What is the STEM OPT Extension?

The STEM OPT Extension is a 24-month extension of work authorization available to international students who are currently engaged in Optional Practical Training (OPT) and who have earned a qualifying degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. Students require a STEM OPT I-20 from ISSS as part of their application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

How to apply for STEM OPT

Follow the steps below:

  1. Begin by completing an I-983 with your employer and emailing it to isss@udayton.edu. Submit electronic Request for OPT STEM I-20. The I-983 requires information from both the student and the employer. For assistance in completing this form, please view our Guide to Completing the I-983.
  2. ISSS will prepare a new I-20 for you. In most cases your I-20 will be ready in one week. We will notify you via email once it is ready.
  3. After receiving your new I-20, you must submit an application packet to USCIS. Refer to page 3 of the Optional Practical Training: STEM Extensions packet for a checklist. Mail the documentation on the Checklist to USCIS. Keep in the mind following:
    • The earliest date to apply is 90 days before OPT end date (ISSS will not process your request before this date).
    • USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the OPT I-20 is issued.
    • USCIS must receive your application before the expiration date of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
SENDING YOUR APPLICATION

We recommend using a trackable mail service such as FedEx or United Parcel Service (UPS). The address you use on the I-765 determines where you should send your application (see USCIS I-765 mailing instructions).

APPLICATION TIMELINE

Start planning for your STEM OPT application before your current EAD card expires. After that expiration date, you are no longer eligible to apply for STEM extension. See step 3 above for specific timelines required by USCIS. 

These deadlines refer to when the USCIS will receive their application, so students should allow time for working with ISSS on the application and mailing it in.

STEM OPT Basics

Is my degree eligible for a STEM extension?
A student must have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs* list within the last 10 years. To check if your major is eligible, look at the “Primary Major” on your I-20, then search for that code in the CIP code column on this list.

Do I need a job offer to apply for STEM OPT?
Yes, you must already have an employer to fill out an I-983.

How do I choose my start date? What should my end date be?
The start date of the 24-month OPT extension will be the day after the end date on your OPT EAD card and the end date will be 24 months later. For example, if my USCIS authorized OPT end date is 06/02/2018, then my STEM start date is 06/03/2018 and the end date will be 06/02/2020. These dates are not flexible.

Where can STEM OPT students work?
Anywhere in the US for an E-Verify employer in a paid position directly related to his or her major.  A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week.

Continue reading our Frequently Asked Questions section below if you are interested in working as a contractor, for multiple employers, or starting your own business.

What happens after I submit my application?
Approximately 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the address listed on your I-765. The receipt includes a tracking number to check the progress of your STEM OPT application online. Your card should arrive to the address listed on your I-765 approximately 3-5 months after USCIS receives your application. If your OPT extension is approved, you must send a photocopy of your new EAD card to the ISSS at isss@udayton.edu.

What if my STEM extension is still pending after my OPT end date?
If you have timely filed the application for the STEM extension, you may continue working even if your EAD card has expired and until your OPT extension is processed or until 180 days has passed, whichever is sooner.

What do I have to do to maintain status on OPT?
Students approved for the extension must comply with reporting requirements in order to maintain their status. Take special care to follow these guidelines:

  1. Report any change of address within 10 days of moving to your new residence.
  2. Report any change to the name or address of your employer within 10 days of the change.
  3. Report any interruption in employment. You are allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment time, which includes any unemployment during 12 month OPT.
  4. Report your status every six months starting from the date your 24-month OPT extension is approved. The report is due within 10 days of the required reporting date. The validation report must contain the following information:
    • Legal name
    • Residential/mailing address
    • Employer name
    • Employer address
    • Confirmation that you are currently employed by the employer named

All of these changes must be reported through our OPT reporting form.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I explain STEM OPT to potential employers while job hunting?
Download our comprehensive Guide to Hiring International Students, developed in partnership with Career Services. You can share this directly with prospective employers, or refer employers to contact our office with any questions they have about STEM OPT. You should also share the Study in the States: STEM OPT Hub, a USCIS website designed to help students and employers navigate STEM OPT.

Can I work for more than one employer?
Yes, students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.

Can I work for a contractor (1099 employment)?
Yes, students may take a position where they perform a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

Can I work for myself?
Technically, yes. Students on a STEM extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program. However, under the new STEM regulations, students may not fill out their own Form I-983, Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. This might result in the student NOT being eligible for a STEM extension if self-employed.

Can I apply for STEM OPT a second time?
A student can apply for STEM OPT once per degree level (i.e., bachelor's, master's or doctorate) for a maximum of two STEM OPT periods.

To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree at a higher education level and must be participating in active post-completion OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension. In some cases, students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree to qualify for their second STEM OPT extension.

What if I change employers while my STEM extension is still pending?
You must complete a new I-983 with your new employer and submit it to our office. You must also report this change through our STEM OPT Request form by selecting this option: My STEM extension is pending. I have changed employers and am providing updated employment details. Once you have completed this process, our office will report the change to the USCIS.

What about H-1B?
Please see our H-1B Transition page for more information.