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STEM OPT - Optional Practical Training for Students with STEM Degrees

STEM OPT - Optional Practical Training for STEM Program Students

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

In most cases, F-1 international students apply for 12 months of OPT employment authorization after finishing their course of study (e.g. a bachelor's degree). F-1 international students majoring in STEM degrees can extend their 12 months of OPT employment by 2 more years.

Foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status participating in OPT must obtain an EAD from USCIS before they are authorized to work.

 

OPT Types:

  • Pre-completion OPT:  You may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. If you are authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, you may work part time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.
  • Post-completion OPT:  You may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing your studies. If you are authorized for post-completion OPT, you may work part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time. If you participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from your post-completion OPT authorization period. For example, if you participated in 10 months of pre-completion OPT, you would be eligible for only up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.  

 

What are the Requirements for Extensions of STEM OPT

F-1 students who received a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school may apply for a 24-month extension of their OPT while in a period of post-completion OPT under the following conditions:

  • STEM OPT students must work for an employer that is enrolled and in good standing with E-Verify.
  • STEM OPT students must work in the position related to their STEM degree.
  • Extension is for 24 months only.

 

How to Apply for an Initial OPT Employment Authorization?

You apply for your OPT by submitting a Form I-765 to USCIS - you can file your application online. You must include:

  • Form I-765;
  • Properly endorsed Form I-20;
  • 2 color photographs;
  • Correct USCIS fee; and
  • Other supporting documents. 

If you decide to mail your application, please note that USCIS considers an application filed on the date USCIS receives your application. The date you mail your application does not count as a filing date.

 

How to Apply for a STEM OPT Extension of Employment Authorization?

You apply for your STEM OPT Extension by submitting a Form I-765 to USCIS - you can file your application online. You must include:

  • Form I-765 with your employer's name as listed on E-Verify;
  • Properly endorsed Form I-20;
  • A copy of your STEM diploma;
  • 2 color photographs;
  • Correct USCIS fee; and
  • Other supporting documents. 

If you decide to mail your application, please note that USCIS considers an application filed on the date USCIS receives your application. The date you mail your application does not count as a filing date.

 

What are OPT Application Deadlines:

Initial Post-Completion OPT (most common)

  • You may apply 90 days before you complete your degree but no later than 60 days after your complete your degree, AND
  • You must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record.

Pre-Completion OPT

  • You may apply up to 90 days before you complete a full academic year, as long as you do not start OPT employment until you complete one full academic year, AND
  • You must apply after your DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record.

STEM OPT Extension

  • You may apply up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, AND
  • You must apply within 60 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record,

 

How many days can you not work during OPT period:

  • 90 days. You are allowed not to be employed for up to 90 days during your Initial OPT authorization period.
  • 60 days during your 24 month extension.

 

Limits on STEM OPT Extension Employment:

  • Employment must relate directly to the student's major area of study.
  • F-1 students can only work during the dates written on their Employment Authorization Cards (EAD). 
  • 24 month extension is only available for STEM degree students if they work for E-Verified employer.
  • You can apply for another OPT once you complete a higher education level. 

 

What are Student Reporting Responsibilities after STEM OPT Extension:

If you receive a STEM OPT extension, you must:

  • Report changes to the following information to your DSO within 10 days of the change:
    • Your legal name
    • Your residential or mailing address
    • Your email address
    • Your employer's name
    • Your employer's address
  • Report to your DSO every 6 months to confirm the information listed above, even if none of your information has changed.

 

Documents for employer that show employment eligibility:

  • Employment Authorization Card (EAD).
  • If you timely file your STEM OPT Extension, a USCIS receipt notice and your expired EAD card authorize you to work for up to 180 days or until USCIS issues a decision.

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