F-1 24-Month OPT STEM Extension Checklist

STEP 1: Begin the Application Process

STEP 2: Contact the DIA

  • To review your I-765 and I-983 forms. The Director of International Affairs (DIA) will return both with any indications for corrections or edits that you need to make on these original forms.
  • To request and create an updated I-20 to reflect your extension request. The DIA will mail a copy of the I-20 to you at the address you request, unless you have indicated you would prefer to pick up the document in person.
  • Allow at least one week (but up to two weeks) for the creation and mailing of the extension I-20 as well as the revisions to the I-765 and I-983 forms.
  • Once you receive the I-20 and complete any required revisions to the I-765 and I-983 forms, mail your application to USCIS following the instructions below.

STEP 3: Mail your Application to USCIS

After addressing any required revisions, send the following documentation to USCIS to apply for OPT extension, arranged in the order listed below:

  • Application Fee – The cost is $410.  Personal checks or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to "United States Department of Homeland Security."  Personal checks are preferable to money orders, because they can more easily be traced in case of problems.
  • Two identical "natural color" passport photos – These are U.S.-style passport photos and must have been taken within the last 30 days. Passport photos taken in your home country will not be acceptable. Lightly print your name and your SEVIS number on the back of each photograph with a pencil to prevent problems should your photographs become separated from your I-765 application. Local businesses that typically take passport photographs include drugstores, copy centers, and the post office. The DIA does not encourage you to attempt to take these photos yourself.
  • Form I-765 (See the example link above.)
  • Form I-983/Training Plan – You fill out sections 1 and 2; your employer fills out sections 3, 4, 5, and 6. (The other sections will be filled out later as part of your annual evaluation process.)
  • Copy of new OPT extension I-20 that you will receive from the DIA.
  • Official transcript or degree verification (NOTE: this must indicate the degree level and title of major/degree programs upon which your OPT STEM application is based. Transcripts can be requested by contacting the Registrar's Office. (NOTE: If you are basing your application on a degree earned at another U.S. school, you will have to contact that school to obtain a copy of your transcript.)
  • A printout of your most recent Form I-94, which can be obtained online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/consent.html.
  • A copy of your passport photo/information page showing the passport expiration date AND your most recent U.S. visa.
  • A copy of all previous EAD cards.
  • Optional: Complete the Form G-1145. E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance if you wish to take advantage of receiving email and/or text messages when your application has been received by USCIS. This means that you will not need to wait until the official receipt notice is mailed to the ISA before you can know that the government has officially received the application. (NOTE: USCIS will continue to mail the receipt notices to the ISA. Completion and submission of this form for email and/or text message notification is an option for you and not a required form, but if you include this form, please put it as the FIRST PAGE of your application.)

Finally, please be sure to address the application envelope accordingly.

  • Your address should be:
    Your name
    1220 First Ave NECedar Rapids, Iowa 52402
  • The mailing address should be:
    U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
    Box 21281
    Phoenix, AZ 85036

NOTE: Your OPT extension application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the creation of your I-20 reflecting your OPT extension request. In the event that there is a delay in the processing of your application, the DIA may not be able to help you if you do not have a photocopy of your application and proof that you mailed your application in a timely manner.

NOTE: If you change your mind and do not mail your OPT application, you must notify the DIA.

Information Your Employer Will Need to Know

What Responsibilities Will My Employer Have?

The new 24-month rule carries new obligations for employers, including:

  • Working with you to complete the Form I-983/Training Plan
  • Ensuring that you are paid a proper wage commensurate with U.S. workers who hold the same or similar positions
  • Have the appropriate resources and knowledgeable/experienced staff who can provide the needed supervision and guidance to follow the Training Plan
  • Ensure your hiring under OPT STEM is not displacing any U.S. workers
  • Communicate significant changes to your job description or training plan, or early termination of your work within 5 days to DIA
  • Participate in two annual reviews of your performance and how well you are following the goals and objectives of the Training Plan
  • Participate in E-Verify

What is E-Verify? 

E-Verify is a free and simple to use Web-based system that electronically verifies the employment eligibility of newly hired employees.  E-Verify is a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) overseas the program.

E-Verify works by allowing participating employers to electronically compare employee information taken from the Form I-9 (the paper-based employee eligibility verification form used for all new hires) against more than 425 million records in SSA's database and more than 60 million records in DHS immigration databases. Results are returned in seconds.

How Can My Employer Sign Up?

Your employer should go to https://www.uscis.gov/e-verify.

An employer's participation in E-Verify is voluntary and is currently free to employers.  To participate, an employer must register online and accept the electronic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the responsibilities of SSA, DHS, and the employer.

