OPT STEM Extension

Overview

If you are an F-1 student who completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a USCIS-approved STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT, you may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM extension of your OPT. Your job must related to your STEM studies, and your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.

Eligibility Requirements & Important Information

Requirements for students:

 

  • You must have completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a STEM-eligible field that is currently on the STEM-Designated Degree Program List.
  • You must be in lawful F-1 status and on post-completion OPT at the time you apply.
  • You cannot have used the same degree for a previous OPT STEM extension
  • You must have employment and/or a job offer from an E-Verify employer.
  • Your job must be more than 20 hours/week and directly related to your STEM degree.
  • Your STEM employment must be paid and the compensation must be commensurate with the pay of a U.S. citizen with the same credentials in a similar position.
  • Your employer must agree to the employer responsibilities of filling out the I-983, reporting requirements, and other employer responsibilities.

 Is your degree STEM eligible? To find out, first find the CIP (major) code listed on your I-20:

  • Although you can have multiple jobs while on STEM OPT, each must meet all criteria explained on this page and have a separate, complete I-983 training plan.
  • You may not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment time during the entire period of OPT (including the initial 12-month post-completion OPT and the 24-month OPT STEM extension). See Employment allowed for STEM OPT for more information.
  • You must make regular, detailed reports of your STEM OPT progress and any changes on a regular basis. See reporting requirements for more information.
  • DHS is authorized to come to your place of employment for a site visit to ensure that the I-983 is accurate and adhered to. In most cases, DHS will provide notice of a site visit to the employer at least 48 hours in advance.
Requirements for Employers:

In addition to your reporting responsibilities, employers who hire STEM OPT students must also fulfill certain responsibilities, including:

  • E-Verify: Be enrolled in the E-Verify program.
  • Compensation: Provide payment that is commensurate with the pay of a U.S. citizen with the same credentials in a similar position.
  • I-983 Training Plan: Review and sign-off on the student’s I-983 training plan, including confirming that the employment will not displace a U.S. worker
  • Changes to I-983 Training Plan: Review and sign-off on a new I-983 training plan if there are any material changes to the student’s job (e.g. supervisor name, compensation).
  • Student Self-Evaluations: Review and sign-off on the two student self-evaluations, as needed.
  • Loss or Termination of Employment: Notify OIA when the student’s employment is terminated for any reason before the end of the authorized OPT extension period. This report must occur within five business days of the end of employment and can be sent via email to international-affairs@uchicago.edu.
     
  • DHS Site Visits: STEM OPT regulations authorize the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to visit employers who have hired STEM OPT students to confirm that the student is adhering to the training plan on record.  Keep your updated I-983 on record in case of site visits.

To help explain the process in a straightforward way, you can provide the STEM OPT Employer Letter to your manager when you begin the STEM application process.

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Important deadlines for the OPT STEM Extension:

  • You must submit a completed application and receive a receipt for the STEM Extension to USCIS prior to the expiration of your current OPT authorization; however, you may apply no sooner than 90 days before the expiration date of your current OPT authorization. You must apply for STEM before your current OPT end date.  Unlike post-completion OPT, you cannot apply for the STEM OPT extension during the 60-day grace period after your post-completion OPT ends.
    • Make sure to apply early! Your STEM OPT application must be receipted by USCIS no later than your OPT end date, not just received by mail.  It usually takes an additional 7-14 days for USCIS to provide a receipt after they receive your document by mail.

Sample STEM Timeline_1.PNG

  • With a timely filed application, you can continue working for 180 days past your OPT end date while the STEM application is pending.  If your STEM application is rejected, you will not be able to work beyond your regular OPT end date listed on your EAD.
  • You can expect STEM OPT to take 3-4 months for approval.  During this time, you may receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) asking for additional information.
  • You should provide OIA with the completed application for initial processing at least two weeks prior to the day you plan to mail your materials to USCIS. We are unable to accommodate expedited processing requests.
  • The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the International Student Adviser's signature on your Form I-20.

