STEM OPT Extension
STEM OPT Extension (or STEM OPT) is an employment benefit that grants an extended period of work authorization in addition to a currently approved Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization period. As of May 10, 2016, the extension period is 24 months. Please see the DHS Study in the States STEM OPT Hub for full information. STEM OPT is granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (US CIS) and authorizes eligible F-1 students to work an additional amount of time anywhere in the U.S. as long as they meet the STEM Eligibility requirements which include:
- Currently on post-completion OPT and have completed a STEM OPT-eligible degree (as determined by DHS) in the U.S. If you look on page 2 of your I-20, you will see your name and primary major listed at the top of the page. The CIP code listed with your major must match the DHS STEM OPT list exactly in order to be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension.
- Employed directly by an employer(s) that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
- Working in a job directly related to your STEM OPT major field of study and at a level commensurate with your educational level at a minimum of 20 hours per week.
- Employer(s) and Student must agree to fulfill all of the 24-Month STEM OPT requirements and submit a completed Training Plan (I-983 Form) with all relevant information and signatures from Employer and Student.
- Must be paid employment, no volunteer/unpaid employment allowed on STEM since information about compensation is required for the I-983 form.
- Cannot be self-employed as sole owner due to I-983 requirements. DHS Language: “STEM OPT students may participate in entrepreneurial ventures where the student is an employee. However, they may not act as their own employer or as the signatory for the employer for the purposes of this form.”
Important Notice: Currently, USCIS charges a fee of $410 for the I-765 form, which you are using to apply for your STEM OPT. Please make sure that you pay the correct fee as an incorrect amount could result in a denial/rejection. This fee is subject to change at any time. There have been recent changes and it could change again quickly, so we recommend mailing your STEM OPT packet as soon as you get it back from us. USCIS published a final fee rule on August 3, 2020 that would become effective on October 2, 2020. The new rule included an updated I-765 form with the proposed edition date of 10/2/2020 on it, and an increased filing fee of $550. This would have gone into effect on October 2, however, a judge in California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction and stay on the implementation of this fee rule. That means that at this time, the current I-765 form dated Edition 8/25/2020 and fee of $410 is still valid. For more information, you can read the full details at: https://www.nafsa.org/regulatory-information/uscis-2020-final-rule-fees-forms-and-related-changes
Please make sure that none of your documents are signed, dated, or submitted earlier than 90 days prior to your OPT expiration date. International Services cannot accept early documents as they would be considered invalid since you can only apply for STEM within the last 90 days of your OPT period. Please contact our office so we can calculate the exact date for you to apply.
24-Month STEM OPT Extension Application Procedures
Step 1: Apply to International Services to establish eligibility and receive DSO Recommendation
Please submit the following documents to our office to start the application process:
- Copy of current OPT EAD card,
- Copy of most recent I-20 with OPT authorization,
- Original STEM OPT Acknowledgement of Responsibility Form,
- Original Training Plan-Form I-983, and
- Original Form I-765 (PDF copy only, do not submit online version to USCIS before International Services has done their part.)
Due to the special circumstances with the University closure for COVID-19 and staff working remotely, you have two options for submitting your documents to us:
- You may scan copies of all of the OPT application materials to the email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to process them that way.
- You may use US Postal Mail to mail your packet to International Services, LSU; Attn: Employment Coordinator, 101 Hatcher Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803. You cannot use FedEx or UPS to mail us anything since our building is closed and we are working remotely. The only mail we can receive goes through the US Postal Service to our Campus Mailing Center, and we would pick it up from there.
You still need all the appropriate signatures, and to follow the dates and deadlines on our webpage, etc.
Links to these forms and instructions can be found in the box labeled “Required Application Documents for 24-Month STEM OPT Request. It is recommended that you apply to our office within 60-90 days before your current OPT expires to allow for sufficient processing times for both our office and USCIS. If you are not in or near Baton Rouge or cannot turn the documents in person, you should mail them to the following address:
Attn: Employment Coordinator
101 Hatcher Hall, LSU
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Our office processes the application materials in the order that they are received. We will provide mailing instructions so that you can send your packet to a USCIS Service Center for their review and decision. Please remember that USCIS must receive the 24-Month STEM OPT Application packet no later than 60 days after the DSO Recommendation date AS WELL AS no later than the end date of your authorized OPT period, whichever comes first. If you have any questions about this process, please email email@example.com.
If you wish to request expedited mail for receiving your STEM OPT Extension documents, please see our website regarding the UEMS/EShip Global service.
Please note, you will be required to submit proof of your U.S. degree when you mail the packet to the government for their part of the processing. USCIS will accept: copies of official transcripts or a copy of your diploma that indicates level and program of study.
Step 2: Apply to USCIS Service Center for review and adjudication of STEM application
Please remember that the standard processing time for USCIS Service Centers is currently 60-90 days. Students who file a timely application for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension will be eligible to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The beginning date of the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension will be the day after the end date of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved. Students should not travel outside of the U.S. if their employment authorization document (EAD) has expired and their STEM OPT Extension request is pending.
Estimated Processing Times
- Student Submits complete STEM OPT packet to International Services (IS) no earlier than 90 days before their OPT ends and no later than 1 month before their OPT end date. You can submit by mail or in person.
- 5-10 business days: IS review of STEM OPT application and processing of recommendation for STEM OPT, longer processing may occur with higher volumes of applications or during certain times of the year.
- Students picks up (or we can mail it directly to you) the STEM OPT packet from IS and mails it to USCIS ( including all required documents and fees) within 20 days of IS recommendation and before OPT end date.
