DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students once per degree level (i.e., bachelor's, master's or doctorate). A student may participate twice in the STEM OPT extension over the course of their academic career.
To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree, at a higher education level, and be participating in an initial period of OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension.
To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student must currently be working in a period of post-completion OPT and must hold a bachelor's degree or higher degree in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited (from an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education) at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.
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:
For more information about which programs of study qualify for the STEM OPT extension, visit our eligible classification of instructional programs codes resource page.
In order to receive the STEM OPT extension, a student must pursue their practical training through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS' E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
Additionally, STEM OPT extension applicants must select employers that can guarantee the student will complete a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and provide the student with formal training and learning objectives.
The student must work with their potential STEM OPT extension employer to complete the Form I-983, which must include how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree. Visit our Students and the Form I-983 page to learn how to properly complete and submit the Form I-983.
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 the employer attestation (i.e., signatures) on their own behalf. However, they may use a start-up business 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 post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as the student’s STEM OPT extension employer.
Like the 17-month STEM OPT extension, 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.
Accordingly, if a student anticipates that they will enter the 60-day grace period before May 10, 2016, the student should not wait to apply. Such a student should apply for the 17-month STEM OPT extension before their initial OPT period expires and follow the respective transition plan that applies to them.