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Employment Allowed on the STEM Extension

Many different types of employment are allowed while on the OPT STEM extension.  However, each must fit into the criteria listed below.  Additionally, you are required to submit a Form I-983 prior to making any changes at your current job or changing jobs.  You must report changes to your job to OIA through an OPT Update form within 10 days of any change.  OPT STEM employment regulations include:

  • You must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to your STEM degree.
  • You must be compensated the same as a U.S. citizen in the same position with similar credentials
  • You must submit a completed I-983 to OIA for each STEM employer you have before employment begins
  • You must submit a new I-983 for the same employer if there are any material changes to your job
  • You must submit regular progress reports through the last pages of the I-983 on a regular basis
  • Unpaid or volunteer work cannot be used for the STEM extension
  • You cannot sign your own I-983 or be your own 'employer'
  • You are allowed a total of 150 days of unemployment during the entire OPT period, including regular post-completion OPT and STEM.

In addition to traditional full-time jobs, other work relationships that may be allowed while on STEM include:

  • Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but you must submit an I-983 training plan for each job before it begins and report any changes through the OPT Update Form.  All employment must be directly related to your STEM degree program, all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify, and you must work at least 20 hours per week for each employer.
  • Start-ups & Entrepreneurship: You must be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Form I-983. You may not provide employer attestations (i.e., signatures) on your own behalf or sign your own I-983. 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 I-983 Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience. The employer must also be enrolled in E-Verify and be able to comply with the training plan proposed in the I-983.

Work relationships that may not be allowed:

  • Work through Staffing/Temporary Agencies and Independent Contractors: The regulations require  a “bona fide employer-employee relationship” for STEM eligibility, and states that the employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that provides the practical training experience to the student. Per the guidance from USCIS, the following arrangements may not be able to demonstrate a bonafide employer-employee relationship and are therefore unlikely to qualify:
    • Sole proprietorships

    • Employment through “temp” agencies

    • Employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire

    • Other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship

  • For more detailed guidance,  please see the USCIS website's STEM page and consult with your employer for more information.
  • Note that regarding working at sites other than the main site of the employer, USCIS states that "STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. "

Please note that while OIA can provide guidance on these matters, determinations on whether or not your job will qualify as STEM employment are ultimately up to USCIS' discretion. 

We recommend consulting our guidance as well as working with your employer to determine if you can satisfy all regulatory requirements before submitting your STEM OPT application.

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Application Process

The STEM Extension application is similar to post-completion OPT.  It is a two-step process that involves receiving a recommendation from OIA and then sending an application to USCIS.

Step 1. Submit documentation to OIA

Please submit the following documents to OIA via the submission form (linked below) at least two weeks before you plan to mail your application:

A. Form I-765: Complete the form and submit a scan using the online form in part B. below. You will receive this form back (with any recommended corrections) along with your new I-20.  Please note that you should send the original to USCIS along with your other documents. It takes two weeks for OIA to process this request, so plan accordingly. Due to high demand and the detailed nature of STEM applications, we cannot accommodate expedite requests. Please plan ahead to avoid delays!

Note: It is okay to handwrite any portions of the I-765 form that cannot be successfully added electronically – either because it does not fit in the box provided, or due to technical issues with the pdf.

After reading the directions on Form I-765, please complete Parts 1, 2 and 3. Part 4 (Interpreter Information) can be skipped, and Part 5 (Preparer Information) can be skipped unless someone else (such as an attorney) is preparing the form for you.

