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F-1 STEM (OPT) Extension

STEM OPT Extension

F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. STEM OPT extensions may only be applied to students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify. 

  • There is a limit of two STEM-OPT extensions during an F-1's academic career. These must be at different education levels.
  • STEM OPT may be based on most recent STEM degree or a STEM degree earned prior in the F-1's academic career in the U.S.
    • Prior Degree: Degree must have been issued by a currently SEVP-certified and accredited educational institution and must have been conferred within 10 years preceding the date the DSO recommends STEM-OPT.
  • STEM degree must be from a currently accredited U.S. college or university that is SEVP approved.
  • Field of Study must be on the CIP code STEM Designated degree published by ICE (IMPORTANT: please be sure to review the link to ensure the major on your I-20 is eligible under the code listed)
  • Student must file the I-765 application within 60 days of the date DSO enters the recommendation for STEM OPT into SEVIS. [ For regular post-completion OPT, the student must file the I-765 application within 30 days of the DSO's recommendation.]
  • More information concerning OPT STEM Extension from USCIS

Additional Student Compliance Requirements

Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students)

  • The form is completed by the employer and student and establishes a Training Plan and Self-Evaluations
  • It must identify goals for the practical training, including “specific knowledge, skills or techniques that will be imparted to the student, and an explanation on how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer; describe a performance evaluation process; and describe methods of oversight and supervision.”
  • USCIS may request the completed and signed Form I-983 with regard to an I-765 application
  • All fields on the form must be completed, and “n/a” used as appropriate
  • Educational institution may retain either hard or electronic copy of the plan
  • The training experience must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business or worksite(s)
  • Online or distance learning arrangements may not be used to fulfill the employer’s training obligation to the student
  • Please see instructions on how to complete this form here - Form I-983 Overview

Reporting Requirements

Please read more on reporting requirements here -  https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-stem-opt-reporting-requirements  

  • Compliance with reporting requirements is required to maintain F-1 status.
  • Report to DSO within 10 days of a change of legal name, U.S. home address, employer’s name and address and/or loss of employment by submitting the STEM OPT Employment Update (formerly called OPT Compliance Form).
  • Requirement for validation reporting starts at the beginning of the 24-month STEM OPT extension and ends when the student’s F-1 status expires or the STEM OPT ends. Due dates for the validation report are due within 10 days of each reporting date.
  • Report to DSO within 10 days of starting a new STEM-OPT employment and submit signed and completed Form I-983.
  • Annual Self-Evaluation (“Evaluation of Student Progress”) is required. This is for student to report to DSO on progress of practical training. Evaluation must be turned in at the completion of 1 year of STEM OPT EAD validity, and no more than 10 days after 1 year of STEM OPT EAD validity.
  • Final Self-Evaluation (second “Evaluation of Student Progress”): Evaluation is due within 10 days of the end of the reporting period.
  • Due dates for self-evaluations are firm and necessary to maintain status
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Material Changes to the Training Plan. Changes must be reported “at earliest available opportunity” to the DSO, and this include any deviations from the plan. Material changes may include, but are not limited to, changes to EIN, reduction in compensation unrelated to reduction in hours, and significant decrease in hours worked per week—including a decrease below the minimum 20-hours per week. A modified plan will need to be submitted by the student to the DSO.
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Changes in Employment Status (such as termination, departure, if occurring before end of STEM OPT: Changes must be reported to the DSO within 10 business days.

Additional Employer Compliance Requirements


Employer Obligations
  • Must be enrolled in E-Verify
  • Must have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Ensure that the Terms and Conditions of the STEM-OPT opportunity including compensation, duties, and hours are commensurate with those of similarly-situated US workers
  • Employer must sign and attest to the following on the Form I-983:
    • Employer has sufficient resources and trained personnel available at the location specified to provide appropriate training in connection with the opportunity
    • Student on STEM-OPT will not replace a full or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker
    • Opportunity will help the student attain his or her training objectives
  • Employer’s signatory on the Form I-983 must be an individual authorized to serve as “Official Representing the Employer”
  • Site Visits: DHS will conduct site visit at worksites with notice 48 hours in advance. Notice may not be given in instances of an investigation based on a complaint. Investigators will seek to verify employer’s attestations on the Form I-98

Employer Reporting Requirements
  • Evaluation of Student Progress (Annual and Final): Student is responsible for turning in signed and completed Evaluation of Student Progress, but employer signatory must sign the form.
  • Student and Employer are responsible for reporting Material Changes to the Training Plan. Changes must be reported “at earliest available opportunity” to the DSO, and this include any deviations from the plan. Material changes may include, but are not limited to, changes to EIN, reduction in compensation unrelated to reduction in hours, and significant decrease in hours worked per week—including a decrease below the minimum 20-hours per week. A modified plan will need to be submitted by the student to the DSO.
  • Student and Employer responsible for reporting Changes in Employment Status (such as termination, departure, if occurring before end of STEM-OPT: Must be reported to the DSO within 10 business days.

