confirm your current employment to ISO every 6 months.
- DHS has the followng tool for students to track their reporting obligations:STEM OPT Student Tool
Employer's Reporting Requirements
The E-Verify employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student within 48 hours to the ISO. An employer must consider an employee to have departed when the employer knows the the student has left employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of five consecutive business days without the employer's consent.
The employer must sign and attest to Form I-983, the Mentoring and Training Plan and the self-evaluations. The employer's attestations include:
- The STEM OPT employment terms and conditions (including pay, hours, duties and benefits) are similar to the terms offered to U.S. workers in similar positions;
- The employer will report the end date of employment directly to our office;
- The employer has sufficient resources and training personnel available to provide mentoring and training;
- The employer will not terminate, lay off, or furlough any full-or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. workers as result of the STEM OPT employment; and
- The opportunity benefits the student in attaining his / her training objectives.
Bona Fide Employer-Employee Relationship
DHS expresses its interpretation 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."
DHS goes on to list types of arrangements that DHS finds "do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship" and are therefore not "apt" in the context of STEM OPT extensions, including:
- "multiple employer arrangements"
- "sole proprietorships"
- "employment through “temp” agencies"
- "employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and"
- "other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship"
Unemployment Limits Under STEM OPT
Students approved for the 24-month OPT extension may not accrue more than 150 aggregate days of unemployment during the full 36-month period of OPT. Exceeding the unemployment provision is a violation of F-1 status and will result in loss of legal status. Please contact ISO well before you reach this limit to discuss your options. Remember that the only way that Immigration knows if you are employed is through your reporting of employment to the ISO. You are legally obligated to report employment, unemployment and changes of address within 10 days.