International Student Services

STEM OPT Extension: How to Apply

The STEM OPT extension allows some students with science, technology, engineering, or math degrees to apply to extend their post-completion OPT authorization. Students with STEM degrees and currently in their 12-month OPT period should review the eligibility requirements, application timeline, and instructions below.

Employment Requirements During the 24-month STEM OPT Extension | When to Apply | How to Apply | Employer Noncompliance | Frequently Asked Questions

Eligibility

To qualify for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must:

  • Be in F-1 status
  • Be currently working in a period of post-completion OPT
  • Have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in an eligible STEM field
    • You can find your degree CIP code in the “Program of Study” section of your I-20.
    • You may be eligible use a prior STEM degree earned in the U.S. for this requirement; to use a prior STEM degree, you must:
      • Have received your most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S.
      • Have received your prior, qualifying STEM degree in the U.S. within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension.
      • The qualifying STEM degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time you submit your STEM OPT extension application (rather than at the time you received the degree).
  • Have a paid job offer that meets the following requirements:
    • The job is with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program. Double-check with your employer to determine if they are enrolled in E-Verify; sometimes the USCIS E-Verify database is not correct.
      (The University of Washington participates in the E-Verify program. The UW E-Verify ID number is 293411.)
    • The job offers at least 20 hours of work per week
    • The job will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to your qualifying STEM degree
  • Be able to complete the I-983 Training Plan with your employer

Employment Requirements During the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

You must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that a) participates in the E-Verify program and b) agrees to follow all the employer requirements in the 24-month STEM rule.

Unlike the 12 month OPT, volunteer/unpaid work or self-employment is not permitted under the 24 month STEM OPT Extension regulation.

Please review the new guidance about acceptable types of activity during the 24-month STEM OPT Extension that is substantially different than the 12 month OPT and past guidance for the STEM Extension.

When to Apply

Students with a STEM degree and currently in the 12-month OPT period:

  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT extension application before your current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.
  • Apply as early as 90 days before your current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.
  • Take into consideration:
    • ISS needs one month for processing your new I-20.
    • Allow sufficient time to mail your application to USCIS.

How to Apply

Students with a STEM degree and currently in the 12-month OPT period:

Confirm you are maintaining your F-1 status!

Make sure to confirm that your 12-month OPT information up-to-date. Check the SEVP Portal.

If your current address and employment information is correct, proceed to Step 2 below.

If your current address and employment information is not correct, submit a 12-Month OPT Report. (Do not request a new I-20 in the 12-month OPT report webform; just submit the information changes. You will request a new I-20 in the separate 24-month STEM OPT I-20 request webform below).

ISS must ensure the 12-month OPT information in your SEVIS record is accurate and updated before processing your STEM OPT I-20 request.

Ask ISS to Recommend your STEM OPT Extension

You cannot apply for a STEM OPT Extension with USCIS without asking ISS to endorse your application.

1. Gather and complete the following documents

I-983 Training Plan (review ISS Tips for Form I-983)

If you will apply for the 24-month OPT extension based on employment at UW, check these tips from International Scholars Operations for completing the I-983 Training Plan for UW employment.

Completed I-765 Form

  • It is okay to leave the E-Verify field blank in the I-765 Form in this situation. ISS maintains a list of employers who do not share the E-Verify number with university officials because the employers will submit the OPT extension application on behalf of their employees. If your employer is not on the list, your ISS adviser might contact you to ask for a confirmation letter from your employer that states their policy.
  • For help completing the Form I-765, please review the I-765 Completion Guide – STEM OPT Extension.

Pay the $200 Post-Completion Training fee.
Be sure to save a copy of your e-mail receipt – you will be required to upload a copy with your STEM OPT Extension I-20 request.

2. Submit the online STEM OPT Extension I-20 Request to ISS:
Request STEM OPT Extension I-20

3. Allow one month for processing.
An ISS adviser will review your application and issue a new, updated I-20 with a STEM OPT Extension recommendation printed on the back page.

Apply for OPT work authorization with USCIS

There are two ways to apply for OPT authorization with USCIS:

  • File a paper application
  • Online OPT application

The online filing option only became available in spring quarter 2021. We understand that students prefer this option and we have compiled information to better help with the process.

Preparing your materials.

Both the online and paper application require you to prepare documents and information to submit with your application. Please see the list below to better understand what you need:

    • Copy of Form I-20 with your signature and STEM Extension endorsement by your DSO (ISS adviser) (must arrive at USCIS within 60 days of issuance)
    • Form I-765 (Be sure to include your employer’s name as listed in E-Verify and E-Verify Company Identification Number or valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number)
    • Copy of your transcript. USCIS instructions do not specify between official or unofficial transcripts. ISS’ experience has been that either official or unofficial are acceptable.
    • Copy of Form I-94 (which can be obtained at I-94 Website). Land border crossings are not always documented in the same way that entries via air are. ISS recommends using your most recent date of entrance into the US.
    • Copy of your current EAD card (front and back)
    • 2 passport-style photos. Lightly write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo. (Review number 2. C on page 8 of the “Required Documentation” section of USCIS photo instructions)
    • Form I-765 filing fee (extra $85 biometric services fee is not required for OPT applications) paid by money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions. If you pay by check, you must make your check payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you pay by credit card, use extra caution when sending the G-1450 – ISS has seen a number of complications related to the credit card payment process and recommends sending a money order, personal, or cashier’s check instead of the G-1450.
      If you must pay by credit card, double check all information on Form G-1450, including credit card numbers and address associated with your card.
      If you pay by credit card, you must sign Form G-1450. There is a line on the form that says “credit card holder’s signature” – please sign your name in the space provided.
    • Completed G-1145 Form (optional, but only needed with the paper application.
    • Note: the I-983 Training Plan does not need to be submitted to USCIS (unless USCIS requests a copy during STEM OPT extension processing). You should keep a copy of the plan for your own records, and ISS also keeps a copy.Also, USCIS I-765 filing instructions (both general and STEM OPT) do not require copies of previous I-20s, passport biographical page, nor F-1 visa page. You may include these copies if you want to, but they are not required.

