What do I need to know before I apply for the OPT extension?
Who is Eligible for an OPT Extension?
The extension is available only to F-1 students currently authorized for and actively participating in the initial period of 12-month OPT who meet very specific criteria. These will be explained in further detail on this website:
- Student must be currently participating in 12-month OPT based on a bachelor's degree or higher.
- Degree must be in a specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) areas.
- Degree must have been earned from a U.S. institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Completed extension application must be received by USCIS before the current 12-month OPT expires.
- Must be working for an employer participating in E-Verify.
- Student cannot have been authorized for more than one STEM extension previously.
- Student has accrued fewer than 90 days of unemployment time during the current period of OPT.
How Do I Know if My Degree Program Qualifies?
The Department of Homeland Security publishes a "STEM Designated Program Degree" list found here. These six-digit codes are called CIP (Classification of Instructional Program) codes, and reflect the only majors eligible for a STEM extension. If you have questions, please consult the DSO. Remember that certificates, minors, and non-degree study are not eligible for OPT.
What About a Degree I Already Earned?
The new rule does permit eligibility for degrees previously earned.
- For example, this could mean that a student completes regular 12-month OPT based on a degree in Art that they just earned. The Art degree is not eligible for a STEM extension, but the student also has a previous degree in Actuarial Science, which IS eligible. As long as the work being done during the STEM extension employment is directly related to Actuarial Science, then the student may be able to apply for the STEM extension based on that prior Actuarial Science degree instead of the recent Art degree.
This is a new provision that was never included in OPT before, so can be a little complex. Some things to keep in mind:
- The prior degree must have been conferred within the 10 years preceding the date the DSO recommends the OPT STEM extension.
- You must specify in the OPT STEM application that you are basing the application on a previously earned degree.
- The degree must have been earned from an accredited and SEVIS-approved U.S. school. Degrees earned outside the U.S., including from U.S. satellite campuses in other countries, cannot be accepted. The DSO will verify accreditation status as part of the OPT STEM application process.
- The degree must be bachelor's level or higher.
- The major CIP code must be on the current STEM Designated Degree Program list mentioned above. It may be necessary for the DSO to communicate with your previous school in order to get the CIP code for that program.
What Types of Employment Are Not Permitted?
- Self-employment and sole proprietorship
- Volunteer/unpaid positions
- Brief employment with multiple employers, such as occurs through contracting (it may be acceptable to work for up to two employers at the same time, providing both meet the OPT STEM extension criteria and an I-983 is filed for each)
- Working for temp or placement agencies or consulting firms
- Students cannot engage in OPT STEM extension employment and list another student currently on OPT or STEM OPT as supervisor/employer.
- In order to qualify for OPT STEM extension, the student must be a “bona fide” and direct employee of the employer who completes the I-983
When Should I Apply for the OPT Extension?
You may apply for your OPT extension up to 90 days before your current OPT ends. You cannot apply once your 12-month OPT expires or during the 60-day grace period. Your complete OPT extension application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of your initial 12 months of OPT.
How Many Times Can I Get a STEM Extension?
Twice, if your second application is based on earning a new degree at a higher level. You must first do a full year of 12-month OPT, then apply for the STEM extension.
- For example, a student may earn a bachelor's degree and do 12 months of OPT, then do 24 months of STEM OPT. That student may then go back to school and do a master's degree, do another 12 months of OPT, and then do a second period of STEM OPT. That student is then no longer eligible for any more STEM OPT, even if they go on to do a PhD later (they COULD do 12 more months of regular 12-month OPT after the PhD, but no more STEM).
You cannot do the 24-month STEM extensions back to back (in consecutive periods of time).
- For example, you cannot do one period of 24-month OPT and then immediately apply for the second period of 24-month OPT. You must go back to school and receive a new degree at a higher level, and do another period of 12-month OPT before you are eligible to again apply for a STEM extension.
For students who use a previously earned degree for the OPT STEM extension, you cannot "double dip" by basing another STEM extension on the same degree twice.
- For example, if you do one period of OPT STEM based on a prior degree, then go back to school and earn a higher degree and do another year of OPT, you cannot base the second STEM application on that same previous degree.
Information your employer will need to know
The DSO strongly suggests you share this link with your employer so that they can fully prepare for their role in your OPT STEM extension process and how to fill out their portions of the form I-983: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-stem-opt-reporting-requirements. If your employer still has questions or concerns, you may ask them to contact the DSO at email@example.com.
