STEM OPT Extension: How to Apply
You may note that USCIS has added the option to apply for STEM OPT online. If you choose to file online, OIA's advising staff may be unable to provide the same feedback and guidance as through the paper based application. Regardless of how you choose to file, you must receive an I-20 with a STEM OPT recommendation from OIA (on page 2) FIRST or your application will be rejected by USCIS.
Am I Eligible?
In order to be eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension, you must:
- Already be on post-completion OPT and hold an appropriate degree in one of the DHS-approved STEM fields.
- Be employed by, or have a job offer from, an employer who is registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration. Employment must be paid and full time (over 20 hours per week).
- Have fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT.
- Submit the OPT application to USCIS prior to the expiration of the current post-completion OPT. USCIS must receive the application before the expiration date on the current EAD.
When and How Should I Apply?
Follow the steps below to request a new STEM OPT recommendation I-20 from our office (STEM I-20). Please note: there is a $159.18 IUPUI Office of International Affairs fee for each STEM OPT application. This fee will support advising and technical services to meet federal regulations and provide other essential support for international students while on STEM OPT.
I am applying for my first 24-month extension.
You are eligible to apply for your full 24-month STEM benefit as long as USCIS receives your STEM OPT application prior to your 12-month OPT period expiring. You may apply up to 90 days prior to your 12-month OPT expiriation date (printed on your EAD).
Please note, USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days immediately following the date on page 1 (where the DSO has signed), or the date your current OPT EAD card expires, whichever is sooner.
I am applying for my second STEM extension.
Students may apply for a second STEM extension on the basis of a previously conferred degree OR after completing a new STEM eligible degree at a higher education level. If you have questions about your specific second STEM extension eligibility, contact email@example.com.
- For application based on a prior STEM degree: This can be used in situations where a student obtains a B.S. in Chemistry and then earns an MBA. If the student is on 12-month OPT following the MBA degree, s/he may apply for a second STEM extension if they obtain a position relating to the field of chemistry for the STEM extension period of employment authorization. Students would need to apply for this prior to the MBA 12-month OPT period ending.
- For application based on a STEM eligible degree at a higher education level: In this case, the student would need to apply for and use the original 12-month OPT for the degree level, then apply for the second 24-month STEM extension prior to the 12-month OPT period ending.
Please follow the these step-by-step instructions about how to apply for your STEM extension:
Step 1: Paper Application - Complete the I-765
If you will apply for the STEM extension through the paper based application, you can find the Form I-765 here. We recommend you also complete the Form G-1145 so that you will receive free e-notifications of your application status. You do not need to complete the I-765 paper form if applying online, however the information below may be useful when completing the online application (Remember, do not apply online until you receive your STEM I-20!)
Hints for filling out the form I-765:
- In the "I am applying for:" section, check the box that indicates, "Renewal of my permission to accept employment..."
- #1 Write your family name, first name (given name) and middle name as they appear on your passport ID page.
- #2-4 Only complete this section if you have used other names before. If you have never used a different name, just leave this section blank.
- #5 Whatever address you list in this section is where USCIS will send your EAD card. If you could potentially move while this application is being processed, use a stable address such as your employer or consider obtaining a P.O. Box. This is the address your new EAD will be sent to upon approval of your application. If you need to update this mailing address because you have moved, you can do so on the USCIS website.
- #6 If you are using your own street address, check "Yes." If you are using another address where you do not currently live, check "No" and type the address where you live in #7, a-e.
- #10 Check the box to the left of your gender.
- #11 Check the box to the left of your marital status.
- #12 Check "Yes"
- #13a If you have a SSN, check the Yes box. If you do not have an SSN, select the No box.
- #13b Provide your SSN in the blanks.
- #14 If you would like to apply for OPT and an SSN at the same time, select Yes. If not, select No and skip to #18a, leaving #15-17 blank.
- #15 If you select that Yes, you would like to apply for OPT and an SSN (Yes on #14), then you must select Yes for #15.
- #15 - 17 - only complete these questions if you answered Yes to #14. If you answered No, then skip.