Filing a paper application instructions

  1. Gather the documents listed above.
  2. Use a paperclip to put them together in order.
  3. Mail the application to the USCIS lockbox.
  4. When you receive your receipt notice, consider adding your case to a USCIS account (which would require you to set up an account).

Filing an online OPT application

  1. Create an account with USCIS. See their tutorial for support.
  2. Click on the box to file a form online.
    • Select Application for Employment Authorization
    • Read through the Form Overview Page. This is important information about your request to the U.S. Government.
    • Go through the steps to complete the application.
      • We recommend reviewing our guide for filling out the I-765 to help you understand some of the information that you are inputting in your application.
    • DO NOT SUBMIT UNTIL you have uploaded all required documentation (I-94 record, visa, passport, photos, OPT endorsed I-20, previous CPT or OPT I-20s, and previous EAD cards. If you submit your application and pay the fee to USCIS WITHOUT having proper information in the application, USCIS will deny your OPT application AND keep your fee.

Tips for Filing the Online Application 

  • Complete the form as best as you can. The form uses logic which allows you to skip the questions you don’t need to answer.
  • Your form will save in draft status for 30 days. If you start the application and realize you messed up your OPT dates or need to get new photos taken, you can take a break and complete the form later.
  • If you’re inactive for 15 minutes, you will be automatically logged out.
  • Make sure you pick the correct eligibility category for your form! (pre-completion = (c)(3)(A); post-completion = (c)(3)(B); stem extension = (c)(3)(C))
  • Make sure your files uploaded properly. Documents and photos can only be up to 6 MB and they only accept certain file types. If you are getting an error, check the error message and do what you need to do to correct it.
  • REVIEW! Always review your application before you pay the fee. If you pay the fee and submit, you cannot make corrections.

Benefits of Filing Online

  • All notices are posted to your account!
  • You have more control of the application.
  • Note: Students who file a paper application can also create a USCIS account. You can link your paper application and receipt notice to the online account!

Employer Noncompliance

If you believe your STEM OPT employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations, the Form I-983 instructions, and the completed Form I-983 on file with ISS, you may:

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find additional government resources about the STEM OPT extension?

STEM OPT Hub –from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Study in the States

OPT Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) –from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Last Updated: 01/24/2018

Where can I find my CIP code?

I-20s from June 2015 or earlier: the CIP code is printed at the top of page three of your I-20.  The code is 6 digits long (xx.xxxx).  Once you find your code, you can consult the entire list of individual eligible CIP codes for the STEM extension available on the SEVP website.

I-20s from July 2015 to present: the CIP code is printed next to your major on page one of your I-20.

What is the UW Seattle SEVIS School Code?

SEA214F00265000

How can I find out what date my UW degree was awarded?

Log into MyUW. Click on “Academics” in the left-side navigation bar, then click on “Unofficial Transcript.” Scroll to the bottom of the transcript and the date you earned your degree will be listed.

If I have a dual major, can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on one of the degree programs?

Yes, if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List and any job worked while on the extension is related to your STEM degree.

Can I qualify for the 24-month extension based on my minor or certificate program?

No.

When does my 24-month extension of OPT start?

If you have properly filed for a 24-month STEM extension, the period of extension starts the day after the expiration of your original OPT period.

Can I work with an expired EAD while my 24-month extension is pending?

Yes. Your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the 24-month STEM extension application is pending. There is no interim documentation of the extended authorization. If your employer needs information about what documents to collect as proof of extended work authorization, please refer to them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-9 Central.

Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my original EAD expires and my 24-month extension is still pending?

Yes, your EAD is considered extended for up to 180 days while your STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS. During that period, you can travel outside the U.S. even if your previous EAD is expired.

For more information about what documents to carry, and citations for this rule, review scenario #4 in the “Travel and OPT” section.

Do I need to use the ISS address on the I-765?

No, you are not required to use the ISS address on #3 of I-765 form. However, be sure to provide an accurate and valid address for at least 4 months into the future so you can receive your EAD card. The post office will NOT forward OPT mail. If you might change your address while your OPT application is pending, consider renting a post office P.O. Box or using a friend’s address or ISS address.

Can I change employers while the 24-month extension is pending?

Yes, you can change employers while your 24-month STEM OPT extension application is pending with USCIS.

If you change employers, report the change to ISS through our 24-month STEM OPT Reporting Form. In the “comments” section, explain that your STEM OPT extension application is still pending with USCIS. Regulations state that employment changes must be reported within 10 days.

Your ISS adviser will provide a copy of an updated I-20 directly to USCIS.