What is the STEM OPT Extension?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period of temporary training that is directly related to an F-1 student’s program of study. F-1 students who completed a program of study in an approved STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their Post-Completion OPT.

When Should I Apply for the STEM Extension?

USCIS must receive the STEM Extension application before the student’s Post-Completion OPT expires. Students can start submitting their applications to USCIS up to 90 days before their Post-Completion OPT expires. Similar to the Post-Completion OPT application process, the STEM Extension can take 3-5 months for processing. Students are allowed to continue working for up to 180 days after their Post-Completion OPT expires while their STEM Extension application is pending.

Please note: You may not be permitted to renew your driver’s license while your STEM Extension is pending, so consider applying as early as possible if your license will expire when your OPT expires.

It can take up to 7-10 business days for our office to review your STEM OPT application materials and issue you an updated I-20. Please plan accordingly.

Instructions for Completing This Form

  1. After reading the information on the pages of the form, please fill out Page 3 and gather all supporting documents outlined on the checklist.
  2. Email your application materials to our office at isss@colostate.edu.
    • After ISSS has reviewed your application, we will create a new I-20 recommending you for OPT.
    • We will email you when your new I-20 is ready
    • You are responsible for mailing your application to USCIS.

Frequently Asked Questions – Application Process

Who is eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension?

You are eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You are currently participating in approved post-completion OPT and have maintained your F-1 immigration status throughout your post-completion OPT period
  • You have earned a degree in a program of study that is included on the STEM list
  • Your STEM OPT employer is enrolled in USCIS’s E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
  • Your STEM OPT employer has provided you with formal training and learning objectives
  • You have not been approved for 2 previous OPT STEM extensions

What if the CIP code for my major doesn’t appear on the SEVP list of qualifying majors, but the skills and training I received do?

The CIP code for your major must appear on the current SEVP list of qualifying majors or the DSO will not recommend you for a STEM OPT Extension.

What if my work is not really related to my degree, but is related to training I received during my degree program?

Your work must be directly related to the degree that qualifies you for the STEM OPT Extension.

My Post-Completion OPT position was volunteer-based and I would like to continue. Does my STEM Extension have to be paid?

During your STEM extension you must be employed in a paid position working at least 20 hours per week, not counting allowable unemployment or vacation time.

Can I take my own photos and cut them down to passport size or use photos from when I applied for my visa before?

The passport photos must have been taken within the last 30 days. Taking your own photos is not recommended; Walgreens, CVS pharmacy, fedex/Kinko’s and many other retail stores in town can make passport-sized photos for you.

Can I travel while my STEM OPT application is pending or once it’s been approved?

Travel while your STEM OPT application is pending is not recommended unless you will reenter the U.S. before your standard OPT expires. If you must travel while on OPT, you should carry a valid, unexpired EAD card and a letter from your employer authorizing the period of leave. Also carry a valid passport, F-1 visa, and I-20 signed for travel within the last six months.

What is the Form I-983?

The Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, or Form I-983, outlines the mentoring, training, and evaluation plan you will follow during your practical training period. The form needs to include information about how the practical training experience is directly related to your STEM program of study.

Who is a Designated School Official?

This is a person who can make changes to your I-20 and recommend you for an OPT STEM Extension. You can leave this portion of the I-983 blank. The immigration advisor who will be assigned your application materials for review will enter their information into this part of the I-983 for you.

  • What if I work for Company A, but I am physically located at Company B?
    • This is  allowed only if you have a supervisor/mentor at your actual work site who can conduct the training outlined in Form I-983.
  • In Section 3 it asks for employer information. Should that be the corporate headquarters address or the address of the office where I work?
    • The employer’s principal place of business should be indicated.
  • In Section 5 where it requests employer site information, if the site of employment is Company B, should the name of official be my supervisor at Company B?
    • Yes
  • Who should sign page 4? Should this be someone from Company A or my supervisor at Company B? 
    • The individual who is acting as your supervisor/mentor and conducting the training outlined in your Form I-983 should sign Page 4.

What should I do if my I-94 is inaccurate?

Before you mail your packet requesting the STEM OPT extension, you should contact your local Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry to correct the error. At DIA, the correction must be done in person between the hours of 10 a.m. And 2 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Am I eligible for a 24-month STEM Extension for a previously-earned degree that is not the basis of my current Post-Completion OPT authorization?

Yes, if your previously-earned degree was:

  • in an approved STEM major,
  • earned within the past 10 years, and
  • you have not already done an OPT STEM extension for that degree.
  • You may be eligible for a 24-month STEM extension for a previous degree even if you were not in F-1 status at the time you earned that degree. Please see an International Student Advisor for more information.

Am I eligible for a 24-month OPT STEM extension if I have not completed my thesis/dissertation?

Yes. If you have completed all degree requirements except a thesis or dissertation, you are eligible for the OPT STEM extension. You will need to obtain a letter from the CSU Registrar confirming that you have met all coursework requirements for your degree.

My application has taken more than 90 days to process, what can I do?

If your application has been pending for more than 90 days, you may contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283 and ask that a “service request” be created. Please see the USCIS website for details.

  • How do I find E-Verify employers?
  • How can I find out my employer’s E-Verify number?
    • The USCIS website does not publish the E-Verify number of employers. You will need to ask a Human Resources representative at the company or organization for which you wish to work and indicate this number on the Form I-765.
  • Can I get paid by Company A (not E-Verify), but actually work on a contract at Company B (which is E-Verify)?
    • No, the company from which you receive your paycheck must be registered in E-Verify.

Frequently Asked Questions – While On STEM OPT

What do I need to do to maintain my F-1 immigration status during the 24-month OPT STEM extension?

Submit your STEM evaluations and OPT Reporting eForms according to your reporting schedule. (View button below on OPT Reporting)

What are my employer’s responsibilities?

  • Your employer must be enrolled and in good standing with E-Verify
  • Your employer must work with you to complete and certify Section 3 of the Form I-983 before you apply for the OPT STEM extension
  • Your employer must review and sign your 12-month self-evaluation and your final evaluation before you submit them to ISSS
  • Your employer must work with you to report any material changes to your formal training plan by submitting a new Form I-983 to ISSS
  • If you lose your job, your employer must report the loss of employment to ISSS within 10 days
  • Your employer must provide you with a training opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation. Please encourage your employer to view the employer section of the Study in the States OPT STEM Hub.

Can I change jobs during my STEM Extension and how does that process work?

Yes, you can change jobs during your STEM OPT extension. You must submit an OPT Reporting eForm and a new Form I-983 signed by your new employer within 10 days of changing employment. Additionally, you will need to submit a final STEM evaluation for your previous employer which can be found on the top portion of Page 5 of the I-983.