STEM OPT Extension

International students who study in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields have an opportunity to extend their OPT experience

STEM OPT Extension Overview

The STEM OPT Extension is a type of work authorization that allows F-1 students to extend their original OPT to work in the U.S. for an additional two years to gain experience in a STEM field related to their major field of study.  Students apply for the STEM OPT Extension through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and receive an Employment Authorization Document (or EAD card) that is valid for two years beyond their original OPT.  Saint Mary's continues to sponsor the F-1 student visa for the duration of the STEM OPT Extension.

STEM OPT Eligibility

All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • must be currently present in the U.S. on an F-1 visa and actively participating in regular OPT
  • must have a degree in a STEM field from an accredited institution in the U.S.
  • must work for an employer that is enrolled in the E-Verify employment eligibility verification system

When to Apply 

A complete STEM OPT Extension application must be submitted to USCIS no sooner than 90 days before the original OPT End Date as listed on the EAD card and no later than the original OPT End Date as listed on the EAD card.  If USCIS receives the application after this date, the application will be denied with no option for appeal, and the STEM Extension opportunity will be forefitted.

First day to submit an application: 90 days before OPT End Date
Last day to submit an application: OPT End Date

Once USCIS receives the application for STEM OPT Extension, the current OPT will be extended for 180 days to allow for the new EAD card to arrive.  Students do not need to stop working while waiting for the STEM OPT application to be approved unless the application takes longer than 180 to adjudicate.

Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

All students applying for the STEM OPT Extension must complete a Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students with their employer before they can be recommended for the STEM OPT Extension and issued a new STEM OPT I-20. 

How to Apply

The Center for International Programs will provide support to students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT).  However, it is the responsibility of the student to make sure that they have read, understood, and followed all application instructions and filing deadlines and procedures.  The Center for International Programs does not assume responsibility for improperly filed applications nor can we guarantee that applications will be approved.

Step 1: Complete a Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

Step 2: Request a STEM OPT I-20 from the Center for International Programs

  • Cannot apply for the STEM OPT Extension without a new I-20
  • STEM OPT I-20 is valid for 60 days
  • USCIS must receive the STEM OPT application before the OPT I-20 expires or else the application will be denied
  • STEM OPT I-20 Request Form

Step 3: Submit an application to USCIS

  • Application fee is $410 USD
  • Be sure to include all required documents
  • Read the instructions for the I-765 carefully
  • Application must be received by USCIS before the original OPT End Date

Step 4: Wait 90 - 120 days 

  • Original OPT is extended for an additional 180 days
  • Check the status of the application on the USCIS website by clicking "Check Case Status"
  • Once approved, USCIS will send the EAD card

Application & Required Documents 

  • Completed and signed Form I-765 (no electronic signatures)
  • Completed Form G-1145
  • Copy of STEM OPT I-20 from the Center for International Programs
  • Copy of all I-20's from Saint Mary's College
  • Copy of I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
  • Copy of front and back of current OPT EAD card
  • Official transcripts from Saint Mary's College showing completion of STEM degree
    • Request official transcripts from the Registrar's Office at the Moraga Campus
  • Copy of biographical page of passport
  • Copy of F-1 visa (not applicable for Canadian & Bermudian students)
  • Copy of I-94 
  • Two (2) U.S. passport-sized photos with your full name and SEVIS ID written in ink on the back
  • Application fee ($410 USD)
    • Check or money order
    • Payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    • Include your name & SEVIS ID in the memo section

Working on STEM OPT

Students may continue working in the U.S. on their original OPT for up to 180 days after filing the STEM Extension with USCIS, and students must be employed with the employer listed on their I-983 Training Plan when the STEM OPT Application is approved.  All employment must be directly related to the student's degree/field of study and be appropriate for their degree level.  To maintain valid F-1 status, STEM OPT employment must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be at least 20 hours per week per employer, but can be more
  • Must be a position/field directly related to STEM
  • Must be a position/field directly related to the student's major
  • Must be a position that is appropriate for the student's degree level
  • Must be employed by an E-Verifiy employer
  • Must meet check in requirements & submit self evaluations to the Center for International Programs

Saint Mary's will continue to sponsor the F-1 visa for the duration of STEM OPT.  This is important to mention to employers when interviewing and talking about your eligibility to work in the U.S.  Because Saint Mary's continues to sponsor F-1 visas during STEM OPT, it is important that the following information is reported to the Center for International Programs within 10 calendar days of the change:

  • Change of employer
    • Requires a new Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
    • Must be employed by an E-Verify employer
  • Additional employer
    • Requires a new Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
    • Must be employed by an E-Verify employer
  • Change of local U.S. address or foreign address
  • Plans to end STEM OPT early and depart the U.S.

Check-In Requirements

To maintain their F-1 status, all students working on the STEM OPT Extension must maintain regular communication with the Center for International Programs as the sponsor of their visa.  These requirements include checking in every 6 months to verify that the personal and employment information listed in SEVIS is accurate and up to date.  Students must also complete 2 self evaluations, one at the end of the first year of the STEM OPT Extension and one after the second year.  These evaluations are found on the last page of the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.

  • Verify accuracy of employment and personal information with the Center for International Programs every 6 months
  • Must complete and sign the Evaluation on Student Progress section of the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students after first year of STEM OPT
  • Must complete and sign the Final Evaluation on Student Progress section of the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students upon completion of STEM OPT

Employment Options

  • Regular paid employment
  • Internships
  • Consulting or contract work

Students participating in the STEM OPT Extension may have multiple employers during their period of work authorization, but may only work for employers who are enrolled in the E-Verify system.  For each new employer, the student must complete a Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students with their employer and include the new employer's E-Verify Number, and send the completed form to the Center for International Programs for approval.  Once approved, the Center for International Programs will update the student's SEVIS record with the new employment information.

Unemployment

Students on the STEM OPT Extension may not accrue more than 150 days of unemployment during the total time spent on OPT, including time spent on original OPT and the OPT STEM Extension.

Important Reminders

  • Type the I-765 & G-1145
  • Don't forget to sign the I-765 & all of your I-20's - no electronic signatures!
  • Only mail copies - NOT original documents
  • DO NOT mail cash - only a check or a money order
  • Mail your application with plenty of time for it to be delivered to USCIS before the STEM OPT I-20 expiration date
  • DO NOT mail the application if the OPT I-20 is expired - the application will be denied!
  • Send a copy of your STEM OPT EAD card & approval notice to the Center for International Programs