  • Special Instructions:

  • Part 1 (Reason for Applying): Mark the first box, “I am applying for: Initial permission to accept employment”
  • Part 2: Item 1a-c: Print your entire name as it appears in your passport and on Form I-20.  Family name in CAPITAL letters, first name lowercase. Ex: BONAPARTE Napoleon. Your name field should match your I-20 exactly.
  • Part 2, 5a-e: This is where your EAD will be sent.  You must select an address that will be valid for the next 4-5 months. If your address will change, you cna ask a friend, relative or employer if you can their address and add 'c/o' (see below).  EADs will not be sent abroad.
    • When using a friend, relative or employer's address,  you must write their full name in the "In Care of Name (if any)" field.
    • If the address you write is outside of Illinois, you may be required to mail your application to another USCIS Service Center.  Check the USCIS website for the correct mailing address.
    • The U.S. Postal Service will NOT forward government mail to a new address.
    • If you live in an apartment, put your apartment number under the 'APT' headline.
    • Include the last four digits of the zip code (Ex. 60637-2916) Check the U.S. postal service website for the complete zip code. You will likely need to hand write this.
    • Make sure your 'SEVIS U.S' address is correct in the my.uchicago. system.
  • Part 2, Item 8 (Alien Registration Number): Most F-1 students will not receive this number until after OPT is approved so you can leave this section blank.
  • Part 2, Items  13-17: Optional. You have the option to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) and card (or a replacement card), at the same time that you apply for OPT. If you decide to pursue this option, you should receive your social security card from the Social Security Administration (SSA) approximately 2 weeks after receiving your EAD card from USCIS.
    • Why this may be helpful: If you do not already have a SSN and will need one (or already have a SSN but need a replacement card), this will allow you to apply for it at the same time that you apply for OPT, so you will not have to go to a SSA office in person to apply for the SSN.
    • If you already have your SSN, you can leave these items blank.
    • This option was added to the I-765 in early October, 2017.  If you applied prior to Oct 2017, this option did not exist.
  • Part 2, 21a:
    • Visit the US CBP website to retrieve your I-94 number.
    • If you entered the U.S. on or before April 29, 2013 and have not left since then, the I-94 number can be found on your paper I-94 Departure Record card.
  • Part 2, 21c (Travel Document Number, if any): Most F-1 students will not have a separate  travel document other than their passport, so this can be left blank
  • Part 2, 22:  Enter the date of your most recent entry into the U.S. (see admission stamp in your passport).
  • Part 2, 23: Enter the port of entry you last came through (on the entry stamp in your passport). E.g. - 'Chicago - ORD', 'Atlanta - ATL'
  • Part 2, 24: Enter “F-1 student.”  If you have changed status since your last entry, include a copy of your Form I-797 Approval Notice as proof that you are now in F-1 status.
  • Part 2, 25: Enter “F-1 Student.”
  • Part 2, 27: Enter code: enter (C)(3)(C). Above the parentheses write, “F-1 Post-Completion STEM Extension".
  • Part 2, Item 28: "Degree," list the degree level, major name and numerical CIP Code for your degree (this information can be found on your I-20). List the employer's name as listed in E-Verify, and the E-Verify identification number (5 or 6 digits). DO NOT list the tax ID number.
  • Part 2, Items 29-31: You can skip these question and leave them blank, as they are not required for F-1 OPT STEM extension applicants.
  • Part 3: Choose 1a, complete 3-5, and sign and date in 7a-7b. Note that your signature must stay in between the parallel signature lines, as the image of your signature will be captured for your EAD.
    • If you are submitting the online OIA application, it is fine if you leave the signature blank until you get the draft copy back.  That way, you will not need to print, scan, and upload the document.  It must be signed before you submit your actual application to USCIS.
    • It may say 'Don't forget to sign!'  in red ink.  If you can't get the document to print without the warning message, it is fine. USCIS has started that including the warning will not impact your application.
  • Skip Part 4 (for those who need language interpreters to complete the application).
  • Skip Part 5 (for Preparers), unless you have someone else such as an attorney preparing the application on your behalf.
  • Part 6 (Additional Information):
    • List all previous SEVIS ID numbers you have had (before your current one). List Page 2, Part 2, Item 26 where requested here.
    • List all previous OPT and CPT periods at your currnet degree level. List Page 2, Part 2, Item 12 where requested here.

As a courtesy, OIA will review the draft I-765 for accuracy and make suggested changes.  But note that t it is utimately your responsibility to make sure your I-765 is accurate and up-to-date before submitting your application.