Before Applying for STEM 
Ensure the following are completed or are true before submitting a STEM OPT Extension application.
  • Submitted an OPT Employment Update
  • Graduated from WVU with a STEM degree (the CIP code must match the one on your I-20)
  • Currently on a 12-month post-completion OPT and working in a job directly related to their field of study
  • Have a job with an employer registered with the E-Verify Employment Verification System
  • Have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during the 12-month post-completion OPT
  • Understands that they must submit an STEM OPT Employment Update (formerly called OPT Compliance Form) every six (6) months concerning residential address, email, and phone number - even if the information has not changed
  • Understands that they must submit a Form I-983 at various stages during their employment as explained above
  • Understands that they must inform ISSS immediately upon termination of employment

STEP 1: Apply for an I-20 with Recommendation for STEM OPT by ISSS (required)

Please note: You must allow for at least 15 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed.

Students graduating with degrees in "STEM" fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual. Students are eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM extension up to 90 days before expiration of the regular 12 month OPT. NOTE: Students cannot apply for the STEM Extension during the grace period (after the end date of the regular 12 month OPT). Students who wish to apply for a 24-month STEM extension should provide ISSS with the following:

Collect the following documents to submit to ISSS via the application link below. Once an advisor is able to review your documents, they will email you to set up an appointment. Please note: you will later mail to USCIS after new I-20 issued for STEM extension.

  1. Submit a completed (typed), & signed I-765 (original)
  2. Submit copies of all your STEM related I-20s
  3. Submit copies (in color) of your passport bio data page, visa page, and most recent admission stamp
  • photocopies of biographical page(s) of the passport (with expiration date): If your passport will expire within 6 months from the time of filing your OPT application with USCIS, you should renew it at an embassy or consulate of your country before you submit your OPT application.
  • p hotocopy of the most recent visa page (the visa can be expired and/or of a different visa category other than F).
4.  Print and submit a copy of your electronic I-94 (or front and back of old paper version)
5.  Submit a copy (in color) of your valid OPT EAD card(s) (front and back)
6.  Letter size copy (in color) of earned Diploma from a STEM Designated degree
7.  Submit a fully completed and signed copy of the Form I-983 (All fields on the form must be completed - use "N/A" as appropriate.) For instructions on completing this form, please navigate here - Completing the Form I-983
8.  Submit a copy of the Employer Verification Form

To apply, click here >> ( STEM OPT Extension Application ) and upload all the required documents, answer all the questionnaires. 
  • Due to recent US Department of Homeland Security guidance, we cannot send or give I-20s to extended family members, friends, or third parties. They must sent or given directly to the primary beneficiary (F-1) or dependent (F-2). If you wish to pick up your I-20, you must bring ID.
  • The documents you submit will be examined and a new I-20 will be issued with the recommendation recorded on page 2.
  • A student who has filed an application in a timely fashion for a 24-month STEM OPT extension through USCIS may work for the STEM OPT employer while the STEM extension application is pending, for up to 180 days beyond the expiration the prior post-completion OPT EAD. 

I-20 Pick up or Express Mail

ISSS offers you the option of either picking up your I-20 with CPT or having it sent via express mail directly to you (student pays expense). If you wish us to send your I-20 with CPT via express mail, please follow the directions below. Please note: Do not go to the DHL or FedEx sites directly.

  1. Log into internationalservices.wvu.edu to check the status of your CPT application. Once the status shows, "Request Completed" you can request express mail. Do not pay for shipping before your status shows "Request Completed."
  2. Go to  https://study.eshipglobal.com and click on "Student Sign up" to create an account. When you are logged in, click on "Receive documents from university." Search for West Virginia University (or click on the state). Choose "International Students & Scholars Services (ISSS)." Fill out the required information, choose shipping preferences, and submit payment. 
  3. Once you have completed step 2, please be sure to email our office at isss-students@mail.wvu.edu to let us know that you have chosen express mail and we can then download the shipping information.


STEP 2: Apply for OPT Work Authorization Card (EAD) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Please note: Although our office works diligently to avoid errors, it is ultimately your responsibility to check your I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation for errors before sending it to USCIS.

