24 Month STEM Extension


STEM Employment Requirements

Your STEM OPT Employer MUST

STEM OPT Employer CANNOT

  • Be E-verified 

  • Have an EIN  

  • Constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship 

  • Help you fill out your Form I-983 

  • Set up formal training and learning objectives with you 

 

  • Be through “temp” agencies or a consulting firm arrangement that provides labor for hire 

  • Be you: No self-employment or sole proprietorships 

  • Be a new “start-up” business that does not meet the requirements stated on the Form I-983 

  • Any other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship 

Your STEM OPT Employment MUST

Your STEM OPT Employment CANNOT

  • Work a minimum of 20 hours per week 

  • Be directly related to STEM OPT qualifying degree 

  • Be PAID 

  • The job’s compensation and working conditions must be “commensurate with terms and conditions applicable to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment.”  

 

  • Be part-time (less than 20 hours) 

  • Be a “Student Position” (you have graduated already, you should not be doing student-only work) 

  • Replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker 

  • Violate federal or state requirements relating to employment (i.e. - Don’t violate labor laws!) 

About EIN and E-Verify:

The E-Verify number is NOT the same as EIN.
  • E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administraion records to confirm employment eligibility.
    • E-Verify number = 4 to 7 digits (ask your employer)
    • USCIS provides lists that include employers and federal contractors enrolled in the E-Verify system. You can access this list using the E-Verify Employers Search Tool which allows you to search for businesses by name, state, ZIP code, and city.
    • Detailed information about the E-Verify system can be found here.
    • Please be aware that there are some limitations with these search engines and ISS recommends that if you are applying for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension that you verify with the employer their E-Verify status.
  • EIN is an Employer Identification Number (EIN) is also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number and is used to identify a business entity.  
    • EIN = 9 digits, often formatted XX-XXXXXXX (ask your employer)
    • Detailed information about the EIN number can be found here.
    • ​ISS recommends that if you are applying for a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension that you verify with the employer their EIN numbers. 

Applying to USCIS

Step 1: Attend an ISS STEM OPT Workshop online.
Completion of a STEM OPT Workshop is not required. However, ISS strongly encourages you to participate in an online STEM OPT webinar before submitting your STEM OPT request to ISS. You can find our pre-recorded webinars at Workshops and Webinars.

Step 2: Determine your STEM OPT eligibility:
The CIP code for your degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security's STEM Designated Degree Programs List.  
  • You can find your CIP code (formatted XX.XXXX) in the Program of Study section of your I-20.  
  • Make sure you have review all the STEM OPT Extension Eligibility Criteria on our main Optional Practical Training page.
Step 3: Make sure all reporting for your current Post-Completion OPT is up-to-date.
Keep your local address and phone updated through the Howdy Portal, “My Record” tab. Here are instructions on updating your address and phone.

Keep your OPT employment information updated by reporting in your SEVP Portal and to ISS. Failing to report employment can affect both your STEM application and your current OPT employment. Review our OPT Reporting Requirements section for more information.

Step 4: Apply to ISS.
We recommend applying to ISS up to 100 days before your Post-Completion OPT EAD expires. ISS processes requests in the order that we receive them, and applying with little time before your current OPT expiration date is risky. Please apply as early as possible so that USCIS receives your application on time.

Email the following documents to iss@tamu.edu: If you have applied for H-1B, please see our webpage on H-1b and Cap Gap Extensions.

After reviewing the STEM OPT request from students, ISS advisors will use the information on the Form I-983 to input the requested STEM OPT information in SEVIS.  

A new I-20 for you and your dependents (if applicable) will be issued with the requested STEM OPT recommendation on the second page.  

Step 5: Apply to USCIS.

USCIS Application Deadlines:
  • Apply no earlier than 90 days before your Post-Completion OPT EAD expires.
  • Must receive the application within 60 days after the recommendation was submitted in SEVIS by an ISS advisor (i.e. when the I-20 was issued).
  • Must receive the application before your current Post-Completion OPT EAD expires.

