OPT STEM EXTENSION
On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule that allows certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who met other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month extension previously available to STEM students.
In order to be eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension, you must:
- Currently be in a valid period of post-completion OPT
- 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
- Have accrued less than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT
- Submit the OPT application to USCIS prior to the expiration of your current OPT authorization. The application must be received by USCIS before the expiration date on your EAD card.
When should you apply?
If applying for 24-month extension.
You are eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM extension as long as USCIS receives your STEM OPT application prior to the expiration of your initial 12-month OPT. You can apply as early as 120 days before the OPT expiration date listed on your EAD card.
If you have already applied for and been approved.
If students meet basic STEM eligibility requirements and have 150 days remaining on the EAD card, they may be eligible to be approved for a 7-month extension. The deadline for your application to be received by USCIS is August 8, 2016.
If you do not have at least 150 days remaining on your 17-month extension, we are sorry, you are not eligible to apply for the additional 7 months according to the new STEM rule. However, your current EAD remains unchanged and you may continue to work until the end date listed on your EAD.
Please let us know if you have any questions about the new rules. However, first please check the official DHS information, since you can find answers there quickly.
How to apply for your STEM extension:
Step 1: Complete Form I-765
Here are some helpful hints for filling out form I-765:
- In the "I am applying for:" section, check the box that indicates, "Renewal of my permission to accept employment..."
- Item #3: whatever address you list on this page 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 ISO. This is the address your new EAD will be sent to upon approval of your application.
ISO’s address is:
International Student Office
1906 College Heights Blvd. #11066
Bowling Green, KY 42101
- Item #9:Use your U.S. Social Security Number.
- Item #10:This is the 11-digit number on your most recent I-94 card.
- Item #11:Include your current OPT information found on your EAD card.
For Which USCIS Office: Look for the card number on the front of your card. Use the first three letters to determine the abbreviation of the USCIS office that handled your application.
Dates = list the dates printed on your EAD card
Status = Granted
- Item #14: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”.
- Item #15:This must be “F-1 Student”.
- Item #16: (c)(3)(C)
- Item #17: Degree = your degree level and major; Employer’s name as listed in E-Verify; Employer’s E-Verify Identification Number (E-Verify information can only be obtained from your employer)
Step 2: Complete Form I-983 with Your Employer
You must provide a completed Form I-983 “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” to ISO with your iStart request in order for us to be able to process your request and issue you an I-20 recommending the STEM extension. Please note, you do not need to include this form in your application to USCIS.
You MUST complete the form with your employer before submitting your request for an I-20 to ISO.You can find helpful information and instructions on how to complete this form here. You may leave the box requesting "DSO" information blank. ISO will complete this section when issuing your I-20 for STEM extension.
Step 3: Gather Your Other Documentation
You will need to provide USCIS with the following documents:
- 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
- Copy of the front and back of your current OPT card
- Letters from all of your OPT employers confirming your employment, including start and end dates (to prove you have not used more than 90 days of unemployment) OR paystubs from your entire period of employment, if you cannot get an employment letter.
- Evidence of STEM degree (this can be an unofficial transcript printed from TopNet, an official transcript from the Registrar’s Office at WKU, or a copy of your diploma)
Step 4: Passport Photos and Fee Payment
- 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: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Do not sign the back of your check as this will void the check!
Step 5: Complete the iStart STEM Extension Request
Log into iStart and complete the "Request for STEM OPT Extension I-20" eform located under the F-1 Practical Training tab, uploading your completed form I-983
Step 6: Pick up Your STEM I-20
After your completed Request for STEM OPT Extension I-20 has been reviewed, an ISO advisor will issue you a new I-20, recommending an OPT STEM extension. You will be notified via email when your I-20 is available for pick up.
If you no longer live in the Bowling Green area, we will send your I-20 to the address you indicate on the iStart form.
Step 7: Compile Your OPT STEM Extension Application Packet
Below is the order we recommend for you to place your documents in before submitting to USCIS.
- I-765 form
- New I-20 recommending STEM OPT
- Previous I-20 recommending OPT
- Copy of EAD front and back
- Copy of I-94 record
- Copy of Passport Identification Page
- Copy of F-1 Visa
- Job confirmation letters from all initial OPT employers
- Evidence of STEM degree
- Optional: Form G-1145
Step 8: Send Your OPT STEM Extension Packet to USCIS
You should send your completed OPT STEM extension packet to USCIS. We recommend you use a courier services such as FedEx or registered first-class U.S. mail service to have your packet delivered. These methods will both provide you with information on when the packet was delivered to USCIS, which you should keep for your records.
Your packet will be sent to either the Phoenix or Dallas USCIS lockbox, based on where you currently live. You can determine which lockbox to use and find the proper mailing addresses here.
Step 9: Receive Your Receipt Notice and Wait
Once USCIS has received your packet, they will send you a receipt notice. From this point, you will just need to wait for USCIS to issue a decision on your OPT STEM extension.
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 ISO during your OPT STEM extension.
If you have questions about the 7 or 24 month STEM extension, email email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's happening with the STEM Extension? Will it continue?
I have an approved 17 month extension, can I apply for my remaining 7 months after August 8, 2016?
No. USCIS must receive applications for the 7-month extension while you still have 150 days remaining on your 17-month extension AND before August 8, 2016. After August 8, 2016, no student will be eligible to apply for a 7-month extension.
When can I apply for my 24-month STEM extension?
You may apply for your 24-month STEM OPT extension 120 days prior to your 12-month OPT expiration date through the OPT expiration date (printed on your EAD card).
I don't live in Bowling Green anymore. How can I get my new I-20?
See Step 5 above—you can request your new I-20 in iStart in the “Request for STEM OPT Extension I-20” e-form. Then, we will mail your new I-20 to the address you indicate in the e-form.
Can I travel abroad while waiting for STEM OPT approval?
We do not recommend that you travel outside the U.S. while your STEM extension application is pending.
What are the employer reporting requirements during the STEM extension?
Like on regular OPT, you must report any changes in employment in iStart so that we can keep your SEVIS record accurate by completing the OPT Employment Report e-form. Additionally, during your STEM extension period, we will email you every 6 months to prompt you to update your employment information, in accordance with the OPT STEM extension regulations. You will be required to submit updates to your I-983 Training Plan at the 12 month mark of your STEM OPT period and again at the conclusion of your STEM OPT period.
If you switch employers during your 24-Month OPT period, you will need to submit a new Form I-983 Training Plan to ISO.
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