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 the DSO
- 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) oversees 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 www.e-verify.gov. 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.
Caution regarding employment with staffing, temp agencies or consulting firms
In May 2018 USCIS issued updated guidance on the role a staffing or temp agency can play for students applying for STEM OPT. This can be a very complex and confusing topic, and the DSO is not always able to determine whether a specific employment situation will meet the criteria of USCIS - nor is it the DSO’s job to do so. The DSO can attempt to help students and employers interpret the guidance, but ultimately the decision on whether an employment situation qualifies is at the discretion of USCIS. That guidance put restrictions on situations in which a student on STEM OPT could work at an off-site location.
In August 2018, updated guidance was issued that makes it appear off-site work IS still possible in some cases, indicating "at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met." That site should be consulted, as the DSO is unable to assess whether a particular case complies with off-site requirements or not, and the final decision lies with USCIS.
How do I apply for the OPT extension? How do I fill out the I-765?
The instructions below will help clarify how you should fill out certain parts of the form. For full instructions, see the "Instructions for Form I-765" on the I-765 application website.
- Part 1. Reason for Applying
- Section 1a: Check "renewal of permission to accept employment"
- Part 2. Information About You
- Section 1: List your name exactly as it appears in your passport.
- Section 2-4: Fill in this section if you have ever used a nickname (ex. Lily instead of Liyang), have used a maiden name before marriage, or a different name from a previous marriage, etc.
- Section 5: Use your own mailing address; DO NOT use Coe’s address. See the section on mailing your OPT application below for more details.
- Section 6: If your physical address is not the same as your mailing address (for example, if you use a Post Office address for mail), check "No" and enter your full physical address in Section 7.
- Section 8 and 9: Most F-1 students will not have an A-Number or USCIS Online Account Number, so these may be left blank if they do not apply to you; if you previously were authorized for OPT, include the A-Number that appeared on your EAD card.
- Section 12: Check "Yes" ONLY if you have ever been on OPT before, otherwise check "No"
- Section 13a: Check “Yes” if you have already been issued a Social Security Number or “No” if you have never received one
- Section 13b: If you answered “Yes” above, enter the Social Security Number here
- Section 14: If you do not have a Social Security Number and wish to receive one through the mail, check “Yes” for both items 10 and 11 and also fill in items 12-13. Note: You do have the option to decline receiving a Social Security Number through this method, and can still go in person to a local Social Security office once you have received your OPT authorization. At this point in time, the DSO cannot tell which method may be best, but USCIS indicates if you request your Social Security Number by checking “Yes” on this I-765 you should receive it in the mail about two weeks after your OPT is approved.
- Section 15: Be sure to check "Yes" if you wish to have a Social Security Number issued to you through this application
- Section 16 and 17: List the names of your parents
- Section 19: At minimum list your city/town of birth and country; include state/province if applicable
- Section 20: Make sure you are using the date of birth format MONTH-DATE-YEAR
- Section 21a: Enter your I-94 number, which can be found at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
- Section 21b: This is found on your passport information page
- Section 21c: Most F-1 students will not have a Travel Document Number and may leave this blank
- Section 22 and 23: Enter the last date and location you entered the US, as found in your online I-94 record
- Section 24 and 25: These should be F-1; if it is not, consult the DSO
- Section 26: This is the number in the upper corner of your I-20, beginning with the letter "N"
- Section 27: Enter the following code for initial 12-month OPT: C 3 C
- Section 28:
- 28a: Enter your degree level (BA, PhD, etc.) and major (ex. BA Physics)
- 28b: Enter your employer's name as it appears in their E-Verify authorization
- 28c: Enter your employer's E-Verify number
- Part 3. Applicant's Statement, Signature
- Section 1a: Check this box
- Section 3 and/or 4: Enter your phone number
- Section 5: Enter your email address, use either your Coe address or a personal email
- Sign and date the form only in BLACK INK
- Complete form I-983 in collaboration with your employer.
- Students - See instructions here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-and-the-form-i-983
- Employers - See instructions here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-and-the-form-i-983
- Set up a meeting via phone or in-person with the DSO. Please share your completed, printed I-765 form. If there are no questions regarding your request, the DSO will create an updated I-20 to reflect your extension request. He/she will mail two copies of the I-20 to you at the address you provide, unless you have indicated you would prefer to pick up the document in person. Allow at least two weeks for the creation and mailing of the extension I-20.
