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STEM OPT Extension Overview

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field. On May 10, 2016, this extension effectively replaced the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension. If you are currently participating in a 17-month STEM OPT extension, please refer to the STEM OPT Transition Plan Overview for more information about the rules that apply to you.

Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (often for 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension. Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension Qualifications

To qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT must:

  • Have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.
  • Pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
  • Select a STEM OPT employer that provides the student with formal training and learning objectives.
  • Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.

For more information about STEM OPT extension eligibility requirements, please visit our eligibility pages for students and school officials. For more information about applying for STEM OPT, please visit the USCIS website.

Reporting Requirements

There are reporting requirements associated with STEM OPT extensions.

  1. Employers must report to the relevant DSO (indicated on the Form I-983) when an F-1 student on a STEM OPT extension terminates or otherwise leaves their employment before the end of the authorized period of OPT. The employer must report this change to the appropriate DSO no later than five business days after the student leaves employment. For more information about employer requirements, please visit our Employer Reporting Requirements page.
  2. STEM OPT students must report to their DSOs every six months. As part of such reporting, STEM OPT students must confirm the validity of their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System information, including:
    • Legal name.
    • Address.
    • Employer name and address.
    • Status of current employment/practical training experience.

    For more information, please visit our reporting requirements pages for students and school officials.

  3. STEM OPT students must do an annual self-evaluation and must report to their DSO about the progress of the training experience. Students must sign the self-evaluation prior to submitting it to the DSO, who will include it in the student's record.
  4. Both the student and employer are obligated to report to the student's DSO any material changes to, or material deviations from, the student's formal training plan.

For more information about reporting requirements associated with the student's training plan, please visit the Form I-983 Overview.

STEM Designated Degree Program List

DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List includes all STEM fields qualifying an F-1 student for a STEM OPT extension. DHS determined a “STEM field” is a field included in the U.S. Department of Education's Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) taxonomy within the two-digit series containing engineering (CIP code 14), biological sciences (CIP code 26), mathematics (CIP code 27) and physical sciences (CIP code 40), or a related field.

All fields of study in the core STEM areas of engineering, biological sciences, mathematics and physical sciences are included.

The “related field” language in the STEM definition means that DHS may consider a degree to be in a STEM field even if it is not within the CIP two-digit series for the four identified core areas. DHS is authorized to designate CIP codes meeting the definition at the two, four or six-digit level.

In general, related fields involve research, innovation or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science or natural sciences (including physical, biological and agricultural sciences).

For more information, please visit the Eligible CIP Codes for the STEM OPT Extension resource page.

Unemployment

DHS allows STEM OPT students an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM OPT extension period.

This is in addition to the 90-day maximum period of unemployment that students are allowed during the initial period of post-completion OPT. Students who obtain a 24-month STEM OPT extension are therefore allowed a maximum of 150 days of unemployment.

If a student completes one period of OPT (including a STEM OPT extension), and then pursues a second period of OPT on the basis of having earned a second degree at a higher educational level, the student will be able to benefit from the rule’s authorized 90-day and 150-day periods of unemployment (as appropriate) at both educational levels.

In other words, a student receives unemployment eligibility each time they participate in a period of post-completion practical training (including STEM OPT).

Cap-Gap Extension

Students with a timely filed H-1B petition and a request for a change of status may apply to receive a "Cap-Gap" extension of their F-1 status and, if applicable, their post-completion OPT employment authorization.

The Cap-Cap extension allows such students to automatically extend the duration of their F‑1 status and any current employment authorization until the first day of the new fiscal year (i.e., Oct. 1 of the fiscal year for which H-1B status is being requested).

Entrepreneurship and Employer-Employee Relationships

F-1 students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 because F-1 students may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf. However, STEM OPT applicants can participate in a start-up or small business so long as all regulatory requirements are met. The employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

These requirements mandate that the company remains in good standing with E-Verify and has the resources to comply with the proposed training plan.

Explore the STEM OPT Hub to find more information and additional STEM OPT resources for students, school officials and employers.

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