STEM OPT Extension
STEM Extension Regulations
An F-1 student currently engaged in a period of post-completion OPT who has been awarded a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved STEM field and works for an E-Verify employer is eligible to apply for the STEM extension. Effective May 10, 2016, a new DHS rule extends the period of STEM OPT from 17 to 24 months. The 17-month STEM OPT regulations remain in effect through May 9, 2016.
If you are currently on the 17-month STEM extension, you may qualify for the additional 7 months. Please read the DHS website for more information and application instructions.
If you will likely have a pending 17-month STEM extension application on May 10, 2016, please read the DHS website for more information about how your application will be handled.
On March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published new expanded regulations which take effect on May 10, 2016. There are many details about the new STEM OPT regulations that need further clarification. We will update you here as we understand more. However, it is clear that it will take some time for DHS and universities to define the application procedures and reporting requirements of STEM OPT. For now here are the questions that you may have:
24-month STEM OPT Extension
- The STEM OPT extension has been extended to 24-months from 17-months period
- An F-1 students is allowed two 24-month extensions.
- The Extension can be based on a previous STEM degree as long as the following apply:
- the student is currently in a valid period of 12-month post completion OPT, even if the OPT is based on a non-STEM degree
- the previous STEM degree was obtained within 10 years of the STEM extension application date from an institution that is U.S. Department of Education accredited and Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified at the time of application
- the previous STEM degree is on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time of application
- the work being done for the STEM extension relates to the previous STEM degree
- There is a new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes.
- The student and employer will be required to use the new Form I-983
- Additional reporting requirements (evaluation, exit survey, etc.…)
- Employers must provide a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
- DHS is permitted to conduct employer site visits to confirm that training plan goals are being met.
- Volunteering is no longer permitted on the STEM OPT extension.
- Self-employment is not permitted.
- Students' compensation must be commensurate to similarly situated U.S. workers.
- Small start-up companies: There appear to be ways for some to qualify as long as the employer has an FEIN, student is considered an “employee” and a supervisor can complete the I-983.
- Most temporary agency and contract work will not be eligible.
- During the STEM OPT extension student are allowed to have up to 150 days of unemployment time.
- Students must work at least 20 hours per week in a paid position for an E-Verify employer.
Government Comments Regarding Types of Employment Allowed During STEM Extension
Some employment relationships allowed under regular Post-completion OPT may not permitted under the new 24-month extension. The following are comments from the STEM OPT Final Rule:
"There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through 'temp' agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship. One concern arises from the difficulty individuals employed through such arrangements would face in complying with, among other things, the training plan requirements of this rule. Another concern is the potential for visa fraud arising from such arrangements. Furthermore, evaluating the merits of such arrangements would be difficult and create additional burdens for DSOs. Accordingly, DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the 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. DHS recognizes that this outcome is a departure from SEVP's April 23, 2010 Policy Guidance (1004-03)."
DHS, moreover, anticipates that it will be very unusual, though not expressly prohibited, for students to work with more than two employers at the same time during the STEM OPT extension period, given that each employer must fully comply with the requirements of this rule and employ the student for no less than 20 hours per week.
DHS also clarifies that F-1 students seeking STEM OPT extensions may be employed by new “start-up” businesses so long as all regulatory requirements are met, including that the employer adheres to the training plan requirements, remains in good standing with E-Verify, will provide compensation to the STEM OPT student commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers, and has the resources to comply with the proposed training plan. For instance, alternative compensation may be allowed during a STEM OPT extension as long as the F-1 student can show that he or she is a bona fide employee and that his or her compensation, including any ownership interest in the employer entity (such as stock options), is commensurate with the compensation provided to other similarly situated U.S. workers.
What if I have a Pending STEM OPT application at the USCIS?
We have been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications approved before May 10 will be adjudicated under the old 17-month rule. If this happens, you would be eligible to convert to the 24-month STEM OPT extension if you file a request for the additional 7 months between May 10 and August 8, 2016. If you choose not to move to the 24-month STEM OPT, you will be required to follow the old 17-month rules regarding employment reporting and unemployment time.
We have also been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications still pending on May 10 or later will be sent a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) to update their I-20 to the 24-month STEM OPT benefit. At that time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared when USCIS requests it.
What if I have an approved 17-month STEM OPT extension?
Once the rule takes effect on May 10, 2016, you will have a limited window of time to apply for an additional 7 months of STEM OPT. Eligible students must have at least 150 days of STEM OPT remaining on the day USCIS receives the application, and must file no later than August 8, 2016. To request the additional time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared to submit during the eligibility window.
When should I file my first STEM OPT application?
All STEM extension applications, regardless of when they are filed, must be received by USCIS before your current Post-Completion OPT expires. In some cases, it may be better to wait until the new rule has taken affect but for others you may need to file now while you still can. Anyone considering a STEM OPT extension will be required to complete the Form I-983 with their employer. We recommend that you begin conversations now with your employer about the I-983 so that you have one prepared when you need to file the application.
As long as you properly file your extension application prior to the end date of OPT Employment, you may continue to work for up to 180 days while their application is pending with USCIS, even after their EAD is expired.
To begin applying for OPT Extension, please send an e-mail with the subject line: OPT Extension Request to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include the completed Form ISSS-155, Request for STEM OPT Extension.
There is also a mandatory $25.00 processing fee for each OPT Extension Request. Once payment has been submitted, our office will receive an automatic e-mail notification.
Our office will then issue and mail out an OPT Extension I-20 and an Application Checklist that students can use to guide them through the application process.
The application checklist and other helpful documents can also be downloaded from here. We recommend that students review the documents below and begin preparing their documents prior to receiving their OPT Extension I-20:
- Form ISSS-155, Request for STEM OPT Extension
- Submitting Processing Fees Through MarketPlace
- OPT Extension Application Checklist
- USCIS Mailing Addresses
- OPT Extension I-765 Q&A
- OPT Extension Q&A
- Form ISSS-160, Request for Data Validation
- Sample Employer Letter for OPT Extension
This page was last updated on: June 13, 2016