24-Month STEM OPT Extension

 

Students that graduate from UMBC with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) can be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT work authorization through the STEM Extension.

Click the relevant link below for more information:

Applying for the STEM OPT Extension

After STEM OPT is approved

 

Applying for the STEM OPT Extension

 

Qualifications:  To qualify for the STEM Extension, students must:

  • be working for an E-Verified employer (check to see if your employer is E-verified here, or ask your employer directly) who is willing to complete the I-983 Training Plan with you.  The employer must be paying you, though the work can be part-time (at least 20 hours per week).
  • have a major on their I-20 that is eligible for the STEM Extension (check with the ISSS office if you aren’t sure if your major is applicable).  Students that have PREVIOUSLY completed a STEM-eligible degree in the US can also apply for STEM OPT, even if the most recently completed degree in not STEM-eligible.
  • have either graduated with a STEM degree OR have completed all coursework, but not the thesis, for their degree.
  • Please see the notes below, under “After STEM OPT is approved,” for concerns about employer arrangements where your supervisor is not on site with you.

Please note, the STEM Extension is  available twice in your time in the US –  you can apply for one STEM Extension after a regular OPT year, up to two times.  Please note you cannot use both STEM Extensions after one OPT year.  The maximum OPT time you can have after completing a degree is 3 years – 1 post-completion OPT year and 2 STEM OPT extension years.

 

Deadlines to Apply:

  • Your application can be received by USCIS NO EARLIER THAN 90 days before your OPT end date, or it will be denied.
  • Your application must be received by USCIS NO LATER THAN your current OPT end date, or it will be denied.
  • Your I-20 must not be more than 60 days old from the time ISSS added your STEM OPT recommendation, or it will be denied.

 

Process to Apply for your STEM OPT I-20: 

  1. Login to your ISSS Portal 
  2. Click on “Search Forms” in the top right corner of the page
  3. Choose the relevant application – STEM OPT Extension
  4. Read the directions and complete all sections of the application
  5. Only click submit after you have uploaded all requirements.
  6. ISSS staff will review your application and contact you within 2-3 business days

Please remember that the I-20 cannot be more than 60 days old when received by USCIS with your application, so please do not request the new I-20 until you are ready to apply.  Your application will be denied if your I-20 is too old when received!

 

 

As of Summer 2021, there are 2 ways to file your STEM OPT Extension application – you can file your application online, or mail in a paper application.

Please see a summary of EACH option below, and choose ONLY ONE option to apply for STEM OPT.  Sending multiple applications will cause confusion at USCIS and will delay your application!  So far, e-filing has gone very well, and is the preferred method of USCIS, as it takes away the opportunity for many time-consuming errors related to mailing in an application, such as incomplete payments, missing signatures, or forms that are not completely filled out, as well as mailing delays.  We would encourage you to consider electronic filing.

 

Electronic Filing:
  • Create an online account here: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/.
  • Review and gather the requirements here, under the “General” and “Student With A Degree In Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics And Are Seeking A 24-month STEM OPT (c)(3)(C)” sections.
    • The first requirement in the “Students with a degree in STEM” section is asking for proof of earning a STEM degree – this can be your official electronic transcript, a copy of your diploma that clearly states your degree field (you can choose one – you don’t need both).
      • Students that have not yet graduated need to send a letter from the Graduate School that states you have completed all coursework except thesis or research to graduate, and your degree field.
    • The third bullet asks for “Evidence that the institution is currently accredited…” but ONLY if you earned your STEM degree from a school previous to UMBC – you will not likely need to give this documentation!
  • Select a form to file from your USCIS online account – choose “I-765”
    • Your draft will delete after 30 days of no interaction with it!
    • The form saves automatically as you navigate through the sections
  • Upload your “evidence” – the required supporting documents
    • You will need a passport photo that is saved in a jpg or PNG format
    • All other documents can be in jpg, pdf or tif formats
    • You cannot use “special characters” in your file names – just English letters, numbers, and a few punctuation marks: . – _ ( )
  • You will have the option to PRINT the I-765 – please click the print button and save a copy of your completed form!
    • If you would like, you can upload a copy of your completed I-765 for the ISSS team to review, before you submit your complete application online, using the ISSS Portal “OPT Application Review” Form  – if filing electronically, you don’t need to upload the complete application, but rather just the I-765, for our review.
  •  Read and digitally sign the “Applicant’s Declaration”
  • The next step is to submit your fee payment – THIS SUBMITS YOUR APPLICATION!  Do not add the fee payment information until you are ready to submit.
    • The cost is $410
    • You can pay via credit card or approved withdrawal from a checking or savings bank account
  • After you process your payment information, your application is submitted and you receive a receipt immediately in your USCIS online account.
    • Your online account will include your case history, case status, and access to the documents USCIS sends you, such as your receipt, approval notice, and if you receive one, an RFE (Request for Further Evidence)