B. I-983 Training Plan - As STEM OPT is part of your educational training, the formal training plan must clearly articulate your learning objectives and affirm the employer’s commitment to helping your achieve those objectives. To fulfill this requirement, you and your employer must complete and sign the Form I-983 and submit it to OIA.

Resources for Completing the I-983:

Who should fill out this form? You and your employer must complete the form.  The form must be signed by someone at your employer who is familiar with your goals and performance and who has the signatory authority for the employer. In most cases this would be your direct supervisor.

DO NOT LEAVE ANY BLANKS. All fields must be filled out. If you leave questions empty, OIA cannot accept your training plan or recommend you for STEM OPT. The guide below will help you with information needed.

  • Section 1: To be completed by you, the student.
    • Name: write your family name in CAPS, given name in regular case (e.g. SMITH, John)
    • Name of School Where STEM Degree Was Earned: List the school where you received the STEM degree that you are using to apply for STEM OPT
    • SEVIS School code for UChicago: CHI214F01068000. If the application is based on a degree from a previous school, contact the school's international office for the SEVIS code.
    • For Designated School Official (DSO) Information, write the following:
    • See OIA’s annotated I-983 (linked above) for additional guidance on filling out page 1 of the form
    • Qualifying major & CIP code: write down the major and CIP code found on your I-20 (additional information located above in 'Eligibility' section)
    • Employment Authorization Number: number found on your current EAD card
  • Section 2: To be completed by you
    • Sign and print your name and write today’s date
  • Section 3: To be completed by your employer.
  • Section 4: To be completed by your employer
  • Section 5: To be completed by you and your employer
  • Section 6: To be completed and signed by your employer
  • Evaluation of Student Progress: This section must be completed at the halfway and end point of your employment and does not need to be completed or submitted with your initial STEM OPT application. You are responsible for remembering to fill out and submit these progress reports. You will not receive reporting reminders from OIA or any other entities.

C. For STEM based on a degree from a previous school/degree before UChicago, you must submit the following:

  1. I-20 showing approved post-completion OPT from previous school, AND
  2. Verification of Degree Form filled out by a DSO at your previous school's international office

D. Copy of your current EAD for post-completion OPT

E. OPT STEM Extension Request Form (Online).  Submit all of the completed documents above through the online form for review. 

It will take two weeks for OIA to review your STEM OPT application and create your I-20. In some cases, additional documentation or clarification will be required. An adviser will email you when your new I-20 that shows the STEM is ready. Your Form I-765 will also be returned at this time.

Due to high demand and the detailed nature of STEM applications, we cannot accommodate expedite requests. Please plan ahead to avoid delays.

Step 2. Assemble Your STEM Extension Application

Once you receive your new I-20, make sure to sign it and make a photocopy, which will be included in your application packet.  You will also receive your I-765, with any issues marked in red.  If needed, fill out a new I-765 with the suggested corrections.

Your application to USCIS must include the following documents:

  • Form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization," with fee and photographs stapled to it (see next two items below).  
  • Payment for the filing fee (see the USCIS website for the current fee) payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You may use a personal check or a money order.
  • Two photos that meet the Department of State specifications. These  passport photos must be new and in color.
    •  On campus, satisfactory photos are available for a charge at the ID & Privileges Office located in Regenstein Library, at CVS, or at Walgreen's. 
    • On the back of each photo, print your name lightly with a pencil. Put the photos into a small plastic bag or envelope and staple or clip it to the top of Form I-765. Make sure photos are recent and have not been used for previous applications.
  • A copy of your I-20 (the one with the STEM OPT recommendation on it) endorsed within the past 60 days by your international student adviser. Make sure that you have signed the bottom of page 1.
  • A copy of your current EAD card (front & back).
  • I-94 documentation:
    • Visit the CBP I-94 website to retrieve and print out a copy of your electronic Form I-94
    • If you last entered the U.S. on or before April 29, 2013:  Photocopy of your I-94 Departure Record card, front and back.
  • Photocopies of the identity pages of your passport. This includes the page containing your photograph and biographic information. 
  • Proof of the completion of your STEM studies (degree, certificate and/or transcript – copies are fine).
  • Optional document: Form G-1145, "E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance," if you want to be notified by email and/or text message when your application is received.

