Students currently engaged in post-completion OPT who have completed a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) field may apply for an additional 17 months of employment authorization, for a total of 29 months of employment authorization. Students must file an application with a USCIS to apply for the STEM Extension. During the STEM Extension period students may only work for employers who are enrolled in the E-verify system and the employer must agree to update OIS (within 48 hours) when the student leaves or the employment is terminated.
E-verify is a system that shares information between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to verify that a potential employee is eligible to work in the United States. During the STEM Extension students may change employers or work for multiple employers, provided that all employers are enrolled in the E-verify system. Not every employer is enrolled in E-verify and there is not an official list of E-verify employers. Therefore, students will need to confirm this information with the employer directly. If the employer has questions about the E-verify system, please refer them to www.uscis.gov (key word search "E-verify") or their human resources professional.
The STEM Extension is a one-time lifetime extension; students are not "re-eligible" at each higher degree level like the regular OPT. During the STEM Extension students are required to update OIS within 10 days of any change in name, immigration status, employment status and residential address. Students must also report to OIS every six months, even if their information has not changed. There is detailed information about the STEM extension in the STEM OPT Extension and Application Form.
STEM Eligibility Requirements:
- Student must have completed a degree program in a STEM field (there is a list of STEM fields at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm ).
- The “CIP” code is used to standardize majors and is what a student should use to determine if his or her major appears on the STEM list. If a student is not able to identify his or her CIP code on page three of the I-20, the following link provides CIP codes for all NC State instructional programs: http://www2.acs.ncsu.edu/UPA/tools/cip/index.htm
- Student must be engaged in an approved post-completion OPT in order to apply for the STEM Extension.
- Student must have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-verify.
STEM Extension Application Process:
- Student reviews the STEM OPT Extension and Application Form.
- Student submits STEM materials to OIS for issuance of a STEM I-20. In order for OIS to issue the STEM I-20, student must submit:
- OIS Application & Certification for F-1 OPT STEM Extension form
- Copy of the I-765 (You can find instructions for the completion of this form for the STEM extension here. Please also note which Edition Dates are acceptable on USCIS website under Edition Date Section.
- Copy of EAD
- Employment offer letter (offer letter should include a job title, job description, work location and confirm that the job is related to the STEM field that the student completed and that the company is enrolled in E-verify)
- OIS issues new I-20 and a cover letter that includes details for assembling and mailing the STEM application.
- Student will mail the application to USCIS. USCIS requires that the STEM application include:
- Check or money order for $380.00 payable to "The Department of Homeland Security"
- Two passport style photographs
- Form G-1145 (for students who wish to receive electronic notification that their application has been accepted.)
- Copy of the STEM I-20 (signed by OIS within 30 days)
- Original I-765
- Proof of completion of STEM degree program (copy of diploma or transcript)
- Photocopies of the EAD, visa, passport and I-94 (front and back)
- If the application is approved, the USCIS will issue a new EAD with the STEM dates (90 day processing with USCIS)
- Student reviews the EAD for accuracy and provides a copy to OIS.
In the STEM OPT Extension and Application Form there are more specific details about the STEM Extension. Students must submit the Application & Certification for F-1 OPT STEM Extension form, copy of the I-765, copy of the job offer letter and a copy of their EAD in order for OIS to issue a new I-20 for the STEM Extension. A photocopy of the new I-20 and STEM application materials must be mailed to a USCIS for processing of a new EAD. Students may submit the STEM Extension documents via mail, e-mail (email@example.com) or in person to OIS. Please allow at least 5 business days for processing and issuance of the new I-20. It is recommended the STEM application to be mailed to the appropriate USCIS between 90 and 120 days prior to the expiration date of the current EAD issued for post-completion OPT.
During the STEM extension period, students must be employed for at least 20 hours per week by an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to their field of study. Types of employment that are allowed during the STEM Extension Period are:
- Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student's most recently completed degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Work for hire: Also referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner: Students on a STEM Extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time, more than 20 hours per week. The student must be able to prove that he or she has proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program. Any questions regarding starting a business should be referred to an experienced attorney or human resources professional.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm: Students on a STEM Extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.
Please note: It is the student's responsibility to maintain documentation for each job held during the OPT period. It is recommended that students obtain proof that the position is/was related to the STEM field that the student completed, duration of the position and contact information for the manager/supervisor. Information regarding employment authorization is subject to change, students should confirm the application requirements, fees and process with USCIS. For the most up to date instructions regarding the I-765 please see: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765. Students may also contact USCIS directly to ask questions regarding pending applications.
If you have any further questions regarding OPT STEM, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.