WHAT IS STEM OPT?
Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) is a type of temporary employment at a position that is directly related to the F-1 student’s major. F-1 students are generally allowed to apply for up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization that may occur before they complete their studies and/or after they complete their studies. However, once this time period is up, if a student was involved in a major area of study derived from science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields, they may be eligible for an additional 24 month period of temporary training. This extension is what is referred to as the STEM OPT extension.
In order for a student to be eligible for the STEM OPT extension, there are a number of qualifications that must be met:
- Student, at the time of applying, must be participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT;
- Have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field that is listed on DHS’ STEM Designated Degree Program List from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”) certified and accredited school;
- Must pursue their STEM extension through an employer that is enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify employment eligibility verification program;
- Student must select a STEM OPT employer that will provide formal training and learning objectives as evidence by the signing and submission of a Form I-983, Training Plan For STEM OPT Students, to the student’s DSO;
- Must be a paid, non-self-employed position; and
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer
It should be noted that, for the condition that calls for an F-1 Student to have a degree in a STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified and accredited school, may also be satisfied by the use of a previous STEM Degree. In order for this to count, the degree must also have come from a currently accredited and SEVP-certified school and the student cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based upon that degree.
APPLYING FOR STEM OPT
For a student to apply for STEM OPT, a student must first make a request with the student’s designated school official (“DSO”) to recommend STEM OPT.
The student must then properly file a Form I-765, Application for Employment which will grant them their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if approved. This application should contain the correct application fee, the employer’s name as it was listed in E-Verify, the employer’s E-Verify Identification Number, the Form I-20 endorsed by the DSO within the last 60 days, and a copy of the STEM degree. The student must make sure they are using the latest edition of the Form I-765, otherwise the application will be rejected. You can check the latest edition date by visiting https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
The F-1 student must file the Form I-765 up to 90 days before the current OPT expiration, and within 60 days from their recommendation on their I-20. If their application is properly filed, a student may be allowed to work up to 180 days past the end of their post completion OPT while a decision is pending with USCIS. It is very important that USCIS receives the application before the expiration of the student’s current OPT or else they may not be able to continue working past the OPT expiration date.
The timeline of filing the I-765 requesting the STEM extension is extremely important. Our office sees many rejections and denials based on the student not filing the I-765 within the appropriate timeline. Even if a student files the I-765 timely before the OPT expiration, if the application isn’t filed within 60 days of the DSO endorsement, the application can be rejected or denied. Further, if a student files the I-765 too early (prior to 90 days before the OPT expiration), the application can be rejected.
Additionally, it is worth nothing that, students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT. If a student does not apply for STEM OPT before the expiration of OPT, they will lose their eligibility to apply.
Please note that the Form I-983 Training Plan is not required to be submitted along with the I-765. However, students and their employers must complete and sign the Form I-983 Training Plan before a student may apply for the STEM OPT extension. STEM OPT students and their employers must follow the terms and conditions of the STEM OPT regulations and the completed Form I-983 Training Plan.
Finally, as of April 12, 2021 F-1 students can apply for the STEM OPT extension online with a USCIS online account.
STUDENT REPORTING RESPONSIBILITIES
The F-1 student has certain reporting responsibilities once they receive the STEM extension. The student must report certain changes to the DSO within 10 days of the change, such as a change of the student’s legal name, residential or mailing address, email address, employer’s name, or employer’s address. Further, the student must report to the DSO every 6 months to confirm the information listed, even if none of the information has changed. The student is also obligated to report any material changes to the student’s I-983 training plan.
If you have any questions regarding the STEM extension process or are in need of guidance in how to best comply with USCIS regulations, you can set up a consultation with any of our Reddy & Neumann, P.C. attorneys.