24 Month STEM extension

Frequently Asked Questions

What degree qualifies for the STEM OPT extension?

To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, your degree program, as listed on your I-20 form, must be included on the list of eligible CIP codes published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If your degree program’s CIP code is not included on this list, you are not eligible for the STEM OPT extension.

Does employment on the 24-month STEM OPT extension have to be paid, and if so, how much?

Yes. “DHS has determined that as a result of the rule's general requirements, a student seeking a STEM OPT extension will not be allowed to use a volunteer opportunity as a basis for a STEM OPT extension.” According to the DHS, "The terms and conditions of a STEM practical training opportunity during the period of the 24-month OPT extension, including duties, hours, and compensation, must be commensurate with terms and conditions applicable to the employer's similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment.”

How many hours per week must I work?

You must work a minimum of twenty hours per week to be considered employed.

Does my employer have to use E-Verify?

Yes.

What is Form I-983, and is it a requirement for the 24-month STEM OPT extension?

Before applying to USCIS for a STEM OPT extension, a STEM OPT student must download, complete, sign and submit the Form I-983 to the Director of International Student Services at jgold12@swarthmore.edu. The STEM OPT student and their prospective employer must work together to complete this form. STEM OPT students and their employers are subject to the terms of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations and Form I-983 instructions, effective as of the start date requested for STEM OPT, as indicated on the form.” (“Students and the Form I-983”) While completing the Form I-983, please note that the School Code is PHI214F00595000 and your DSO is Jennifer Gold

Evaluation of Student Progress

The student must complete the first “Evaluation of Student Progress” portion of the Form I-983 within 12 months of the listed STEM OPT start date. At the end of the STEM OPT extension, a student must conduct a second, final assessment. Once the evaluations are complete, the student must collect signatures from their employer and return the form to the DSO, who will keep it in the student’s physical student record. 

How early can I apply for the 24-Month STEM OPT extension?

You may apply no earlier than 90 days before your post-completion OPT expires.

Can I apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension during my 60-day grace period (following my post-completion OPT end date)?

No.

What is the application process?

1. Please request a copy of the STEM PowerPoint from Jennifer Marks-Gold and Complete and submit the OPT Reporting Form, I-765, STEM extension application form and I-983.

 2. The International Student Center will issue you a new Form I-20 if you qualify for the STEM OPT extension. Please send a self addressed prepaid fed ex envelope to our Office.

3. You will receive your new STEM OPT extension I-20s from the International Student Center, sign them, and mail your application to USCIS according to the instructions on the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Application Checklist.

4. The 24 month extension can take anywhere between 3 months to 5 months for USCIS to adjudicate. If USCIS has any questions, they will send you a request for information/evidence.

5. If your application is approved, USCIS will mail you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for the STEM OPT extension, which will list the start and end dates you are authorized to work on the STEM OPT extension.

 

 Document Checklist

This is what is you will submit to us:

Documents

1. Pages 1 - 4 of Form I-983 Training Plan completed by you and your employer

    Pages 2 - 4: Use DHS’ line-by-line instructions as a guide. 
    Pages 1 – 4: Complete and sign.
    Page 5:  Do not submit this page now. You will need to complete and submit it for your 12-month evaluation of your STEM OPT reporting requirements.
    Need more help? Review the on-line I-983 tutorial.

2. I-765 Application for Employment Authorization

    Complete the I-765 and sign in blue ink

3. Most recent I-94 arrival record

This must show your most recent arrival in F-1 status admitted until "D/S"

4. Copy of EAD (front and back)

5. Prepaid FedEx Shipping Return Label

After you receive the STEM OPT I-20 from us, compile these documents to send to USCIS:

1. Form G-1145 to allow USCIS to notify you when they accept your application

2. Form I-765 

3. $410 USCIS fee payable by:  Credit card via Form G-1450 or  Personal check from a U.S. checking account, or certified bank check, or money order, payable to the        "U.S Department of Homeland Security". Write "USCIS I-765" in the memo line

4. A signed and dated copy of your STEM OPT Extension I-20 and copies of all previously-issued I-20s (no originals). If you do not have all your I-20s and are unable to      obtain copies from the school that issued them, attach a brief explanation of your F-1 status history.

5. Passport Identification page (valid 6 months into the future)

6 F-1 entry visa (Canadians are exempt). If you changed your status to F-1 in the U.S. and don't have a visa, include your Change of Status approval notice.

7. Copy of your most recent I-94 arrival record (click “Get Most Recent I-94”)

8. Two U.S. passport style photos using standards from the Department of State website and be aware that photos cannot be more than 30 days old when you send the application and you should write your name on the back of each photo in pencil.

9. Photocopy of both sides of your current OPT EAD card and any previously issued EAD card(s)

10. Copy of your diploma, which shows your STEM degree name and the date it was awarded

11. Copy or official transcript of your degree program of study in a designated STEM field

12. Employer’s letter that includes a brief description of your job responsibilities in your STEM field

How long after receiving my Form I-20 must I mail my application to USCIS?

USCIS must receive your application within 60 days of the date your OPT was recommended in SEVIS. Since this date is not listed on your I-20, please make sure USCIS receives your application within 50 days of the date the I-20 was issued (the date next to the International Student Center member’s name on the first page of your new I- 20). 

Can I apply for a second STEM OPT extension to immediately follow my first STEM OPT extension?

No. Two periods of STEM OPT cannot immediately follow each other. There must be an intervening degree and a period of 12-month OPT between the STEM OPT extensions.

Can I travel  while my STEM OPT application is pending and my EAD card has expired?

While your STEM OPT application is pending, your employment authorization is automatically extended for 180 days and your original EAD is considered unexpired when combined with the I-20 recommending the extension. DHS clarifies this in the preamble to the 24-month rule.

At the port of entry to the U.S. you will need to have:

  • Receipt Notice from USCIS that your STEM OPT application is being processed
  • EAD issued for your post-completion OPT (even if expired)
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Most recent I-20 with the STEM OPT recommendation signed by Jennifer Marks-Gold or Reshma Suraj.
  • Proof of employment (e.g. a job offer)

That said, international travel while an OPT application is pending should be undertaken with caution. We cannot guarantee that you will have no problems at the port of entry when trying to reenter the U.S. The decision on readmission will be made by a CBP Officer.

I still have questions. Who can I contact?

Many questions regarding the 24-month STEM OPT extension can be answered by visiting the SEVP STEM OPT HUB website or reading their Frequently Asked Questions. If you still have questions after reading through this information, feel free to contact Jennifer Marks-Gold, Director of International Student Center at jgold12@swarthmore.edu.