Can I Still Get an Extension if My Employer Does Not Sign Up for E-Verify?

No. USCIS will not approve any extension applications where the employer is not participating in E-Verify.

What If My Employer Has Additional Questions?

First, have your employer consult https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub, specifically the “Employers” section. If your employer still has questions, they can contact the DIA, Peter Gerlach, at pgerlach@coe.edu.

What Happens After I Mail My OPT 24-Month Application?

Processing Information:

About 3-4 weeks after you mail your application, USCIS will issue the I-797 Notice of Action acknowledging receipt of your application, which will be sent to the DIA. The DIA will email you when it arrives. Remember to keep this letter, since it will contain a special number beginning with the letters “LIN...” that refers to your specific application.  If you do not receive the Notice of Action after 5 weeks, please notify the DIA.

You may use the LIN number to check the status of your application online at https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do. Please note that the website will not give detailed information or an estimate of when your OPT may be approved; rather, it will tell you if it is received or pending or approved.  Also understand that once it is approved, it can take around 10 days to arrive at the DIA.

Decision on Your Application:

The average processing time for OPT is currently 3-4 months; it could happen faster or could take longer in individual cases, so apply well in advance. If your application is approved, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card will be mailed to the DIA and we will notify you by email that it has arrived. In the very unlikely event that your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial. Likewise, if USCIS wants you to send additional or supporting documentation before they will proceed with your application, they will send a Request for Evidence (RFE) letter to the DIA and we will notify you by email.

Can I Change Employers Once I Apply for an Extension?

Yes, as long as the new employer is enrolled in E-Verify and the new work relates to the degree on which your OPT STEM application is based. You must notify the DIA when this occurs and file a new I-983/Training Plan filled out with your new employer. Changing employers without notifying the DIA may result in termination of your status.

What Kind of Job Can I Take?

OPT employment must be related to the degree area of study on which your OPT STEM application was based. 

Can I Keep Working While Waiting for My OPT Extension Decision?

Students who file an application for the 24-month OPT extension in a timely manner (the DIA recommends 90 days) before their existing OPT expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until a final decision is made on the I-765 OR for 180 days, whichever comes first. 

Travel and OPT Extensions

What if I want to travel outside the U.S. and my OPT card has expired and my OPT extension request is still pending?

If your OPT employment authorization has expired and your 24-month extension request is still pending, SEVP has issued guidance that you must wait to receive your new employment authorization document prior to traveling outside the U.S.

What if I need to travel outside the U.S. after my OPT is approved?

In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have:

  • A travel signature on your I-20 signed by the DIA within the last six months
  • A valid F-1 visa
  • A valid passport and your EAD card
  • You should also carry a letter from your employer confirming you are or will be employed there under Optional Practical Training. 

Reporting Information to the DIA While on Extended OPT 

While on OPT you are still legally required to report certain information to the DIA.  Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event. To report, please email the DIA.

  • Changes in name or residential/mailing address
  • Report your employer name, address, and supervisor’s email within 10 days of any changes or new employment
  • Report changes to another immigration status
  • If you will leave your OPT employment before your OPT end date
  • Notify the DIA if your email address changes

Validation Reports to the DIA Every 6 Months 

Every six months, starting from the date your extension begins (i.e. the day after your current 12-month OPT ends) you are required by federal law to “check in” with the DIA.  Please email the DIA and provide:

  • Your legal name
  • Current residential address
  • Current email
  • Your employer’s name
  • Employer’s address
  • Whether or not you are still currently employed there.

You will be sent a reminder to the e-mail address which you have provided the DIA.

The six-month check-ins are in addition to reporting within 10 days any changes that occur, as detailed in the previous section. The six-month check-in must be done even if there are no changes to your situation.

Please be aware that Homeland Security indicates students on extended OPT who fail to submit information within the 6-month check-in period will be viewed as violating status and F-1 status will be terminated. It is your responsibility to remember to do so at the proper time every 6 months.

Annual Evaluations

You and your employer are required to submit an annual performance evaluation each year.  The last two pages of form I-983 will be used for this and should be submitted to the DIA; email reminders will be sent to the email address you have provided. Again, failure to submit these evaluations may result in termination of your legal status.

Unemployment and OPT

During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP. Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial 12-month post-completion OPT authorization. Students granted a 24-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM extension period. f all or part of the 90 days are unused after the 12-month OPT, they may be used during the 24-month extension period as well (therefore, a total of up to 150 days may be possible during the 24-month period). If you are unemployed for more than the permitted lengths of time you must consider your OPT to be immediately and automatically canceled and your F-1 status ended.