 

 

Filing by Mail: 

The application process is extremely similar to the first year of OPT.  Use this checklist to prepare your STEM OPT application:

  • Check/money order for $410 only made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland  Security. (Do not abbreviate)  
  • 2 passport size photographs, with your name written on the back of each photo (these must be new and cannot be re-used from previous applications)
  • Form G-1145, for email and/or text message updates on your application
  • Form I-765, typed, printed and signed.  Please review our suggested guidelines on how to complete this form.  Be sure to use the version from the link here, directly from USCIS’s website as forms are updated periodically and outdated form versions may be rejected by USCIS!
  • Copy of new I-20 issued by international adviser for STEM OPT
    • Must be signed by you – just send a copy that includes your signature, you keep the original
    • See directions below to request this I-20
  • Copy of your most recent I-94 (front and back if you have the card version)
  • Previous OPT or EAD cards that have been issued to you under F-1 status (copy of front and back)
  • Official transcript or copy of diploma showing acquired STEM degree*

*For students that have completed required coursework but not your thesis: Please note, you must have completed all required coursework for your degree program to apply for the STEM Extension, but you do not have to have completed your thesis (citation).  If you have not yet completed your degree, we recommend that you request a letter from your academic adviser or from the Graduate School indicating that your coursework is complete and that only your thesis remains to complete your degree.  While this is not listed on the application requirements, including this letter in advance will help make sure your application is not delayed by an RFE (Request for Further Evidence) asking for this proof.

USCIS Mailing address: 

You will need to mail the STEM OPT application to the appropriate USCIS LockBox facility based on where you live.  You can find the correct address based on your current home state here, under the “Foreign Students” section: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses

Please note the mailing address can change, so be sure to use the address from this website to avoid delays or complications, rather than using outdated information from a friend or other source.

We strongly recommend using a courier, such as FedEx, to mail your application, especially given the mail delays of late 2020/early 2021.  If you choose to use regular mail, use a tracking service so you can confirm when your package arrives.

Work after OPT expires, before STEM OPT is approved:

After the first year of OPT expires, a student with a pending STEM Extension application can continue working in the US while waiting for the extension to be approved, up to 180 days (citation, under “Applying for a STEM OPT Extension”).  you are welcome to share this information with employers as we needed:

The ability to continue working after your OPT EAD expiration is written in the immigration regulations at: 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(11)(i)(C)

USCIS addresses this in their STEM OPT extension FAQ

Employer’s I-9 obligations are explained in I-9 Central and the evidence section of the M-274 Handbook For Employers

Documents needed to legally verify your continued work authorization include:

  • Current (expired) OPT EAD Card
  • STEM OPT I-20 (with new validity dates) issued by our office at the time of your application
  • Proof of receipt by USCIS from you courier shipment tracking information
  • If received in a timely fashion, your USCIS I-797 receipt for your STEM OPT application

 

 

 

After STEM OPT is approved


STEM Extension Rules and Regulations

Please note these few additional rules concerning the STEM Extension in addition to the regular OPT regulations:

 

Update your SEVP Portal with a change in address, contact information, loss of employer, or new employer within 10 days of these changes.  USCIS will occasionally ask for evidence that these updates are made within 10 days during other applications such as for H-1b, so please be sure to comply.

 

I-983 Evaluations:
Students are required to submit the self-evaluation (page 5) from the I-983 training plan at the following times:

  • By the end of the first year of STEM OPT extension (I-983 page 5, top box)
  • By the end of the second year of STEM OPT extension (I-983 page 5, bottom box)
  • Upon leaving a job during STEM OPT extension (I-983 page 5, bottom box)

This requirement is taken very seriously by USCIS, so please schedule reminders on your calendar and be sure to complete this obligation!  The government agency SEVP will also send you a reminder.

 

6-Month Check-in:

Our office is required to confirm your employer and home address every 6 months during STEM OPT.  You will receive an email prompt from SEVP to email us and confirm that this information is accurate in your SEVP Portal.  Please be sure to take action before the stated deadline in your email reminder.  Please note, we will not be able to complete the 12 month check-in until we also receive your 12 month I-983 evaluation.  Again, these are occasionally scrutinized by USCIS during applications such as for H-1b, so please take this seriously and be sure to comply.

You can use your ISSS Portal for this requirement – use the “STEM OPT Validation Report” application.

 

Unemployment:

STEM OPT gives you 60 days of unemployment time, plus any remaining unemployment time from your first OPT year’s 90 days of unemployment.

 

Address Updates:
Please continue to use the SEVP Portal to keep your address, phone number and email address up to date.

