STEM OPT

An F-1 student who was awarded a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) major may be eligible to extend their OPT for an additional 2 years.

What is the 24-month OPT STEM extension?

STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT, however, the regulations are different for applying and reporting your STEM OPT information. 

There are two types of STEM Extensions available:

  1.  Applying for STEM based on your most recent EMU degree: This will apply to most students, this is the degree you completed last at EMU. 
  2. Applying for STEM based on a prior degree: You can use a STEM degree prior to your most recent EMU degree. For example: Bachelor's Degree in a STEM Field but you have an EMU Master's Degree in a Non-STEM field, you could apply for a STEM Extension using the Bachelor's Degree even if your current OPT is based on your EMU Master’s Degree. See the STEM Based on a Prior Degree section for additional information.

Eligibility

  • Must have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of post-completion OPT. 
  • Must have completed your degree program in a STEM field. To check if your program is STEM-eligible, please see the STEM Designated Degree Program list
  • Must work for an employer who is enrolled in the E-Verify Database.
  • Must be a paid position working at least 20 hours a week.
  • Must have not been granted STEM OPT more than twice before.

Requirements to Request STEM OPT I-20 from OISS

Step 1: Download the Form I-983 and work with your employer to fill out and sign pages 1-4. We strongly recommend that you review the Study in the States Form I-983 Instructions before filling it out.

Step 2: Download your Most Recent I-94. Students must be in active F-1 status to apply for STEM OPT.

Step 3:  Fill out and submit the OPT STEM Extension Application Form.

In some cases, OISS may request additional documents after your submission. 

An OISS advisor will review your request, and process a new STEM OPT I-20 if you have met the requirements and are eligible for the extension. 

Important Note: Receiving the STEM OPT Extension I-20 from OISS does not approve you for the STEM extension, just as you did for OPT you must apply to USCIS for approval.

Filing your OPT Application with USCIS

Students are strongly encouraged to review the I-765 Instructions provided by USCIS. OISS is not responsible for your application to USCIS, and we can only provide minimal guidance on filing. 

USCIS prefers students to file their OPT application online instead of the paper-based version. Do not file both ways as this could result in a denial.

Tips and Assistance on Filing the I-765 

  • You can apply for your STEM OPT Extension no earlier than 90 days from your OPT approved End Date (see your EAD Card for the exact date).
  • USCIS must receive your application before the final day of your approved OPT end date. Applications submitted after this date will be denied by USCIS.
  • USCIS must also receive your application within 60 days of the date your STEM OPT I-20 is issued. 
  • Use code (c)(3)(C) on Form I-765 for STEM OPT.
  • You must be inside the U.S. when filing your application.
  • You will need a copy of the confirmation of your STEM Degree

Once you have successfully applied to USCIS you will receive a receipt notice in your online USCIS account if you applied online (strongly encouraged). If you applied with the paper application a receipt notice will be mailed to you. 

You can continue to work for up to 180 days after your Post Completion OPT End Date while your application is pending.  

If your application is approved, you will receive a new STEM OPT EAD card with the dates of your STEM work authorization. 

If you are denied or receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) you can email [email protected]. Our office cannot guarantee that we will be able to assist depending on the reasons given by USCIS.

USCIS Processing Times

For an estimate of USCIS application processing times, please see the USCIS website

For an additional fee, you can request USCIS to expedite your application and make a decision on your application within 30 calendar days.  For additional information see the USCIS website on Requesting Premium Processing Services.

Changing Jobs while your STEM Extension is Pending

It is not advised to change your employer while your STEM application is pending as there could be potential risks for getting your application approved.  However, if you strongly wish to change jobs you will need to work with your new employer to fill and sign a new I-983 training plan. You should email our office if you are considering changing jobs while your STEM application is pending. 

Applying for STEM Based on a Prior Degree

In some cases, USCIS will allow you to apply for a STEM Extension based on a prior STEM degree. For example, if you did your bachelor's degree in a STEM field at EMU or another SEVIS-approved institution but your master's degree is in a non-STEM field, you can apply for STEM based on your bachelor's degree before your current master’s level OPT expires. Your prior STEM degree cannot be older than 10 years before you apply for the extension. 

As a reminder, your job must be directly related to your prior STEM degree.

Applying for STEM with a Pending Thesis

For students who completed their master's or doctoral degree course requirements, but still have a pending thesis to complete before graduating, you may still be eligible to apply for a STEM Extension. OISS strongly recommends that you complete your thesis before applying for STEM as you will need to show that you have attained a degree in a STEM field. Since your degree is pending based on the completion of your thesis, this creates a potential issue when applying for STEM. 

