OPT STEM Extension

The U.S. government recently changed F-1 STEM OPT regulations.  The new STEM OPT rules will go into effect on May 10, 2016.  This page will be updated with additional information and instructions as they become available.  If you have additional questions about STEM, please contact your international student adviser.



If you are an F-1 student who completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field and are currently engaged in post-completion OPT, you may apply for a 17-month STEM extension of your OPT. Your job must related to your STEM studies, and your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.


  • You must be in lawful F-1 status and using post-completion OPT at the time you apply.
  • You must not have been previously authorized for a 17-month STEM extension.
  • You must have employment and/or a job offer from an E-Verify employer.
  • You must have a degree in one of the approved STEM major areas of study.  Is your degree STEM eligible? To find out, first find the CIP (major) code at the top of the third page of your I-20:CIP.png
  • You may not accrue more than 120 days of unemployment time during the entire period of OPT (initial 12-month post-completion OPT and the 17-month OPT STEM extension). See Employment allowed for STEM OPT for more information.
  • You must report your employer and address changes. See reporting requirements for more information.

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Important deadlines for the OPT STEM Extension:

  • You must submit a completed application for the STEM Extension to USCIS prior to the expiration of your current OPT authorization; however, you may apply no sooner than 120 days before the expiration date of your current OPT authorization.
    • If you file within this timeline, you will be permitted to continue working for 180 days while the extension application is pending or until the application has been adjudicated, whichever comes first.
    • 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.
  • The STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the International Student Adviser's signature on your Form I-20.

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Employment Allowed on the STEM Extension

Students authorized for an OPT STEM extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to each individual student's STEM degree. Students on the STEM OPT extension are allowed a total of 120 days of unemployment during the entire OPT period, including STEM.

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

  • Multiple employers: students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire: this is also commonly referred to as 1099 or independent contractor employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. Students should maintain evidence of the duration of contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner: students on the STEM extension may start a business or be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm: students on the STEM extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.

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Application Process

Step 1. Submit documentation to OIA

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.

After reading the directions on Form I-765, please complete questions #1 – 17:

  • Mark, “I am applying for: Permission to accept employment.”
  • #1. Print neatly, your entire name as it appears on your passport and I-20 and spell out your middle name.
  • #3. Enter your address in the Chicago area.  Write out "Apt. #" before the apartment number. We recommend that you include the last 4 digits to the end of your zip code to help with mail delivery of the EAD card.  Check the U.S. Postal Service website to look up your full zip code. If you decide to use a friend's address, where your name is not on the mailbox, you should write "c/o" (for "in care of") and your friend's name all on the same line with the street address.
  • #10. Enter the eleven-digit serial number from your I-94 Departure Record card.
  • #11.:
    • Select "Yes."  
    • USCIS Office: If you filed for your original OPT using an Illinois address, use "Nebraska." If you did not use an Illinois address, you should be able to find the Service Center that adjudicated your OPT on your approval notice. 
    • Date: You can use the month and year you applied for your original period of OPT.
    • Results: Granted or Denied. Presumably, your current OPT was granted.
    • A copy of your EAD card and/or I-797 approval notice are appropriate documentation to attach.
    • Note: If you have submitted more than one work authorization application to USCIS, such as pre-completion OPT or OPT at another degree level, be sure to list details for each application. CPT applications should not be included.
  • #15. Enter "F-1 Student."
  • On #16, enter (C)(3)(C). Above the parentheses write, “F-1 Post-Completion STEM EXTENSION.
  • On I-765, item #17, list the numerical CIP Code for your degree (this information can be found on the top of page #3 of your I-20), 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.

B. OPT STEM Extension Request Form (Online)

Step 2. Assemble Your STEM request

Within 7 business days, OIA your updated I-20, endorsed by an international student adviser and showing the STEM request will be ready. Your Form I-765 will also be returned at this time.

Make sure to sign the updated Form I-20 (Number 11) prior to making the photocopy to be included in your application packet.

Your application packet should contain:

  • Form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization," with fee and photographs stapled to it (see next two items below).  
  • A check 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. Staple your completed and signed check to the front of the I-765.
  • Two photos to the standards of the Department of State specifications. These pictures are passport style photos in color. On campus, satisfactory photos are available, for a charge, at the ID & Privileges Office located in Regenstein Library. 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 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 30 days by your international student adviser.
  • A copy of your present EAD card (front & back).
  • Documentation of your I-94:
    • If you entered the U.S. on or before April 29, 2013:  Photocopy of your I-94 Departure Record card, front and back.
    • If you entered the US on or after April 30, 2013: Visit USCBP website to retrieve and print out a copy of your electronic Form I-94
  • Photocopies of the identity pages of your passport. This includes the page containing your photograph and biographic information. 
  • Proof of the completion of your studies (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.

Step 3. Mail Your Application

Make sure to mail your completed application packet to USCIS within 30 days of the Form I-20 issue date. If this is not possible, please contact our office to receive an updated signature prior to mailing your application.

Applications from Illinois go to a USCIS Lockbox facility in Phoenix, Arizona.  The address to use is:

PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

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

If you are not using an Illinois address, you can find the correct Lockbox address here: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses#Lockbox Addresses.

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 by mail an official notice of receipt on Form I-797.  That notice will also give you your receipt number.  You can check for updates and sign up to receive email notifications when updates are made to your case online at 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 employent positions held, hours worked, how jobs were related to your field of study, and payment information. However, an RFE may ask for additional documentation, as well. 

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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