 

Role of the SEVP Portal:
During STEM OPT, you will still have access to your SEVP Portal.  You can use the Portal to update your address or contact information, and verify that your employer information is correct.  Because of the requirement for an I-983 Training Plan to be verified by ISSS, you will NOT be able to update your employer information on your own.

 

Best Practices for H-1b and Beyond:
Be sure to review our website on OPT/STEM OPT Extension Best Practices, to help you keep good records and be prepared to present them in the case of an H-1b or other future immigration application:  https://isss.umbc.edu/opt-and-stem-opt-best-practices-for-h-1b-and-beyond/

 

International Travel during the STEM OPT Extension:

Students on the STEM Extension can travel abroad during the Extension following the same rules as travel under OPT.

  • Please avoid travelling internationally if you have an H-1b application submitted for you until it is approved AND active, typically on Oct 1 of the year it’s applied for.  Please confer with your employer for possible options.
  • The 24 month STEM OPT rules also clarify that you can travel abroad and return to the US with a pending STEM OPT application, but you need to have your OPT EAD card and STEM OPT I-20 with you

 

Changing employers during the STEM OPT Extension

You are welcome to change employers during your STEM Extension.  The new employer MUST be E-Verified, and must be willing to complete the I-983 Training Plan with you.  Remember you are required to report a new employer within 10 days of starting your employment.  The ISSS Team will have to add your employer to your F-1 immigration record/SEVP Portal, but  you can add the end date of a previous employer.

When you are ready to change your employer, use the “STEM OPT Employer Update” application in your ISSS Portal to share the new information.  You will need to have the following prepared:

  • Form I-983 completed and signed with new employer
  • E-Verify ID of new employer (this is NOT the EIN, and is usually 5-8 digits only in length.  You will need to request this directly from the new employer)
  • I-983 page 5 Final Evaluation completed with previous employer that you have left
  • Complete any updates in your SEVP Portal that you can in advance – any change in address, contact information, or an end date of your previous employer, if not already updated.

We will update your immigration record, which you can verify in your SEVP Portal, and prepare a new I-20 for you.

 

Working for a staffing company or contractor during the STEM OPT Extension

Many graduates will work for either staffing companies or contractors during OPT, and wonder if they can continue to do so during STEM OPT.  The concern is that the student must have a “bonafide employer-employee relationship” with the company that technically hires them, and pays their paychecks.

While this can be difficult to quantify, we suggest that if your supervisor from the company that technically hires you is involved enough in your work to complete the I-983 Training Plan with you thoroughly and completely, this constitutes a bonafide employer-employee relationship.  If the company you work for is too removed from your day to day work to complete the training plan, we do not suggest trying to work for this employer under STEM OPT.

When reporting your staffing/contractor employer during STEM OPT, please include the company name and address of BOTH the hiring company, and the company where you physically go to work, on the I-983.  The hiring company address will go page 2 of the I-983, and the location where you go to work each day will go on page 3.

Update (Spring 2018): USCIS has changed the language on its website to read that someone working on the STEM OPT Extension must be working on site with their supervisor.  While change in website language does not constitute a change in regulations that actually govern STEM OPT, USCIS does decide these applications.  While the ramifications of this change are being weighed by lawyers and others in this field, we urge you to avoid working off-site from your supervisor if at all possible.  If you do not have this option, the best advice we can give is to carefully document your legitimate employer-employee relationship with your supervisor, and complete page 3 of the I-983 Training Plan very thoroughly to show this relationship.

Please see the language from USCIS on their STEM OPT website, under “The Employer’s Training Obligation,” in the fourth paragraph.

Update (August 2018):  USCIS issued a statement and updated its website to clarify this.  The statement says:

“DHS is clarifying that STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. DHS will review on a case-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.”

So, in brief summary, STEM OPT does allow working in a separate location from your employer, BUT your employer (the entity paying your paychecks) has to be supervising you, such that they can complete the I-983 Training Plan with you thoroughly and accurately.  This DOES allow for contractual work (where your employer places you with a different company they have a contract with, but the actual employer still oversees your work remotely), but does NOT allow for staffing agency work (where the employer paying you has no involvement at all in your actual work).

 

STEM Extension application versus H-1b application 

Many students will have an employer file for their H-1b status while they are in their first year of OPT.  If you have a pending H-1b application as your OPT gets close to expiring, it will be up to you if you want to apply for the STEM Extension.  Many students choose to do this in case their H-1b application is not selected for review, or in case it is denied.  If your OPT end date passes and you are later denied or not selected for H-1b, you will NOT be able to submit an OPT application after your OPT end date.

You can have both applications pending at once, and this will not impact your H-1b application.  If your H-1b is approved, when it takes effect your STEM Extension will automatically be cancelled out.

You can learn more about the H-1b process here.

You can also learn more about transitioning smoothly from STEM OPT to H-1b using the H-1b Cap Gap here.