Important Reminders:
  • Keep copies of everything you send to USCIS!
  • Students can only submit the I-765 application while inside of the United States.
  • This application must include a copy of the recommendation I-20 from ISS.
  • If your STEM OPT I-20 has expired and you are still within the filling window, contact ISS as soon as possible so we can renew your STEM OPT recommendation.
What to put in your packet to USCIS:
Once ISS issues an I-20 signed with a recommendation for STEM OPT on the second page, the next step is submitting a complete I-765 application to the appropriate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Center. Step 6: Reporting Requirements while on STEM OPT.
Your STEM OPT employment reporting requirements start on the approved start date on your STEM OPT EAD card (directly after your post-completion OPT EAD expires).

Once you receive your STEM EAD card from USCIS, send a copy of the front and back to ISS.  

It is highly recommended that you maintain health insurance coverage for you and any F-2 dependents while on STEM OPT. 

More information about employment reporting can be found at STEM OPT Reporting Requirements.
 
If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of Post-Completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a previous STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT Extension, even if it was not conferred by the school that is managing your current Post-Completion OPT. In other words, the STEM OPT Extension may be available to students who have a prior degree in a STEM field but who are currently engaging in OPT that has been authorized based on their most recent non-STEM degree.

For example:
  • You received a B.S. in Chemistry.
  • You then completed an MBA degree.
  • You received 12 months of Post-Completion OPT based on the MBA degree.
  • During that OPT period, you are eligible to apply for a 24-Month STEM Extension based on your B.S. in Chemistry, as long as the STEM OPT qualifying job is related to chemistry.
General Requirements:
  • You must have earned the prior degree before the degree you just finished at Texas A&M University.  
  • You must have completed the prior degree in the U.S. and have the diploma issued by your previous school. 
  • Your prior degree must have been finished in the past 10 years. 
  • The CIP code of your prior degree is on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List.  
  • The job you use to apply for STEM OPT Extension based on prior degree must be directly related to your prior STEM degree. 
Additional Documents:
Indicate that you are applying for STEM OPT Extension based on prior degree on Form I-983 by marking "YES" for this question in Section 1:
Submit the following forms issued by the institution where you earned that prior STEM degree:


 
Visit our Form I-983 page for tips on how to fill out the form.
 

STEM Reporting Requirements


Terra Dottal Fall 2020 Implementation Update: 

24 Month Extemsion of OPT Employment Reporting is now available for submission within the Terra Dotta System. You can start your request by navigating to https://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/?go=STEM Reporting.


After you receive the STEM Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card in the mail, submit a copy of the front and back to iss@tamu.edu.

STEM Employment Reporting Requirements begin after the start date on your STEM EAD card has passed. There are three types of reporting that are required by all STEM OPT students: General, Time-based, and Event-based reporting. All types of STEM reporting will require the F-1 24-Month STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form, which contains the following sections.
  • Section 1: General Reporting.
  • Section 2: Validation Reporting (Time-based Reporting).
  • Section 2: Reporting Change(s) to STEM OPT Employment.
  • Section 4: Reporting New Employment.
  • Section 5: Reporting End of Employment.
  • Section 6: Requesting an I-20 (with mailing options provided).
ISS does not recommend that F-1 students on STEM OPT report STEM employment information through the SEVP Portal. ISS will update the portal for you by processing the STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form
All changes must be reported within 10 days of the change. Examples of general reporting include:
  • Changes to phone number or address.
  • Changes to your legal name.
    • Send a copy of your updated passport to ISS and we will update it for you in SEVIS.
Even if there are no changes in your STEM employment, name, phone number, or address, every student is required to report to a DSO every 6 months of their 24-Month STEM OPT Extension period

For example, your STEM EAD approved dates are January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2022. Your STEM employment reporting requirements start from January 1, 2020 and you are required to submit:
  • 6-month reporting on July 1, 2020.
  • 12-month reporting on January 1, 2021.
  • 18-month reporting on July 1, 2021.
  • 24-month reporting on January 1, 2022.

Time from STEM EAD Card Start Date  

Documents to Submit to ISS  

6-month  

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

12-month 

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

“Evaluation of Student Progress” from Form I-983 (page 5)  

18-month 

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

24-month (end of STEM OPT period)  

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

“Final Evaluation of Student Progress” from Form I-983 (page 5)  

End of Employment Reporting Form, completed by your employer 


Deadlines:

There is a limited window for you to complete your STEM OPT reporting on time. You can report up to 30 days before the due date, and we recommend that you report as early as possible. Please keep our current processing time in mind!