Along with most of the documents listed above for your application for an I-20 with Recommendation for OPT, y ou will also need to prepare the following to send to USCIS while we are processing your STEM OPT Extension application: 
  • You must obtain two (2) identical color passport photos of yourself taken within 30 days of the filing of the OPT application to USCIS. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched. Please print your name on the back of the photos in pencil. 
  • I-765 Fee
    • $410.00 check or money order, made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” 
                 OR   
    • complete the form G-1450 to use a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Make sure the card has enough money to cover the fee. USCIS will reject your OPT application if the card is declined and will not attempt to process your credit card payment a second time. 
  • ISSS will process your request and either mail you the application package or have it ready for pick up. You will send the application package to the Regional USCIS Center in your residential location responsible for adjudicating your extension request. USCIS will adjudicate your application and (if approved) send you a new EAD card.
  • We also suggest that you send your STEM OPT application to USCIS via https://study.eshipglobal.com.
  • As long as USCIS receives your application within 90 days prior to the expiration of your current post-completion OPT EAD card and within 60 days of the date ISSS issues the Form I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation, you may continue working for up to 180 days while you are waiting for USCIS’ decision on your STEM OPT extension. 
  • Please allow at least 90 days for the EAD card to be mailed back to you. 
  • If you must move before you receive your card in the mail, you must immediately :
    • Contact the USCIS office where you filed your application, using the customer service telephone number you will find on your receipt, and provide them with your new address 
AND  
    • update your address with I SSS here - Change of Address. Please note: The U.S. Postal Service will not forward your EAD card to your new address.

After you have been granted a STEM OPT Extension

IMPORTANT: Please remember that your obligation to strictly comply with US Federal Regulations does not stop with the issuance of the STEM OPT Extension EAD card. In order for your SEVIS record to be kept up-to-date and your visa status valid throughout the STEM OPT Extension period, you must pay special attention to the following requirements:

  1. Unemployment Reminder.  Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT period and any subsequent 24-month extension period.
  2. Email a scanned copy of your EAD card to isss-students@mail.wvu.edu  as soon as you have it. You must notify ISSS of any change in your contact information or immigration status throughout your STEM OPT Extension.
  3. If you move to a new address, it is important that you complete and forward a new Change of Address Form to our office. This action must be taken within 10 days of moving to the new address.
  4. You must submit an STEM OPT Employment Update every six (6) months concerning residential address, email, phone number, and employment updates - even if the information has not changed .
  5. You must submit a Form I-983 for each of the reporting deadlines/changes as mentioned above in sections "Student Reporting Requirements" and "Employer Reporting Requirements."
  6. If you need to travel outside of the U.S., you must be sure to obtain a travel signature from ISSS. A travel signature from our office is good for up to six months. Please contact our office at least 2 weeks in advance in case you need the signature re-validated. If you are not in the Morgantown area         to get your I-20 signed in person and you have enough time to mail it to us for a travel signature, you can mail use *https://study.eshipglobal.com to have your I-20 shipped to you (*please see instructions above).
  7. If you change visa status (e.g. F-1 to F-2), please provide ISSS with a copy of your approval notice.
  8. If you have completed your OPT and return to your home country, please complete the Exit Form .

Additional Information Concerning Worker's Rights

Know Your Rights (Wilberforce Pamphlet) from the Department of State. An information pamphlet describing your rights while working in the United States.



Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Q. What is the 24-month STEM extension of OPT?

A. The STEM Extension allows F-1 students who have received a degree in specific fields listed as science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, to apply for a one time, 24-month extension of their regular OPT period. Students cannot apply for 24 months of OPT up front. 90 days prior to expiration of the first OPT period (12 months), students file an application for the 24-month OPT extension and will be able to continue employment for up to 180 days while the extension application is pending.

Q. How do I apply for the 24-month extension?

A. Students graduating with degrees in the Stem List will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT. Within 3 months of the end of that first OPT period, if all criteria are met, students can apply through ISSS for the 24-month extension of OPT ( instructions here).

Criteria for the 24-Month Extension:

  • Employer must be enrolled in E-Verify (see information links below)
  • Current degree is in one of the STEM fields
  • Student must have maintained F-1 status while on OPT
  • Apply within 3 months of the current OPT end date
  • The employment must be traditional, paid employment
  • See additional information

Q. What is E-Verify?

A.  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. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. 

Q. Can a student change employers if the STEM extension application is pending with USCIS?

A. Yes. However, if the STEM extension period has started, the new employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The student must report the change in employment to his or her International Student Advisor. The International Student Advisor must update the student’s employer information in SEVIS and issue an updated I-20 with the new employer information (including EIN). The International Student Advisor will then email a copy to USCIS.