OISS will require your academic advisor to write a strong letter explaining that you have completed the course requirements for graduation, but you are still completing your thesis. The letter should be addressed to USCIS, and contain the date you completed your course requirements and the date of expected thesis completion. 

It’s possible that you will be issued a Request for Evidence from a USCIS adjudicator if you have not completed your thesis.     

Reporting Requirements on STEM OPT 

STEM OPT has numerous reporting requirements that are different from Post-Completion OPT. Please carefully review the following information, failure to correctly report your information while on STEM could lead to issues with your immigration status.

STEM Change Employer: Submit this form when you are changing jobs while on STEM OPT. You will need to submit a new I-983 along with a final evaluation signed by you and your former employer.

STEM Material Change: Submit this form when you have details at your current job that are changing. For example: Employer address change, supervisor change, company name change, etc. This will require a new I-983 to be filled out and signed by you and your employer. 

STEM Validation Form: Submit this form to validate your STEM employment details during the 6, 12, and 18-month periods after your STEM start date. If your information does not match what is in SEVIS, we cannot validate your status and you will need to submit a STEM Employer/Material Change. 

STEM Evaluation Form: Use this form to submit your 12-month and final 24-month evaluations on STEM. You will write a self-evaluation on page 5 of the I-983 and have you and your supervisor sign and date. 

EAD Card Submission Form: Submit your STEM EAD Card after you have received it. 

 

STEM OPT Cap-Gap Information

OISS cannot advise on H-1B issues and applications, any student who is on OPT and are applying for H-1B should consult with their employers immigration office. 

  • What is a Cap-Gap Extension and who is eligible?  Expand dropdown
    A Cap-Gap Extension is a regulatory provision which extends an eligible F-1 student's status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the "gap." There are two types of Extensions:
    1. Extension of status and employment authorization - You may be eligible for an Extension of your F-1 status and authorized period of post-completion OPT (including the 24-month Extension) in the following circumstances:
      • Your employer files an H-1B petition in a timely manner with USCIS with an employment start date of October 1.
      • You are maintaining your F-1 status on the date your potential employer files your H-1B petition.
      • You are in an authorized period of post-completion OPT (including the 24-month Extension) on the date your potential employer files your H-1B petition.
      • USCIS receives the H-1B petition in a timely manner.
    2. Extension of status only - You may be eligible for an Extension of your F-1 status through September 30 if you meet the following requirements:
      • Your potential employer files an H-1B petition in a timely manner with USCIS with an employment start date of October 1.
      • You are maintaining your F-1 status on the date your potential employer files your H-1B petition.
      • USCIS receives the H-1B petition in a timely manner.

    While you are generally eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension if you meet the above qualifications, your individual case may be different. You should always talk with an OS advisor about whether you qualify for a Cap-Gap Extension of your F-1 status and, if applicable, your work authorization.

    Those filing for H1-B via consular processing - do not qualify for the Cap-Gap Extension. You must confirm with your employer if the H1-B will be filed as a change-of status or via consular processing.

  • How to apply for a Cap-Gap I-20?  Expand dropdown
    Submit the Cap-Gap I-20 Request Form from the OISS website.
  • What if the H1-B is denied after applying for the Cap-Gap Extension?  Expand dropdown
    If the student's H-1B is not selected and the duration of their OPT is over, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the date of the rejection notice to depart the US, transfer the I-20 to a new program, or apply for a change of status. However, if a denial is based on a discovered status violation, no such grace period exists and the student must leave the U.S. immediately.
  • Can I travel during the Cap-Gap Extension period and still return with my STEM OPT I-20 and EAD?  Expand dropdown

    A valid EAD card is required to re-enter during the Cap-Gap Extension period along with a valid passport, F-1 visa, signed I-20 and employer letter. Students with EAD cards that have expired are not eligible to re-enter the U.S. during the Cap-Gap Extension period.

    Please note, traveling outside the U.S. may interfere with the processing of your H-1B petition. EMU OISS strongly advises students to consult with their employers regarding all travel plans before departing the U.S.

    If your EAD is expired, you will not be granted entry to the US based on the Cap-Gap Extension. If you must travel during the Extension period, be prepared to apply for the H-1B visa outside the US and adjust your return travel plans accordingly. Note: Under H-1B regulations, you may only enter the US up to ten days prior to October 1.

  • What if my STEM OPT expires before April 1st? Will the preliminary or automatic Cap-Gap Extension extend my STEM OPT?  Expand dropdown

    Although your F-1 status would be extended if you are in your 60-day grace period when the petition is filed, your OPT employment authorization period has expired, and the Cap-Gap does not serve to reinstate or retroactively grant employment authorization. Your legal status to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status is extended, but you are required to stop working until your H-1B goes into effect on October 1.

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