You will be able to monitor your time-based reporting in the SEVP Portal.
All changes must be reported within 10 days of the change. Both you AND your employer are required to report the following changes:
  • The start of any new STEM employment.
  • The end of current STEM employment.
  • Material changes to STEM employment, including but not limited to:
    • Any change of the employer’s EIN resulting from a change in the employer’s ownership or structure, such as a corporate restructuring.
    • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
    • Any significant decrease in the number of hours of work per week that was specified on the Form I-983.
    • Any decrease in the number of hours worked.
    • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.
Other changes to your employment may require an updated Form I-983 as well. Please refer to Section 3 of the STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form for guidelines on what types of changes need to be reported to ISS.         
 

Event during STEM Extension  

Documents to Submit to ISS  

Upon any Material Change in Employment  

Form I-983 (all pages) 

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

End of Employment 

“Final Evaluation of Student Progress” on Form I-983 (page 5)  

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form  

End of Employment Form completed by your employer  

At the start of any new employment  

Completed requirements for End of Employment Reporting  

Form I-983 (all pages) for new employer  

STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form for new employer   


Study in the States has resources for Employers and the Form I-983.

Traveling while on STEM OPT

Important Notice for Travel and Re-Entry: 
You need a valid travel signature to leave and return to the U.S. Travel signatures are only valid for 6 months while on STEM OPT. If you are not up-to-date on your STEM OPT reporting, that will delay your travel signature and can also be considered a status violation.  

Traveling internationally during STEM OPT always has risks. There is no guarantee that you will be allowed back into the United States.  

If your visa is expired or will expire during STEM OPT, traveling internationally is not recommended due to the risk of being unable to get your visa renewed. 

If you have an emergency, please discuss your plans with ISS before leaving. 

Traveling at Different Stages in the STEM OPT Application Process:

 

Travel 

How to get a Travel Signature 

Other Travel Documents 

While STEM OPT is still pending with USCIS (receipted but not approved yet) and OPT EAD is still valid:  

Risky 

OPT Employment Reporting Form 

OPT EAD valid until you re-enter the U.S.  

Passport valid for the next six months  

Valid F-1 visa  

I-797 Receipt Notice  

 

While STEM OPT is still pending with USCIS and OPT EAD is expired  

VERY Risky  

 24-Month STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form 

Travel NOT recommended 

If you have an emergency, please consult with an ISS advisor before attempting to travel 

After STEM OPT is approved  

Less Risky 

24-Month STEM OPT Employment Reporting Form 

OPT EAD (even if it’s expired)  

STEM OPT EAD  

Recent employment letter  

Passport valid for the next six months  

Valid F-1 visa  

 

Visit our H-1b and Cap Gap Extension page for information about what to do if you have applied or are wanting to apply for a H-1B visa while on STEM OPT.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What majors qualify for STEM OPT Extension? 
First, verify that the major CIP Code on your I-20 is correct. You can locate the CIP Code on the first page of your Form I-20 under “Major 1.” Then check the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List to see if your major CIP Code is included in the list of STEM-eligible majors.

2. My current degree isn’t STEM OPT eligible, but my prior degree is. Can I apply using my prior degree?
This is possible if your prior degree meets all the STEM eligibility requirements. Check the DHS website to be sure. Keep in mind, there are additional documents you need to submit to ISS and USCIS if you want to apply for a STEM Extension based on a prior degree. For more info see Apply for STEM OPT Extension Based on Prior Degree. 

3. Can I apply for STEM OPT if I have already exceeded the 90 days of unemployment on my initial 12-months of Post-Completion OPT?
If you have already exceeded the 90 days of unemployment permitted during Post-Completion OPT, you may not be in a valid F-1 status. If you have exceeded the 90 days of unemployment, you are encouraged to depart the U.S. as soon as possible or discuss your situation with an immigration attorney. Students who have exceeded the 90 days of unemployment may be denied future benefits. ISS does not recommend that you apply for STEM OPT until first discussing your case with a competent immigration attorney. Check our website for more info about Finding an Immigration Attorney.

4. When should I apply for a STEM OPT Extension? 
The earliest that USCIS can receive your STEM OPT application is 90 days before the end date on your EAD card. ISS can receive your request before that 90-day mark, but the advisor may not process your request until closer to that date. Please keep in mind there may currently be processing delays due to certain restrictions (i.e. working from home, shelter in place orders, etc.) 

