STEM OPT Extension
The STEM OPT Extension (or STEM OPT) is an employment benefit that grants an extended period of work authorization in addition to a currently approved Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization period. As of May 10, 2016, the extension period is 24 months. Please see the DHS Study in the States STEM OPT Hub for full information. STEM OPT is granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (US CIS) and authorizes eligible F-1 students to work an additional amount of time anywhere in the U.S. as long as they meet the STEM Eligibility requirements which include:
- Currently on post-completion OPT and have completed a STEM OPT-eligible degree (as determined by DHS) in the U.S. The CIP code assigned to your major at LSU (and listed on page 1 of your I-20 in the primary or secondary major fields) must match the DHS STEM OPT list exactly in order to be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension.
- Employed directly by an employer(s) that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
- Working in a job directly related to your STEM OPT major field of study and at a level commensurate with your educational level at a minimum of 20 hours per week.
- Employer(s) and Student must agree to fulfill all of the 24-Month STEM OPT requirements and submit a completed Training Plan (I-983 Form) with all relevant information and signatures from Employer and Student.
- Must be paid employment, no volunteer/unpaid employment allowed on STEM since information about compensation is required for the I-983 form.
- Cannot be self-employed as sole owner due to I-983 requirements. DHS Language: “STEM OPT students may participate in entrepreneurial ventures where the student is an employee. However, they may not act as their own employer or as the signatory for the employer for the purposes of this form.”
Important Notice: Currently, USCIS charges a fee of $410 for the I-765 form, which you are using to apply for your STEM OPT. This fee is subject to change at any time. Please make sure that you check the USCIS I-765 page at the time of filing to confirm the correct fee amount. Paying an incorrect amount could result in a denial/rejection.
24-Month STEM OPT Extension Application Process
Step 1: Review the STEM OPT Checklist and submit electronic copies of your draft documents to International Services for review via the online form
Please note that International Services cannot issue the STEM OPT I-20 until we have a fully executed, complete I-983. We recommend submitting your draft application (including the draft I-983) to our office for review before securing signatures from your employer.
Step 2: Book an appointment for an OPT review with an ISO advisor and make any necessary edits. Submit your final documents via the online form to International Services to receive the DSO Recommendation (i.e. STEM OPT I-20).
Once you have submitted your initial request for the STEM OPT extension I-20, book your STEM OPT review appointment with an ISO advisor. During this appointment we will review your I-983 and supporting materials for any issues or needed corrections.
After your review appointment, make any needed corrections and submit your edited documents to ISO via the same online form. You will receive your STEM OPT I-20 within 5-7 business days from the receipt of your final, completed application materials.
Step 3: File your application with USCIS for review and adjudication of STEM application
Your application must be received by USCIS no later than the end of your current post-completion OPT. This is a federal regulatory requirement and there are no exceptions. Applications received after that date are not considered timely filed and will be denied.
Please remember that USCIS processing times can be 90 days or more. Students who timely file a complete application for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension will be eligible to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The beginning date of the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension will be the day after the end date of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved. Students should not travel outside of the U.S. if their employment authorization document (EAD) has expired and their STEM OPT Extension request is pending.
Important Notice about I-765 Online Filing
Applying for the STEM OPT extension involves a request to the school that has your SEVIS record (for the STEM OPT recommendation) and an application to USCIS for the employment authorization (Form I-7665). If you submit your application to USCIS too early, without our recommendation being done in SEVIS, it would be denied.
If you plan to file your application online, please create your USCIS account and enter your draft responses up through the 'additional information' section. Do not pay the fee. Download the draft snapshot of your application to submit to ISO with your STEM OPT extension recommendation request.
Estimated Processing Times
- 5-10 business days: International Services review of STEM OPT application and processing of recommendation for STEM OPT. Remember that International Services cannot issue the STEM OPT I-20 until we have a complete and accurate I-983.
- Within 2-4 weeks of filing with USCIS: Student should receive the paper "Receipt Notice/I-797 Notice of Action" from USCIS.
- Within 90 calendar days or more: USCIS processing of STEM OPT packet.
- Within 30 days of approval: student receives EAD card with approved STEM OPT start and end dates.
Once you pay the fee, you have submitted your application. If your application is submitted without your LSU STEM OPT I-20, you risk denial of the application. Always remember that you have to start with International Services first and receive our processed documents BEFORE you file anything with USCIS.
