(The following information is an adaptation of information available at NAFSA.org and StudyInTheStates.DHS.gov)

F-1 students with bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) - certified institutions of higher education may apply for the 24-month STEM OPT Extension from a valid period of 12-month standard post-completion OPT. The start date of the 24-month STEM OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization and the end date will be 24 months later. This will allow for a total of 36 months of OPT. Students may not request only a portion of the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

After completing another qualifying degree at a higher degree level and receiving another period of standard post-completion OPT based on that degree, a student would be eligible for one more 24-month STEM OPT extension.

A student is limited to two STEM OPT extensions during his or her lifetime.

Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension

To qualify for the 24-month extension, the eligible student must:
Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT,
Have a STEM major which is on the STEM Designated Degree Program list - ICE

Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree* from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by SEVP.

Previously obtained STEM degrees: F-1 students participating in a 12-month period of standard post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree 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. Students must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

STEM degrees obtained in the future: If a student enrolls in a new academic program in the future and earns another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, the student may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Work for an E-Verified employer who meets all the requirements in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities (For more information, employers and students may refer to the DHS STEM OPT Hub.)
Submit a complete STEM OPT application packet to USCIS no earlier than 90 days before his or her current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date the student’s Designated School Official (DSO) [same as International Student Advisor (ISA)] enters the recommendation for the STEM OPT extension into the student’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

*Master’s or doctoral students who have not yet completed their thesis or dissertation may still be eligible for STEM OPT extension and must:

  • Be on a period of standard post-completion OPT, and
  • Have completed all course requirements outside of completing their thesis or dissertation. The thesis requirement or equivalent must be the only degree requirement still outstanding at the time of application; this is not an available option for students using a previously obtained STEM degree.

Restrictions on Certain Types of Employment Arrangements

DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Types of employment that do not constitute employment under the 24-month STEM OPT extension are:
volunteer/unpaid position,
self-employment/entrepreneurial arrangements,
sole proprietorship,
multiple employer arrangements,
employment through “temp/staffing” agencies

USCIS Revises Third-Party Placement Rules for STEM OPT Recipients
For more information, visit: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment/stem-opt#_STEM_OPT_Employer.

employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide “work/labor for hire,” (also known as 1099 employment) and
other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.

STEM OPT Extension Facts

Fact List
The DSO/ISA must recommend the 24-month STEM OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying the student's eligibility, certifying that the student's degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, and ensuring that the student is aware of their responsibilities for maintaining status while on STEM OPT.
Students will have to submit the Form I-765 with fee and qualifying documentation in order to apply for the STEM OPT extension.
Students who timely file an application for the 24-month STEM OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the application is pending, until receiving a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
The employment authorization period for the 24-month STEM OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the standard post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.
Students may apply for the STEM OPT extension in the 90 days prior to the expiration of the standard OPT EAD.
Applications for the STEM OPT extension must be filed and received at USCIS before the current standard OPT EAD expires.

Limited Periods of Unemployment to Maintain Status:

During standard post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.

Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any standard post-completion OPT carried out under the initial standard post-completion OPT authorization.

Students granted the 24-month STEM OPT extension are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment, for an aggregate of 150 days of unemployment during the total 36-month OPT period.

Must report their OPT/STEM OPT Employment and Home Address to the UFIC within 10 days of any changes to their name, address, or employment status in the U.S.
Students must also make a validation report to their DSO/ISA every six months starting from the date the STEM OPT extension begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the STEM OPT extension ends, whichever is first.

Applying for the STEM OPT Extension

Each international student advisor is assisting students with urgent deadlines. Each student’s personal deadlines are important, however, the government-issued deadlines require priority. Advisors are processing each student’s request to the best of their abilities. They do their best to review and process documents in the order received, but also take into account the expiration date of the OPT EAD and USCIS deadlines. If there are multiple EAD cards expiring on the same day, advisors process them in the order received.

Online Request

Students must submit the following documents as PDF or JPEG email attachments (Advisors cannot open other document formats):

To start the STEM OPT Extension request, click the following button and use your GatorLink credentials to login (please make sure you only create one request): 

 

STEM OPT Extension

 

To return to your request, please use the ISSS login button from the top of the side menu.

Once the student receives the new I-20, he or she must assemble his or her application packet by including all items listed on the checklist accompanying the new I-20 issued for the STEM OPT application, to the USCIS Lockbox which has jurisdiction over the STATE of the address provided on the I-765, Item # 3

  • The student’s I-20 will be mailed to the US mailing address specified on the STEM OPT Extension Questionnaire. Students must indicate on the Questionnaire if they would like to have the I-20 sent to them via USPS or FedEx. If FedEx, students will be provided additional information regarding creating a FedEx waybill once the I-20 is ready.
  • Once the student receives the new I-20, he or she must assemble his or her application packet by sending items 4 - 9 on the above checklist along with a copy of the new I-20, signed by the student, to the USCIS Lockbox which has jurisdiction over the STATE of the address you provided on the I-765, Item # 3
  • Students should mail the application via USPS Certified Mail or USPS Express Mail and must go inside of USPS to pay for it. Students should keep the tracking number for their records
  • USCIS must receive the application within 60 days of when the international student advisor issued the I-20 and before the student’s standard post-completion OPT expires, whichever comes first!
  • If the student’s application is approved, he or she will need to send an email to ufic-iss@ufic.ufl.edu with his or her UFID and a copy of the STEM OPT card.
USCIS Application Packet
The following documents must be prepared and sent to USICS for your STEM OPT application. UFIC is not responsible for mailing your application or the outcome of your application.

Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization

  • Please use the form directly linked on the USCIS website. You must use the most current edition of the form. You can find the specific Edition Date in use on USCIS’ website. You can find the edition date of the form at the bottom of the I-765 page and in the instructions.
  • Guide to completing the I-765
  • HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you complete the form ELECTRONICALLY to minimize handwriting discrepancies
  • Applicant’s HANDWRITTEN SIGNATURE is required in blue or black ink.
Form G-1145 – USCIS will send a one-time e-mail and/or text message confirming they have received the student’s application, and will provide the application receipt number. Students MUST ELECTRONICALLY TYPE their responses; handwriting NOT accepted.
$410.00 USCIS Fee for processing your application:
  • This may be a personal check, money order, or cashier's check, made payable to the Department of Homeland Security; cash not accepted
  • Money orders or cashier’s checks can be obtained at most grocery stores, gas stations, banks, or the post office
Two US Regulation Passport Photos of the student
  • Must be in color, white background, and taken within 30 days of the filing of the application
  • Cannot be the exact same picture as in the student’s visa or passport
  • Students must print their full name and I-94 number in pencil or felt tip pen (thin sharpie) on the back of each photo
  • Passport photos can be obtained at the UF Mail & Document Services, Bldg. 715, Radio Road or at a local Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens, etc.
Copy of Current I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation
  • This document will be issued from UFIC upon completion of this online request.
COPIES of the student’s most recent immigration documents:
  • I-94 Form – Students can print this information from online: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home#section
  • Current EAD (OPT card, front and back)
    F1 Visa (does not need to be valid)
    Passport (must be valid/unexpired)
Proof of the Degree and Major: copy of the student’s diploma AND a copy of the student’s official transcripts; an unofficial transcript printout from a student’s UF student account is not acceptable.

Grace Period and Options After STEM OPT

Students who maintain their F-1 status while on STEM OPT will receive the 60-day Grace Period upon the expiration of the STEM OPT card. The student has the following options prior to the expiration of the grace period:

Request I-20 for Admission to New Program at UF

Students who have applied and been admitted to a new program at UF must request an I-20 for Change of Educational Level (COL). In order for the student not to be required to depart the US before the start of the new program:

  • the new program must start within 150 days or less from the STEM OPT expiration date and
  • the I-20 request must be made in ISSS at least 7-10 business days prior and the I-20 must be issued before the STEM OPT 60 day grace period expires.

If the program will not start within 150 days or less, or if the I-20 update request is not made to the ISA at least 7-10 business days prior to the grace period deadline, the student will be required to leave the US by the end of the STEM OPT 60 day grace period. An Initial I-20, which will have a new SEVIS ID, to apply for a new F-1 visa abroad, will be mailed to the student’s home address abroad. Students are required to pay the SEVIS fee for the new SEVIS ID, along with the F-1 visa application fee. The student will then be able to return to the US within the 30 days prior to the program start date indicated on the Initial I-20.

When a student is admitted to a new program at the same school, the remaining portion of STEM OPT, if any, is automatically terminated when the current school registers the student for the new program in SEVIS.

Request SEVIS Transfer to Another U.S. Institution

Students who have been admitted to a new program at a school other than UF must request a Transfer-Out to transfer their F-1 SEVIS record to the new school. In order not to be required to depart the US before the start of the new program:

  • the new program must start within 150 days or less of the STEM OPT expiration date and
  • the request must be made in ISSS at least 7-10 business days prior to and the SEVIS record must be transferred before the STEM OPT 60 day grace period expires.

A SEVIS transfer is not possible after the Grace Period has expired.

If the program will not start within 150 days or less, or if the SEVIS transfer request is not made to the ISA at least 7-10 business days prior to the grace period deadline, the student will be required to leave the US by the end of the STEM OPT 60 day grace period. The new school will provide the student with an Initial I-20, which will have a new SEVIS ID, to apply for a new F-1 visa abroad. Students are required to pay the SEVIS fee for the new SEVIS ID, along with the F-1 visa application fee. The student will then be able to return to the US within the 30 days prior to the program start date indicated on the Initial I-20 from the new school.

When a student is admitted to a new program at another school, the remaining portion of STEM OPT, if any, is terminated when the SEVIS record is transferred to the new school.

Apply for a Change of Visa Status*

If the F-1 student has applied for and received approval for a change of visa status, such as to F-2, H1B, H4, J1, J2, Permanent Resident, etc., the student should email their ISA. Include the UFID number and a copy of the USCIS approval notice or Permanent Resident/Green Card.

If the F-1 student would like to apply for a change of status from F-1 to F-2, and the F-1 spouse is a student at UF, please visit Requesting Change of Visa Status to F-2 and contact the spouse’s F-1 advisor.

If the F-1 spouse is a student at another institution, please contact the spouse’s F-1 advisor at the other U.S. institution.

* USCIS may require that the Change of Status application is filed prior to the expiration of the STEM OPT card itself. This means the USCIS receipt date of the application may need to be prior to the start of the 60-day grace period.

Depart the U.S. Indefinitely

Students who will leave the U.S. indefinitely, with no current intentions of returning to continue their STEM OPT, or if the STEM OPT has ended, should send an email to their ISA; include the UFID number and a copy of the flight itinerary. This does not include temporary travel for vacation or work, if the student plans to return to continue their STEM OPT.

The student’s F-1 SEVIS record will be terminated/completed, and the remainder of the STEM OPT, if any, will become invalid; this decision is final, cannot be withdrawn/revoked. The student must depart the US within 15 days of the termination of their SEVIS record.

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