Mailing you application to USCIS
Send the following documentation to USCIS to apply for OPT extension, arranged in the order listed below:
- Application Fee - $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 DSO does not encourage you to attempt to take these photos yourself. (NOTE: If you wear a hat or head covering for religious purposes, submit a signed statement that verifies that the hat or head covering in your photo is part of recognized, traditional religious attire that is customarily or required to be worn continuously in public. If you wear a hat or head covering for medical purposes, submit a signed doctor's statement verifying the hat or head covering in your photo is used daily for medical purposes.)
- Form I-765 (See the instructions 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 DSO.
- Official transcript or degree verification – 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. 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 - obtained online here.
- 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 DSO before you can know that the application has been officially received by the government. NOTE: USCIS will continue to mail the receipt notices to the address you specify on the I-765. Completion and submission of this form for email and/or text message notification is an option for you and not a required form, and does not affect the outcome of your OPT application. If you include this form, please put it as the FIRST PAGE of your application.
Where to Mail:
You will mail your OPT application to either the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox or the USCIS Dallas Lockbox - it all depends on the mailing address that you use on the I-765. Go to this website to see which address you should use. Ask the DSO if you are uncertain.
IMPORTANT! Follow the USCIS process to track issuance and delivery of your EAD card.
- If you do not follow these instructions, you risk not having your OPT EAD card delivered and be unable to work.
- The card will be mailed to the address you put on the form I-765. Make sure that your name is listed with the postal service as being able to receive mail at that address! DO NOT use a Coe address.
- Delivery of your EAD card will require your signature or that of someone you delegate.
- Sign up for a "Case Status Online" account as instructed in the link above.
- Register for "Informed Delivery" as instructed in the link above.
- It may be a good idea to choose to have the US Postal Service hold your card at your local post office until you can go in person to retrieve it and sign for it. This is something you can arrange in "Informed Delivery."
- Remember that it is your responsibility to update USCIS should you move to a new address before your OPT is approved. The EAD card will not be forwarded and instead would be returned to USCIS, causing considerable delay for you and the DSO cannot impact this. https://egov.uscis.gov/coa/displayCOAForm.do
- Do not mail your application to USCIS more than 90 days before the end of your 12-month OPT. They will automatically reject it and will not refund the application fee.
- USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of the creation of your I-20 reflecting your OPT request - do not delay mailing it!
- If you change your mind and do not mail your OPT application, you must notify the DSO, or your SEVIS record will terminate.
What happens after I mail my OPT 24 month application?
About 3-4 weeks after you mail your application, USCIS will issue the I-797 Notice of Action acknowledging receipt of your application. Remember to keep this letter, since it will contain a special number beginning with letters such as “LIN...” that refers to your specific application. If you do not receive the Notice of Action after 4-5 weeks, please notify the DSO.
You may use the LIN/YSC 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, it will just 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 DSO.
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. 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 letter to your home address.
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 directly to the degree on which your OPT STEM application is based. You must notify the DSO when this occurs and file a new I-983/Training Plan filled out by you and your new employer. Changing employers without notifying the DSO may result in termination of your status.
What Kind of Job Can I Take?
OPT employment must be directly 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 DSO 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 STEM extension request is still pending, SEVP issued updated guidance in May 2016 that you are still eligible to travel outside the U.S. You will still need to take your expired EAD card and also obtain a new travel signature from the DSO before you leave, a letter from your employer indicating you are still employed there, and proof of your OPT STEM extension application.
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 DSO 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 DSO while on extended OPT
While on OPT, you are still legally required to report certain information to the DSO. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event. To report, email the DSO.
NOTE: In March 2018, SEVP made it possible for students to log in directly to the SEVIS system to report updates to your address, telephone, and employer information. For the time being we encourage students to continue to contact the DSO to update this information in order to avoid conflicting information.
- 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 DSO if your email address changes
Validation Reports to the DSO Every 6 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 DSO every six months (at 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months). These check-ins will be done via email, at which time you will provide your legal name, current residential address, current email, your employer’s name, employer’s address, and whether or not you are still currently employed there. You should also schedule your reminders. The check-in must be done even if there are no changes to your situation.
These check-ins are in addition to reporting within 10 days any changes that occur, as detailed in the previous section.
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.
You and your employer are required to submit an annual performance evaluation each year. The first evaluation is due 12 months after your OPT STEM start date; and the second is due at the end of your 24-month STEM period. The last two pages of form I-983 will be used for this and should be submitted to the DSO; courtesy email reminders will be sent to the email address you have provided, but you should also schedule your own reminders. 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. If 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.