Note: You do NOT include your I-983 training plan with your application to USCIS. However, you must retain the plan (and any subsequent edits) for your records.  We recommend that you and your employer keep a copy of the most up-to-date I-983 at work, in case of a DHS site visit.

Step 3. Mail Your Application

Make sure to mail your completed application packet to USCIS within 60 days of the Form I-20 issue date. If this is not possible, please contact our office for guidance.

Applications with an Illinois address on the I-765 go to a USCIS Lockbox facility in Phoenix, Arizona.  The address to use is:

USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

Use the U.S. Postal Service's certified mail with tracking, return receipt requested. 

If you are not using an Illinois address, you can find the correct Lockbox address on the USCIS website.

Before you mail your application, make scans or photocopies of your entire application plus supporting documents, and keep them with your mailing receipt.

Step 4. Track Your Application

If you filed Form G-1145 (see above), you should receive an initial email or text from the USCIS Lockbox in Arizona confirming that your application was received, and providing you with a receipt number.

Approximately 4-6 weeks after mailing your application, USCIS will send you an official notice of receipt (Form I-797) by mail to the address listed on the I-765.  That notice will also give you your receipt number.  You can check for updates on the USCIS Case Status website.

Request for Evidence (RFE)

It is fairly common for USCIS to send a Request for Evidence (RFE) for STEM extension requests.  Generally, these requests ask for additional information about employment positions held, hours worked, how jobs were related to your field of study, and payment information. However, an RFE may ask for additional documentation that is not specified here. 

Although it is common to receive an RFE for STEM extension applications, applications are generally approved after you submit the requested documentation.  Contact OIA for guidance if you receive an RFE. 

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Reporting Requirements

While on STEM OPT, federal immigration laws require you to comply with several STEM OPT reporting requirements, many of which have recently been added with the May 10, 2016 ruling. Complying with STEM OPT reporting requirements is essential to maintaining your lawful F-1 immigration status. Failure to comply with the federal reporting requirements and timelines will jeopardize your F-1 status. OIA will NOT send you e-mail reminders regarding these requirements, so make sure to keep track of your own reporting duties and dates.

Your reporting requirements include:

  1. You are required to complete the OPT Update Form every 6 months to validate your STEM employment, even if there are no changes to report.
  2. You must submit a self-evaluation of your performance (pages 6 and 7 of Form I-983) at the mid-point of employment and at the conclusion of employment for each job you have
  3. You must submit a new Form I-983 to OIA, signed by your employer, if there are any changes to the original training plan or if you get a new position. OIA must receive your new i-983 prior to any changes. Changes may include but are not limited to:
    • Employer name and address
    • Decrease in compensation
    • Reduction in hours (if you are working less than 20 hours a week)
    • Employer's EIN
    • Termination of employment
  4. You are required to report to the OIA within 10 days, any change in the following: name, address, employer name and address, or a change in employment or immigration status by submitting the OPT Update Form linked above.
  5. Notify OIA about the termination of employment within 5 days of the change through the OPT Update Form.

Download our STEM application and reporting checklist below for reference.

Important Note on Your Reporting Responsibility:

Although OIA is available to answer any questions you have, it is your responsibility to maintain your immigration status and do so accurately.  You are required to stay up-to-date with all immigration requirements, including STEM OPT reporting, and submit any required information to OIA within the timelines specific by the U.S. government and described above. OIA will not provide reporting reminders or check-ins. Failure to comply with the regulations set by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may result in denial, revocation, or termination of your work authorization and/or F-1 status. DHS may, at its discretion conduct in-person site visits to ensure compliance. In most cases, DHS will provide notice to the employer at least 48 hours in advance of any site visit. For more information please see the Study in the States website

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Helpful Resources

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