Q. Are there any other requirements during the 24-month extension?

A. In addition to filling out the  OPT Employment Update (formerly OPT Compliance Form) for changes in address or employment, students working on the 24-month STEM extension of OPT who wish to travel outside the U.S are also required to have a current (no older than 6 months) International Student Advisor signature on their I-20’s prior to their travel.

Q. What is the F-1/H-1B “cap-gap”?

A. Cap-gap occurs when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization expire in the current fiscal year before they can start their approved H-1B employment in the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. An F-1 student in a cap-gap situation does not have to leave the United States and return at the time his or her H-1B status becomes effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year. The F-1 status of students is automatically extended when the student is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition for the next fiscal year (with an October 1 employment start date) filed on his or her behalf during the period in which H-1B petitions are accepted for that fiscal year.

The automatic extension terminates when USCIS rejects, denies, or revokes the H-1B petition.

If the H-1B petition filed on behalf of the student is selected, the student may remain in the United States and, if on post-completion OPT, continue working until the October 1 start date indicated on the approved H-1B petition. The student may benefit from this provision only if he or she has not violated his or her status.


Q. H-1B Cap-Gap Procedure

A. To obtain this “automatic” extension, the student will have to notify our office (ISSS) that they are eligible for the extension and request a new I-20 showing the extension. Provide ISSS with the following:

  1. Your OPT I-20
  2. Your OPT (EAD) card (front and back)
  3. Your H-1B Receipt or Approval notice
  4. Your current mailing address 

If you wish, you may want to scan the above documents and email the scans to  isss-students@mail.wvu.edu

Q. TravelNow that I’ve turned in my OPT application, can I travel outside the United States while I wait for the EAD?

A. While application is pending: Traveling during this time is not recommended as it is risky. USCIS may request for additional evidence while you are away. Also if USCIS approves your application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to renter the U.S. Like a request for further information, the EAD card will only be sent to a U.S address.

A. After application is approved: In order to re-enter the United States you must have the following: EAD authorizing OPT, valid passport, a current F-1 visa stamp, I-20 signed within the last six months, AND job offer letter or proof of employment, with salary or bank information.

Q. I want to leave the United States for a short time while my OPT application is pending, but I may return before the EAD card arrives. I have another valid visa type such as a tourist visa (B-2) that is valid for 10 years. Can I just enter the United States with my tourist visa, then start work with the EAD once it arrives?

A. No. If you intend to continue working with OPT, never  enter in any other immigration status except F-1. If you leave the United States and re-enter in B-1/B-2 status, you are considered to have abandoned your F-1 status and your OPT will end!

Q. What documents do I need to re-enter the United States during post-completion OPT?

A. 
  • I-20 Form recommending OPT and endorsed on the travel line by ISSS within the last 6 months
  • EAD authorizing OPT
  • valid passport
  • a current F-1 visa stamp
  • Job offer letter or proof of employment
  • And proof of financial support

Q. What if I have applied for the 24-month extension but I have not yet received the EAD, can I travel out of the United States and return in F-1 status?

A. No, USCIS advises against tourism travel while you are waiting for the approval of the 24-month extension.

Q. The visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I want to travel outside the United States during the OPT period. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy?

A. If you are going to Canada or Mexico, and staying for less than 30 days, you may re-enter the United States with your expired F-1 visa stamp, your I-94 card, a valid passport, your EAD card, an I-20 that has been signed by ISSS within the last 6 months, AND your job offer letter or proof of employment as long as: 1) you do not apply for a visa while in Canada and 2) you are NOT a national of Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba or North Korea.

However, if you are traveling elsewhere, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and request an F-1 visa renewal. Research the visa application requirements on the website for the U.S. Embassy abroad where you intend to apply. It is impossible to renew an F-1 visa inside the United States.

Q. In what ways is my application to the embassy for a new visa stamp affected by post-completion OPT?

A. The risk of denial of an application for a renewed visa stamp for OPT is somewhat higher than while you are in your active student program. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant show intent to return to the home country at the end of the program, and if the embassy official is not convinced of your intention to return home, the visa application could be denied. However, the majority of students do not have problems with the visa renewal process during the OPT period.

Q. Do I still need to get the travel line on my I-20 signed by ISSS during the year of OPT and the STEM extension period?

A. Yes! During the initial OPT and STEM periods, students must have the travel line signed every six months. If you are not located in the local area, you can mail the original I-20 to ISSS for endorsement, leaving plenty of time for mailing delays both ways.