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F-1 STEM (OPT) Extension

General Information

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday March 11 published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field and effectively replaces the older17‑month STEM OPT extension.

Details of Ruling

Specifically, the final rule allows such 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. As with the prior 17-month STEM OPT extension, the rule authorizes STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify.  The rule also includes the “Cap-Gap” relief first introduced in a 2008 DHS regulation for any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status.

Overview of STEM OPT Extension

  • The new 24-month extension period replaces the previous 17-months extension  
  • 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  
  • 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]  

    Additional 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.
    • Please see instructions on how to complete this form here -  Form I-983 Overview

    Employer Requirements/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-983

    Student 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 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.

    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 ne ed 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.

    Unemployment

    • Limit for post-completion OPT remains at 90-days,
    • Limit for STEM Extension – 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.

    Procedures for STEM Extension

    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 120 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:

    Checklist of items to submit to ISSS and to mail to USCIS after new I-20 issued for STEM extension:

    1. A typed, completed, & signed I-765 (original)
    2. A fully completed and signed 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
    3. A completed OPT STEM Extension Application (original)
    4. Employer Verification (original)
    5. Two Passport-size photographs with your name written in pencil on the back
    6. Check for $410.00 payable to the Department of Homeland Security
    7. Copies of all your STEM related I-20s
    8. A colored copy of your valid EAD (OPT) card (front and back)
    9. Colored copies of bio data page of your passport and visa page
    10. Print out of your electronic  I-94 (or front and back of old paper version))
    11. Letter size copy of earned Diploma from a STEM Designated degree

    ISSS will process your request and mail you the application package which you will send to the Regional USCIS Center in your residential location responsible for adjudicating your extension request. USCIS will approve your application and send you a new EAD card with the pertinent dates. You may continue working during the period while you are waiting for USCIS’ decision on your OPT extension.