F-1 STEM OPT
Students who hold degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for a total of 36 months of post-completion OPT. Only students who have completed degrees in a STEM designated field qualify for this extension. You can locate your field of study as listed on your Form I-20. If your field of study does not appear on this list, you are not eligible for a STEM extension. It might be possible to apply for the STEM extension based on a prior U.S. degree in a STEM field. That degree must have been conferred within the past 10 years by an SEVP-certified school that is currently accredited.
Your HIO advisor can help you determine if your degree or concentration is eligible for the STEM extension. In addition to having completed a degree in a STEM field of study, you must have a job offer or be working for an employer registered with "E-Verify," a federal employment verification system and you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT students.
STEM Extension Employment Requirements and Employer Relationship
While on the STEM OPT extension, any employment you undertake must meet the following criteria:
- Must be a paid position at least 20 hours per week
- Must work for an E-Verify employer
- Must be a position related to the STEM program major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20. You are responsible for drawing a connection between your position and the skills or knowledge learned in your STEM degree.
- You must be paid a salary, and be supervised, directly by your employer. You cannot be paid by a third party or staffing agency, or work at a location other than your employer’s place of business. For more information, please see “The Employer’s Training Obligation: Staffing and Temporary Agencies” on the USCIS Website.
- In an academic environment, you cannot be paid through an external fellowship. For example, you cannot use STEM for a postdoctoral position where you are not paid directly by the host institution.
- You must not begin work for any new employer without first submitting to the HIO a new, completed I-983 Training Plan for that employer
- You must not have more than 150 days of unemployment time during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and 24-month extension combined)
- Cannot be self-employed
- Cannot volunteer or work in an unpaid position
If working for more than one employer, each position requires a completed I-983 and must meet each of the above criteria.
How and When to Apply
WHEN TO APPLY:
You may submit the STEM OPT application up to 90 days before your initial OPT period ends. Submit your application to USCIS no later than two weeks prior to the end of your current OPT EAD card. Your STEM OPT extension request will be denied if USCIS receives your application on or after the end date of your current EAD.
HOW TO APPLY:
Submit the following documents to your HIO Advisor for review. Please note, you may drop off the documents in person, or send them via email to your HIO Advisor:
- STEM Extension Request Form (for Harvard Students Only)
- Form I-983. (Use the HIO's instructions to complete the I-983)
- Form I-765 (review the HIO's line by line instructions to complete)
- Copy of your current OPT EAD card
- Copy of your Form I-94
- Payment of $300 to Harvard University. You may make this payment online with a credit card.
Non-Harvard students should contact their home institution for guidance.
IMPORTANT: If you have not already, you must report your Post-Completion OPT Employment information before submitting your STEM extension request. Please complete the Post-Completion OPT Reporting Form with all employers you have worked for during your OPT period. Failure to report your OPT employment will delay the processing of your STEM request.
The HIO will provide the STEM OPT recommendation in the form of a new I-20. Your returned STEM OPT packet will also include detailed written instructions on how to complete your application and instructions on how to mail the application to USCIS. You must be in the U.S. in F-1 status in order to submit your application to USCIS.
Using a Prior Degree for the STEM Extension
Eligibility for STEM OPT Based on a Prior Degree
If you are on post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. For example: if you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
Please note the following:
- The prior degree was conferred no more than 10 years prior to submission of the extension application;
- The prior degree was conferred previous to the degree that provided the basis for the student's current period of standard post-completion OPT;
- The prior degree was not conferred by a branch campus abroad;
- The prior degree was conferred by a U.S. educational institution that is accredited and SEVP-certified at the time the student's DSO recommends the student for the 24-month OPT extension;
- The prior degree is in a degree program category included on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time of the DSO recommendation;
- The prospective employment that is the basis for the 24-month STEM OPT extension must directly relate to the prior degree;
Applying for STEM OPT Based on a Prior Degree
In addition to the STEM OPT application documents listed under "How and When to Apply", students must also submit to the HIO:
- STEM Based on a Prior Degree Request Form
- An official transcript from the prior degree
- A copy of the I-20 that identifies the prior degree. You can find the major and CIP code in the “Program of Study” section of I-20s issued after July 2015. For forms issued before July 2015, the major will be listed under item 5. There will be no CIP Code. If don't have the I-20, you can provide documentation from your previous school that confirms the degree that was conferred as well as the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code that was assigned to you. USCIS may, or may not, accept such documentation.
Student Responsibilities While on the STEM Extension
Students who are granted a STEM OPT Extension have additional federal reporting requirements. Failure to satisfy these requirements will automatically invalidate the student’s F-1 status:
STEM OPT Training plan
- Students must report within 10 days any changes to the Training Plan on file. Students are also required to report to their HIO advisor if their employer is not abiding by the terms of the Training Plan.
- Any new employment undertaken while on the STEM Extension must meet the employment requirements detailed under "STEM Extension Employment Requirements and Employer Relationship"
- Students must submit a fully completed Training Plan evaluation at the end of the first and second twelve month periods of STEM OPT.
STEM OPT students must provide the following information to their HIO advisor every six months AND within 10 days of any change:
- Legal name;
- Residential and mailing address;
- E-mail address;
- Telephone Number;
- Employer name;
- Employer address;
- Employer EIN;
- Job title or position;
- Number of hours worked per week (must be at least 20 hours);
- Supervisor's name;
- Supervisor's telephone number;
- Supervisor's email;
- Employment start-date; and
- Employment end-date
Travel on STEM OPT
For information on traveling while on STEM OPT, or while waiting for your STEM OPT approval, please click here.
Change in Employment
Students with a 24-Month STEM extension cannot begin new employment or report a change to their employment without first following the applicable steps below:
- For changes with the current employer, within 10 days of the changes being made you must submit an updated I-983 detailing the change (e.g., supervisor, new responsibility, change in location), to your HIO Advisor. Please check with your HIO advisor if you are unsure if you need to submit an updated I-983.
- If you are ending employment, you must complete and submit to the HIO a completed final employment evaluation from page 5 of the I-983 within 10 days of ending the employment.
- To begin new employment, you must submit a new STEM Extension Request Form and I-983. The new I-983 must be confirmed by the HIO as being complete and meeting all STEM program requirements before you can begin the new employment.
Ending STEM Extension, Departing the U.S., and Changes of Status
While on STEM OPT, you continue to hold F-1 status sponsored by Harvard and your F-1 record remains active in the government database SEVIS. It is extremely important that you notify your HIO advisor of any changes to your immigration status:
- If you leave the U.S. permanently, you must notify your HIO advisor before you leave the U.S., and submit to the HIO a completed final employment evaluation from page 5 of the I-983 within 10 days of ending the employment.
- If you change to another visa status in the U.S., such as H-1B, E-3, G-4, TN, etc. or obtain Permanent Resident status, you must notify your HIO advisor. To report this change, you will need to send your advisor evidence of your new status (e.g. new I-94 arrival/departure record, I-797, or green card). You will also need to submit a completed final employment evaluation from page 5 of the I-983 within 10 days of changing your status.
The HIO provides general guidance on your OPT/STEM OPT application based on information obtained from reliable sources and reflecting our years of experience in working with students. We make every attempt to ensure that we provide you with the most up to date information available. Any advice provided to you by our office (as well as the information in this packet) does not constitute legal advice, however. The OPT application is a personal application for which you are responsible; the application preparation and USCIS case decision will vary depending on the facts at issue in your particular case. The HIO does its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that USCIS may change its interpretation of these policies, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements at any time. The HIO is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from USCIS.