- #16a and 16b: list your father's family and given names
- #17a and 17b: list your mother's family name (at her birth) and given name.
- #18 List the country of your citizenship/nationality.
- #19 List the city, state/province, and country of your birth.
- #20 List your date of birth in MM/DD/YYYY format.
- #21a This is the 11-digit number on your most recent I-94 card.
- #21b Your passport number (from your most recently issued passport).
- #21d List the country that issued your current passport.
- #21e List the expiration date of your passport in MM/DD/YYYY format.
- #22 List the date of your last arrival into the U.S., you can find this on your most recent electronic I-94 record.
- #23 List the place where you went through U.S. Immigration on your last entry to the U.S. You may be able to see this on your port of entry stamp - the three letter code directly under the word ADMITTED.
- #24 USCIS wants to know what your status was the last time you entered the U.S. For most students applying for OPT, it is “F-1 Student”. If you have recently changed to F-1 status, this may be your previous status.
- #25 This must be “F-1 Student”.
- #26 Write your SEVIS number as it appears on your I-20 document.
- #27 (c)(3)(C)
- #28a Degree = your degree level and major CIP code (see your OPT I-20 for CIP code)
- #28b Employer’s name as listed in E-Verify
- #28c Employer’s E-Verify Identification Number (E-Verify information can only be obtained from your employer)
- #29-31 Leave these blank.
- Don't forget to sign your application.
- List the date you signed your form in the MM/DD/YYYY format
- Include your telephone number with area code. This should be listed in the ###-###-#### format
Interpreter's and Preparer's Sections:
- Leave these blank, unless:
- Someone translated this form for you into a language other than English; or
- Someone else completed the form on your behalf.
Step 2: Complete the Form I-983 with Your Employer
Please note, you do not need to include this form in your application to USCIS; however, in order for OIA to issue you an I-20 recommending the STEM extension, we must have a completed Form I-983.
You can find instructions on how to complete this form online here. Please read completely through the information available to you through both the OIA and DHS websites. Links to the form and step-by step guidance can be found on both websites.
You MUST complete the form with your employer before submitting your request for an I-20 to OIA. Please note that the I-983 must be signed in ink, per form instructions.
Step 3: Gather Your Other Documentation
As part of your STEM OPT Extension application, you will need to supply USCIS with copies of the documents below. Make sure you gather these documents as soon as possible, so that your application is not delayed.
- Copy of your most recent electronic I-94 record OR copy of the front and back of your current paper I-94 card
- Copy of your passport identification page (and any renewal pages)
- Copy of your most recent F-1 visa stamp
- Copy of the front and back of your current OPT card (EAD)
- Letters from all of your OPT employers confirming your employment, including start and end dates and average hours worked per week (to prove you have not used more than 90 days of unemployment) OR first and last pay receipts and offer letters from all of your OPT employers, if you cannot get employment letters.
- Evidence of STEM degree (this can be an unofficial transcript printed from one.iu.edu, an official transcript from IUPUI’s registrar, or a copy of your diploma)
Step 4: Passport Photos and Fee Payment
Review these recommendations on passport photographs.
- Photos must measure 2 inches by 2 inches and must be in color; photos should be printed on glossy photo paper.
- Head should be positioned directly facing the camera.
- Photo should capture from slightly above top of hair to middle of chest.
- Background should be plain white or off-white.
- Photos should be taken within the last 30 days prior to the extension application. Photos used for obtaining a non-U.S. passport or a U.S .visa stamp are generally not acceptable, as they are often not the correct size, and rarely taken within 30 days of the OPT application.
- Photos with poor lighting (too dark) may be rejected.
There are several pharmacies and stores (such as CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart) that will take and print passport-sized photographs for you at a low cost. We recommend you have your photographs taken by one of these stores, and you can ask them to retake the photo at no cost to you if it does not meet the recommendations outlined above.
Paying your I-765 Fee
There is a $410 fee for the STEM Extension application. You can pay this fee by check or money order made out to: USCIS.
Do not sign the back of your check! This will void the check.