Maintaining Status during the STEM OPT Extension
Reporting Continued Employment:
Please review the OPT Reporting Help Guide for a detailed overview of required SEVIS reporting.
Every Six Months
Every six months during your STEM OPT Extension period, you are required to report your current employer and personal information, even if nothing has changed. If there have been any changes to the information on your I-983 make the needed updates and get fresh signatures. Submit your confirmation of your employment and personal information along with the updated I-983 (if applicable) to International Services via email (email@example.com) on your validation reporting due date.
Every 12 Months
Also, after twelve months on your STEM OPT Extension, you are required to prepare and submit the “Evaluation on Student Progress” which is the top section of the last page of the I-983 form. You will need to complete the self-evaluation at the top of page five with your supervisor. Review pages 1-4 for any material changes and updates. Make any needed updates and get fresh signatures if information on the signature pages has changed. Submit all five pages of the I-983 to International Services via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Your validation and self-evaluation must be submitted to our office on your validation due date.
Days of Unemployment
During the STEM OPT Extension period, you are allowed up to 60 additional unemployment days. If you still had some of your OPT unemployment time left, then this can be used during STEM OPT as well. For example, if you never used any unemployment days at all, you would still have the original 90 days plus 60 more, for a total of 150 unemployment days to be used during the 3 year time frame (12 months OPT + 24 months STEM OPT). Please check with our office if you want an exact count of how many days you have used so far and how many unemployment days would still be available.
When you change employers, there are additional steps for STEM OPT students to have their information updated in the SEVIS system. Students on the STEM OPT extension are required to submit an updated I-983 with a completed Final Evaluation as documentation for the change. An updated I-983 is also required if there are any changes in position, job site location, duties, or other “material changes” as described on the I-983 STEM OPT Hub information. Please contact our office if you have questions about the change and what type of documentation would be needed for our SEVIS reporting. Please note that the reporting window is 10 calendar days from the date of the change.
When you change positions or leave an Employer during the 24-Month STEM OPT period, you need to fill out the “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” which is the lower section of the last page of the I-983 form. This is completed with your training supervisor and submitted to International Services along with pages 1-4 of your I-983 Training Plan.
This Final Evaluation is required at two possible times: 1) when you leave a STEM job and also 2) when you complete the end of your 24-month period. Students must submit the full I-983 that includes the Final Evaluation to our office via email at email@example.com within 10 calendar days of your last date of employment.
New or Additional STEM Employers
For any new Employers or positions that you will be working for during the 24-Month STEM OPT period, your new Employer will need to fill out the I-983 Training Plan. This is required for any employer you have during this STEM OPT period and we must verify that it is complete and signed before we can update your new employment. Students must submit the I-983 Training Plan to our office via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) within 10 calendar days of starting the new employment.
Travel during the STEM OPT Extension:
After your STEM OPT has been approved and you have the new STEM OPT EAD card in hand, it may be possible for you to travel as an F-1 during your 24-month STEM OPT Extension period with the recommended documents listed on our OPT and STEM travel handout.
You will need to request a travel signature from International Services at least two weeks prior to your planned travel. The travel signature must be less than 6 months old at the time you plan to re-enter the U.S. You can request the signature via an email to email@example.com. Please include your travel dates and destination in the email.
We would recommend having all of the documents on the handout linked above, so that you have documentation to back up your reason for re-entering the U.S. You must still have a valid F-1 Visa to re-enter the country during your STEM OPT Extension period, so please include that additional time in your travel plans if you need to make an appointment at a Consulate to renew your F-1 visa. Please contact our office if you have a complicated travel situation or have further questions about traveling during your approved STEM OPT Extension period.
H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
The H-1B Cap-Gap Extension can be applied to F-1 students who are currently on OPT or their STEM OPT Extension and whose employer has applied for a Change of Status to the H-1B visa.
F-1 students are eligible for the cap-gap extension if they are:
- Currently on a period of unexpired OPT or in the 60-day grace period following OPT
- In good F-1 status (within allowed unemployment limits)
- The beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition that has been filed by a cap-subject employer who is requesting a change of status and a start date of October 1.
For eligible F-1 students the Cap-Gap extension extends the legal period of OPT authorization until September 30 if the OPT is not yet expired. If the OPT has already ended, only the 60-day grace period and continued F-1 status will be extended. The Cap-Gap extension ends if the H-1B petition is withdrawn, revoked or denied. Once you have proof of filing, contact International Services via email to request a Cap-Gap I-20.