- 2-4 weeks: Student should receive the "Receipt Notice/I-797 Notice of Action" from USCIS.
- 90 calendar days or more: USCIS processing of STEM OPT packet.
- Student receives EAD card with approved STEM OPT start and end dates.
Maintaining Status during the STEM OPT Extension
Reporting Continued Employment:
Every six months during your STEM OPT Extension period, you are required to report your current employer and personal information, even if nothing has changed. For the 6-Month Reporting, you would need to email us with your name, LSU ID#, current Employer name and a statement confirming that none of your employer information has changed (such as address, job duties/position, etc.) You would also need to confirm your personal information has not changed as well or provide the new personal information.
Also, after twelve months on your STEM OPT Extension, you are required to prepare and submit the “Evaluation on Student Progress” which is the top section of the last page of the I-983 form. You will be writing what you have learned so far during your STEM OPT training time, and your current supervisor will need to sign the form as well. You must submit this form to our office around the 12-month point of your STEM OPT period, even if you are working for the same employer, since we must report the 12-month Evaluation in the SEVIS system. Please contact our office for instructions on how to submit the form, such as mailing the original form to our office address.
During the STEM OPT Extension period, you are allowed up to 60 additional unemployment days. If you still had some of your OPT unemployment time left, then this can be used during STEM OPT as well. For example, if you never used any unemployment days at all, you would still have the original 90 days plus 60 more, for a total of 150 unemployment days to be used during the 3 year time frame (12 months OPT + 24 months STEM OPT). Please check with our office if you want an exact count of how many days you have used so far and how many unemployment days would still be available.
When you change employers, there are additional steps for STEM OPT students to have their information updated in the SEVIS system since we must have the related I-983 or Final Evaluation as documentation for the change. This also may include changes in position, job site location, duties, or other “material changes” as described on the I-983 STEM OPT Hub information. Please contact our office if you have questions about the change and what type of documentation would be needed for our SEVIS reporting.
When you change positions or leave an Employer during the 24-Month STEM OPT period, you need to fill out the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” which is the lower section of the last page of the I-983 form. You will be writing what you have learned during your STEM OPT training time, and your current supervisor will need to sign the form as well. This Final Evaluation is required at two possible times: 1) when you leave a STEM job and also 2) when you complete the end of your 24-month period. Please mail the Final Evaluation to our office address as soon as possible since that will be part of the update for listing the end date of your employment/position.
For any new Employers or positions that you will be working for during the 24-Month STEM OPT period, your new Employer will need to fill out the I-983 Training Plan. This is required for any employer you have during this STEM OPT period and we must verify that it is complete and signed before we can update your new employment. Please mail the I-983 Training Plan to our office address as soon as possible since that will be part of the update for listing the start date of your employment/position.
Travel during the STEM OPT Extension:
After your STEM OPT has been approved and you have the new STEM OPT EAD card in hand, it may be possible for you to travel as an F-1 during your 24-month STEM OPT Extension period with the recommended documents listed on our OPT and STEM travel handout.
Your current STEM OPT I-20 should have a travel signature on page 2 that is valid for up to one year. We would recommend having all of the documents on the handout linked above, so that you have documentation to back up your reason for re-entering the U.S. You must still have a valid F-1 Visa to re-enter the country during your STEM OPT Extension period, so please include that additional time in your travel plans if you need to make an appointment at a Consulate to renew your F-1 visa. Please contact our office if you have a complicated travel situation or have further questions about traveling during your approved STEM OPT Extension period.
H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
The H-1B Cap-Gap Extension can be applied to F-1 students who are currently on OPT or their STEM OPT Extension and whose employer has applied for a Change of Status to the H-1B visa. Employers fall into two categories when they file for an H-1B, depending on the type of company or institution. Universities and non-profits may be considered “Cap-Exempt”, which means that they can file for an H-1B anytime during the year and choose a start date that is appropriate for them. Other public and private companies fall under the H-1B Cap, which means that there are a limited amount of H-1Bs that can be granted each year and a very specific application period. These Cap employers must apply on April 1st of each year and the H-1B would start on October 1st. The Cap-Gap Extension was created to help students working for a Cap Employer who are on valid OPT or STEM OPT at the time of the April 1st application, but their OPT will expire before October, which would otherwise leave a gap in their employment authorization. The Cap-Gap Extension would allow a student in this situation to possibly get an extension to their OPT time so that they can continue working up until the H-1B start date in October. No travel is allowed during the Cap-Gap Extension period, but the student can stay in the U.S. and work continuously until their H-1B begins. F-1 students whose H-1B is filed during their 60-day grace period would be eligible for an extension of stay in the U.S., but not an employment extension.
Important Notice about I-765 Online Filing
You always have to apply to your school first, for the DSO recommendation, then the USCIS application is the 2nd step. If you apply to USCIS too early, without our recommendation being done in SEVIS, it would be denied.
Please make sure that you follow our instructions on the website and apply to our office first. After we have processed our part, we will give you information for the 2nd step with USCIS. We cannot advise on the online filing process since it is too new and school officials do not have access to it. It is such a new process that our national organization has not yet been able to provide guidance. If you choose to file online for the USCIS part of your STEM OPT application process, you are doing so at your own choice/risk without guidance from us.
Our paper instructions for filing through the mail are also still valid, so if you do not feel comfortable being one of the first to file online, then you can just follow our normal instructions for mailing the STEM OPT packet to USCIS. Either way, there is no guarantee, but we wanted to let you know that you do have the choice now to file online or file by mail for the 2nd step in the process. Always remember that you have to start with International Services first and receive our processed documents BEFORE you file anything with USCIS.