Step 5: Complete the Atlas STEM Extension Request
Log into Atlas and complete the "24-Month STEM OPT Extension Request eform located in your F-1 Practical Training menu. You will select if you are applying online or through the paper form and upload copies of your application materials. Remember, your I-983 must be completed, signed, and meet all program requirements before OIA can issue you a STEM I-20!
Step 6: Make Suggested Changes and Compile Your Application Materials
Once you receive your e-form approval email, it is very important that you make any suggested changes to your application materials before submitting to USCIS. You will also receive a copy of your new I-20 that you should print, sign and date, and then send with your application
If you are submitting the paper-based application, make sure to submit
- Check ($410)
- I-765 signed by hand in black ink only
- Optional: Form G-1145
For both the paper-based and online application, you should also submit
- Photos (for paper applications we recommend you place these in a small plastic bag with a zipper, plus write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo with a pencil or felt-tip pen)
- New I-20 recommending STEM OPT
- Previous I-20 recommending OPT
- EAD front and back
- I-94 record
- Passport Identification Page
- F-1 Visa Stamp
- Job confirmation letters from all initial OPT employers
- Evidence of STEM degree
If submitting a paper application, staple the whole packet together (including the check and the baggie that has your pictures in it—be careful not to staple through the pictures). For online filing some of the recommended items (job confirmation letters, etc) can be uploaded as additional documentation.
Step 7: Submit your STEM OPT Extension Application
USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days immediately following the date on page 1 of your I-20 (where the DSO has signed), or the date your current OPT EAD expires, whichever is sooner.
If submitting a paper-based application, you should be careful to send your packet to the proper address for the shipping method you have chosen; you can find the proper mailing addresses here For online applications, you can submit using the "apply online" button found on the USCIS I-765 webpage.
Step 8: Receive Your Receipt Notice and Wait
Once USCIS has received your application, they will send you a receipt notice.
You will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending with USCIS, until it is approved or denied, or for 180 days, whichever comes first. You should continue reporting your employment information to OIA during your OPT STEM extension.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I apply for STEM OPT if I work for a contracting company?
SEVP’s Study in the States website states that “the employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience” and that you must have a “bona fide” employer-employee relationship with the company providing the training. If the company that employs you is not the company providing training and oversight to you, the opportunity may not be a good fit for the STEM extension.
As a result, OIA recommends speaking with your employer to discuss being hired directly rather than working through a staffing or consulting agency. Applying for a STEM OPT extension while employed by a staffing or consulting agency could carry some risk, OIA cannot guarantee that USCIS will find your employee/employer relationship to be a bona fide relationship, thus approving your application.
When can I apply for my 24-month STEM extension?
You may apply for your 24-month STEM OPT extension 90 days prior to your 12-month OPT expiration date through the OPT expiration date (printed on your EAD card).
Can I travel abroad while waiting for STEM OPT approval?
We do not recommend that you travel outside of the U.S. while your STEM extension application is pending.
What if my employer changes while my STEM extension application is still pending?
Contact our office as soon as possible by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have changed to a different STEM eligible position while your application is still pending, OIA will need to update your application with USCIS. Let our advising team know if you applied online or through the paper-based application.
How do I maintain my status on the STEM OPT extension?
Carefully review the information available on our website about reporting requirements and how to maintain your status while on the STEM OPT extension.
What is the SEVIS Student Portal?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) or the group that regulates SEVIS, the database that produces your I-20, has created a student portal by which students who are currently on 12-month or 24-month STEM extensions can report changes to their records.
OIA recommends that you continue to use Atlas for this purpose and report your address/employer changes to OIA directly. OIA updates your SEVIS record with any changes as required by law. Information you provide in the SEVIS Student Portal could potentially be incorrect based on your situation and cause you problems in the future.
Can I volunteer on my 24-month STEM extension?
Unpaid employment or volunteer work is not able to meet your employment requirement while on STEM. You may volunteer for things truly volunteer (like a a place of worship or hospital), however, you should NOT record this volunteer work in your employment history. Volunteer work should not be reported in the SEVIS Student Portal or to OIA as it is not considered employment under the STEM guidelines.