OPT: 17 Month STEM Extension

STEM Extension Overview
STEM Extension Requirements
Types of Eligible Employment
Steps in Applying for STEM Extension
Limited Period of Unemployment to Maintain Status
Reporting Requirements of STEM Extension
Travel Issues while on STEM Extension

Recipients of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields may be eligible for a one-time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 29 months). The 17-month Stem Extension OPT is adjudicated (approved) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The end result of filing for the OPT 17-month STEM extension is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) which shows dates students are able to work legally in the United States.

STEM Extension Overview:

  • Only one 17-month STEM extension is granted PER LIFETIME regardless of additional degrees awarded or level of degrees.
  • New STEM extension EAD card begins the day after the expiration of the 12 month EAD card and ends 17 months later, no matter the date of adjudication.
  • 17-month extension will be granted in one EAD card period and cannot be split into smaller periods. 
  • It is possible to change employers during the 17 months. The new employment must meet the STEM extension requirements.
  • Students whose applications are received before the EAD card expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until they receive the final decision from USCIS on the application or for 180 days, whichever comes first. It is possible to change employment while application is pending, as long as the new employment meets STEM extension requirements.
  • If extension application is denied, student will still have the 60-day grace period after expiration of the 12-month EAD card.

STEM Extension Requirements

  • Must currently be on post-completion 12-month OPT
  • Verified completion of a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List.  The CIP code is found on top of page 3 of the I-20, next to "Primary Major."
  • Employment Requirements:
    • Paid or unpaid
    • At least 20 hours per week
    • Directly related to field of study and appropriate to degree level obtained
  • Employer Requirements:
    • Registered with the U.S. Government E-Verify employment verification system
    • Agrees to report any termination of employment within 48 hours to OIS. 

Types of Eligible Employment

  • Multiple employers – Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program.
  • Short-term multiple employers – Students may work for multiple short-term employers but cannot work more than one full-time job.
  • Work for hire – This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship.
  • Self-employed business owner – Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove to DHS that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program.
  • Employment through an employment agency  

Steps in Applying for STEM Extension

  • Student submits the STEM Extension I-20 Request form to OIS. Processing time is five business days at OIS.
  • The earliest that students can apply is 120 days before the end of the 12-month OPT. Applications must be received by OIS no less than 30 days before the current 12-month EAD card expires. 
  • OIS will mail STEM extension I-20 to student in pre-paid envelope provided by student.
  • Student will then send a copy of pages 1 and 3 of the STEM Extension I-20, new I-765 form, application fee, photos, and all required supporting documentation before the EAD card expires. Please see the The Checklist for the Extension Application for more details.
  • USCIS offers an e-notification of application receipt. Students interested in receiving an e-notification should fill out the Form G-1145 and include it as the first page of the extension application.

Limited Period of Unemployment to Maintain Status

  • An additional 30 days of unemployment time will be available during the extension, combined with the 90 days granted during initial 12-month.  The aggregate total allowed is 120 days during the possible 29 months. 
  • Students must report immediately to OIS any changes in employment through the OPT employer information update form.
  • OIS and DHS strongly recommends that students keep evidence for each job regarding the position held, dates of position, the job title, supervisor name and contact information and a description of the job.

Reporting Requirements of STEM Extension

Report to OIS within 10 days of any change of:

  • Legal name
  • Residential or mailing address
  • Employer name
  • Employer address, and/or
  • Interruption or loss of employment

Make a validation report to OIS every six months while on 17-month OPT extension when:

  • the student's F-1 status ends
  • the student changes educational levels at the same school
  • the student transfers to another school, OR
  • the 17-month OPT extension ends, whichever occurs first

The validation reporting is a confirmation that the student's name and address, employer name and address, and/or loss of employment are current and accurate.

Please use the OPT Employer Information Update  form to submit the validation report and any of the other changes listed above.

Travel Issues while on STEM Extension

Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on STEM extension:

  • STEM extension OPT I-20 with page 3 endorsed for travel; travel endorsement cannot be more than six months old
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Valid passport
  • STEM Extension EAD card
  • Job offer letter or statement of employment from company