You may qualify for the additional 24 months of training/employment in the OPT STEM Extension under the following circumstances:

Before May 10, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was implementing a 17-month OPT extension for graduates of eligible STEM programs.  If you have already received a 17-month OPT extension, you will no longer be eligible to apply for the new 24-month OPT extension.

The 24-month OPT STEM Extension is similar to the initial 12-month OPT period.  One of the main differences though is that the 2016 final rule reinstating the 24-month STEM OPT regulations requires the submission of a formal training plan. 

At this time, you may only seek trainining opportunity in the STEM OPT Extension period if you obtained either a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees in a U.S. STEM program. Your STEM program must be on the Department of Homeland Security's STEM designated degree program list to be considered eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. This electronic system provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers.

EMPLOYER

When choosing a company or companies for your STEM OPT extension, you should choose those that are able to guarantee that you will be completing a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and that you will be provided with formal training and learning objectives.  And, your post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as your  STEM OPT extension employer. 

The choice or your STEM OPT Extension employer is important as you will both be subject to the terms and conditions of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations, the Form I-983 instructions and the completed Form I-983, effective as of the employment start date requested for the associated STEM OPT period, as indicated on the Form I-983.  This includes according you with the same working conditions (including work responsibilities, hours of work, and salary) as comparable US staff.  Moreover, your employer will have to accommodate site visits from DHS officials and comply with reportorial requirements.

PROCEDURE

The timing of your application is important because you may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.  You should therefore apply within three months prior to the end of your first OPT period.

The general procedure for applying the STEM OPT Extension is as follows:

  1. You and your prospective employer complete and sign the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.”  You must include how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to your qualifying STEM degree. When your employer signs this form, he is affirming his commitment to help you achieve the learning objective written on the form.
  2. Once your Designated School Official (or DSO) verifies that your Form I-983 is complete and keeps it in your student record, they will provide you with a new Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status" that shows their recommendation for this training opportunity.
  3. To get work authorization, you must complete an Application for work authorization Form I-765 "Application for Employment Authorization," tender payment for the filing fee then submit your application electronically to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Upon approval of your I-765, USCIS will send you a Form I-766 also known as "Employment Authorization Document," or EAD.

THE EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION DOCUMENT (EAD)

Unlike your initial 12-month OPT period, if you file your extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your extension application is pending, USCIS will extend your employment authorization so you may continue to work on your expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days.  For this to happen, you must meet the following conditions: 

If you file your extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your extension application is pending, USCIS will extend your employment authorization for 180 days.

OTHER KEY POINTS

You may be able to participate twice in the STEM OPT extension over the course of your academic career. The conditions for this are clear:

Regulations will allow you as an F-1 student to participate a maximum of two STEM periods only.

Under certain circumstances, if you had a prior eligible STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school you may be able to qualify for the STEM OPT extension.  The conditions are that you must:

An example is if you are currently participating in Post-completion OPT based on a masters degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor's degree in chemsitry, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

After receiving a STEM OPT Extension, you must remember the following responsibilities:

Head over to the post Frequently Asked Questons about the US OPT Stem Extension if you have questions not addressed in this post.

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About the Author

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.


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