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DSOs: Recommending Students for the STEM OPT Extension

DHS designed the STEM OPT extension to have minimal impact on DSOs at Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools. However, DHS realizes that DSOs and students alike will benefit from tools that will help determine if and when F-1 students are eligible to request a STEM OPT extension. Please use this page as a quick reference when helping your students determine their eligibility.

Status

The student is in Active F-1 status in an authorized period of regular post-completion OPT when the application is filed between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016.

Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.

Degrees

The student has recently completed a degree, or has a prior degree, at the bachelor’s level or higher, in a field that is currently included on DHS’s STEM Designated Program List. For more information about which programs of study qualify for the STEM OPT extension, visit our Eligible CIP Codes for the STEM OPT Extension resource page.

The student’s STEM degree must be from an SEVP-certified institution that is accredited at the time the student submits the STEM OPT extension application. The school’s accreditation must be from an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Please visit the department’s website for the full list of recognized accrediting agencies.

A student may be granted a STEM OPT extension only once per degree level, even if a student has multiple STEM degrees at the same educational level. Also, a student may be granted no more than two STEM OPT extensions over the course of their academic career upon completing two qualifying STEM degrees at different educational levels.

Each STEM OPT extension must also follow a period of regular post-completion OPT.

If a student is applying for a STEM OPT extension using a prior degree, there are additional eligibility requirements to consider. Please see the below section for more information.

Prior Degrees

Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school to fulfill this eligibility requirement.

To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the F-1 student must:

  • Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be a STEM Designated Degree Program) from an SEVP-certified school that is currently accredited.
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree* (at the bachelor’s level or higher) within 10 years preceding the date of application for the STEM OPT extension with USCIS.

*The qualifying STEM degree needs to be on DHS’s STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT extension, rather than at the time that the student received the degree.

Employers

The student’s prospective STEM OPT extension employer must be enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify employment eligibility verification program and must, along with the student, complete and sign a Form I-983.

The student must submit the completed and signed Form I-983 to their DSO. The Form I-983 must include information clearly describing how the training opportunity being offered by the employer has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree. Additionally, the Form I-983 must clearly indicate that the student will work a minimum of 20 hours per week during the extension period.

F-1 students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983, and students may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf.

However, employment with a start-up business may serve as a basis for obtaining a STEM OPT extension, so long as all regulatory requirements are met. The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Please note that a student’s initial post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as the student’s STEM OPT extension employer.

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