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.
- Overview & Eligibility
- Important Deadlines
- Employment Allowed on the STEM Extension
- Application Process
- Reporting Requirements
- OPT STEM Extension Application Checklist
Eligibility Requirements & Important InformationRequirements 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:
Look in the 'Program of Study' section on page 1 of your most recent I-20:
- Then, search for your CIP code on USCIS's designated STEM programs list: STEM Designated Degree Program List (ice.gov)
- If you do not see your major on that list, then you are most likely not eligible to apply for the STEM extension. If you believe you graduated from a STEM program and do not see your CIP code on the list, please contact your international student adviser for guidance.
- 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.
In addition to your reporting responsibilities, employers who hire STEM OPT students must also fulfill certain responsibilities, including:
E-Verify: to be eligible for a STEM OPT extension, the employer offering the job that serves as the basis for the STEM OPT extension must:
- be enrolled in E-Verify
- remain a participant in good standing with E-Verify, as determined by USCIS, and
have an employer identification number (EIN) for tax purposes. An employers EIN and E-Verify number are not the same.
- NOTE: According to USCIS FAQs, a university enrolled in E-Verify under Federal Contractor exceptions may not employ STEM OPT students.
- The University of Chicago is enrolled in E-Verify only under the Federal Contractor exception, and is therefore not an eligible employer for students on STEM OPT.
- 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 email@example.com.
- 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.
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.
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.
Employment during the 180 days past OPT end date
Employment that occurs after the standard OPT expiration date must fully conform to all STEM OPT requirements (e.g. the employment must be in a STEM field, the employer must be registered in E-verify and the employment must meet all I-983 requirements). For example, a student working for a non-E-Verify employer on standard OPT would have to cease working for that employer at the end of the standard OPT but could begin employment with their STEM employer during the 180 day period.
STEM OPT applications pending for more than 180 days
If a STEM OPT application is still pending more than 180 days beyond the expiration of your regular or cap-gap OPT, you must stop working, however you may continue to remain in the United States.
- 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.
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 the STEM 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 STEM 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.
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.
IMPORTANT: If you will file your application online, you must obtain your STEM OPT recommendation (“STEM OPT I-20”) from the OIA before submitting the application through your USCIS Online Account. Failure to obtain your STEM OPT Recommendation before submitting your application online will result in the denial of your STEM OPT benefit. If you receive notice of the denial before your OPT expires, you may reapply for the STEM extension but will need to resubmit all application materials again, including a new STEM OPT Recommendation from OIA as well as another $410 filing fee. The 2nd application will also be subject to the 3-5 month processing time.
To submit your STEM OPT Recommendation request to OIA, complete the Online F-1 STEM OPT Recommendation Request.
Please submit the following documents to OIA via the submission form (linked above) at least two weeks before you plan to submit your application:
A. 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:
- Provide your employer with the I-983 Study in the States Employer Guidance for filling out the training plan
- Our OIA annotated I-983 gives additional, school-specific guidance on filling out page 1.
- You can find detailed instruction document for the I-983 on the USCIS website, as well as an interactive tutorial.
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.
B. For STEM based on a degree from a previous school/degree before UChicago, you must submit the following:
- I-20 from previous school showing STEM-eligible major/CIP code, AND
- Verification of Degree Form filled out by a DSO at your previous school's international office
C. Copy of your current EAD for post-completion OPT
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.
Due to high demand and the detailed nature of STEM applications, we cannot accommodate expedite requests. Please plan ahead to avoid delays.
Students now have the option to file by mail or file online.
If filing online, please follow these OPT Online Filing instructions. There are sections specifically for OPT STEM applicants.
If filing by mail, please compile the following documents to send USCIS as instructed below. If filing online, you will upload these same documents or input information from these documents as prompted during the online application process.
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).
- 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 to USCIS or File Online
If filing online, submit your application within 60 days of the Form I-20 issue date.
If filing by mail, 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.
Mailing 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.
Online: You will submit online and immediately receive a receipt number. You can also check the status of your application by logging into your USCIS account
When you mail your application to USCIS, you are mailing it to a lockbox facility, which is a mail collection center and not the actual processing center. After your application is received at the lockbox facility, it will be sent on to the appropriate processing center, which is in another state.
Your application will be receipted after it gets to the processing center. Because of this, there will be gap of usually 1-3 weeks in between your USPS delivery confirmation and you receiving a receipt from USCIS. If your delivery confirmation said that your package was delivered, you can be assured that USCIS has received your application.
Ways to Tell if Your Application was Received:
- If you filed Form G-1145, you will receive an email or text from USCIS with confirmation that your application was received and a receipt number. This typically occurs 1-3 weeks after you mail your application.
- Within a month of mailing your application you will receive a Receipt Notice (I-797) from USCIS.
- If you paid the filing fee with a personal check, check your bank account to see if the check has been cashed.
Checking On the Status of Your Application
- Your I-797 Receipt Notice includes a receipt number (upper left-hand side) that begins with three letters (e.g. SRC, LIN, EAC, etc). You can use this receipt number to check the status of your application on the USCIS Case Status Search Page.
- Your cases status will say "pending" until it is approved.
- If you receive an RFE, the case status will be updated to show that you were sent an additional notice explaining how you need to respond. The reason for the RFE will not be listed on the online system and will only be sent as a paper copy through the mail. Make sure to check your mail regularly for any notices about your case.
- If you have any issues with your receipt, application, or online portal, you can call USCIS National Customer Service hotline at 1-800-375-5283 and report the issue.
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.
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:
- You are required to complete the STEM OPT Update Form every 6 months to validate your STEM employment, even if there are no changes to report.
- 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
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
- 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 STEM OPT Update Form linked above.
- Notify OIA about the termination of employment within 5 days of the change through the STEM 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
- STEM OPT Update Form for OIA
- Checklist for application & reporting requirements (PDF)
- Letter for STEM employers (PDF)
- STEM OPT planning calculators (USCIS website)
- NAICS Codes (needed for I-983)
- FAQs for Employers from USCIS