5. Can I apply for STEM OPT from my home country? 
No, the I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) specifically states you must be in the U.S. to apply. 

6. What does USCIS mean by a “wet” signature? Will they accept digital signatures? 
An original signature in ink on the physical I-20 is considered to be the wet signature. It is important for students to receive and keep the original I-20s for their records forever. USCIS will not accept typed or digitally signed signatures. You must physically sign the I-765 in black ink (Application for Employment Authorization).

1. USCIS hasn’t approved my STEM OPT yet and my EAD card expired! What do I do?! 
While your STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS, you are still allowed to work up to 180 days beyond the end date of your current EAD
A student who has timely filed an application for a 24-month STEM OPT extension with USCIS may work for the STEM OPT employer while the STEM extension application is pending, for up to 180 days beyond the expiration of his or her prior post-completion OPT EAD based on 8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv). 
If USCIS has not adjudicated the STEM OPT application by day 180, you must stop working. Employment after day 180 is not authorized under 8 CFR 274a.12(b)(6)(iv) if USCIS has not adjudicated the STEM OPT application by day 180. 

2. Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my STEM OPT application is pending with USCIS? 
You may travel outside the United States if your current Post-Completion EAD card is valid and will remain valid until you re-enter the U.S. If your Post-Completion EAD card has already expired and your application for STEM OPT is still pending with USCIS, you should not depart the United States. Once your STEM OPT has been approved, if you need to travel internationally you should take both EAD cards, your I-20 signed for travel within the last 6 months, recent employer letter, and a valid passport with unexpired F-1 visa with you to show at the Port of Entry upon your re-entry to the U.S. More information on traveling can be found above at Traveling while on STEM OPT.

3. Can I continue working after my Post-Completion EAD card has expired if my STEM OPT application is still pending with USCIS? 
Yes. If your STEM OPT application is received and accepted by USCIS on or prior to your Post-Completion OPT EAD card end date, you are eligible to continue working for up to 180 days beyond the expiration date of your Post-Completion OPT EAD card. All employment that occurs after the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT EAD card must comply with all STEM OPT employment rules, even if you are still waiting to receive the STEM OPT EAD card. 
If you are past your 180 day period and you still have not received your EAD card, YOU MUST STOP WORKING until you receive the STEM OPT EAD card. If you have not received an update about your I-765 application after 180 days, please see I-765 Application Troubleshooting

1. I am currently working on changing to another status. When should ISS be notified?
Please make an appointment to tell us your plans as soon as possible. What ISS needs to do depends on what immigration status you are switching to (i.e. - H-1b, F-2, Permanent Resident, etc). Here is more information on Changing Status from F-1.
 
2. May I take classes while on STEM OPT?
Taking classes may automatically cancel your STEM OPT. If you are considering taking classes, please make an appointment with an ISS advisor to discuss your options. 

3. How many unemployment days are allowed on STEM OPT? 
Up to 150 days of unemployment. Any unemployment beyond that may be considered a status violation.
This includes any unemployment earned during Post-Completion OPT 

4. Can I work for a start-up while on STEM OPT? 
Start-up positions are acceptable only if there is a bona fide employer-employee relationship and all regulatory requirements are met by the employer, including: 
  • Training plan establishment as outlined in the Form I-983. 
  • ​They have an EIN. 
  • E-Verify standing is maintained and in good standing. 
  • The compensation for the STEM student employee is commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers. 
  • The start-up has resource availability to comply with the proposed training plan. 

Please consult with an experienced immigration attorney by checking our website Finding an Immigration Attorney 

5. Can I work for multiple STEM employers? 
Yes, you may have multiple employers during the STEM OPT Extension:  

  • If you are working at least 20 hours per week with each employer. 
  • ​If all employers are registered with E-Verify. 
  • If all positions comply with all requirements for Form I-983.  

Make sure to report all employment to ISS by submitting the appropriate STEM Employment Reporting. Here is more information about STEM Reporting Requirements.

6. Is paid leave considered “unemployment” during STEM OPT? 
Vacation days, weekends, and holiday leave do not typically count as unemployment. However, it must be consistent with your employer’s policy. Please check with your Human Resources Department. It really depends on the company and the status you are placed in “leave” or “laid off”.