24 Month STEM Extension of OPT

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final 24 Month STEM Extension of OPT rule that went into effect on May 10, 2016. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to certain STEM students.

Changes made by this rule include:

  • Lengthened STEM OPT Extension Period to 24 months (from 17 months) 

  • Allows Two STEM OPT Extensions per Lifetime. The second STEM OPT extension must be based upon a degree completed at a higher educational level than the first STEM extension. 

  • Previously Obtained STEM Degrees. F-1 students participating in an inital 12-months of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree can use a prior eligible STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension, as long as both degrees were received from currently accredited educational institutions and the practical training opportunity is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

  • Updated STEM Designated Degree Program List. The STEM designated degree program list effective May 10, 2016 is available online.

  • Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. Students must complete a formal training plan (Form I-983) developed with the employer indicating training goals and the nature of the supervion and evaluaiton. 

  • Self-Evaluations. Students must complete annual self-evaluations and obtain the employers signature.

  • Increased Unemployment Limitation. The new rule retains the 90 days of unemployment (during the inital OPT authorization) and adds an additional 60 days of unemployment for students authorized for a 24 month STEM extension of OPT (for a total of 150 days of unemployment during the 36 months of OPT). 

  • Transition Application Procedures. The new rule provides information for individuals currently on a 17 month STEM extension of OPT to apply for an additional 7 months of OPT authorization and information for individuals who have a pending STEM extension of OPT application at the time when the new rule takes effect on May 10, 2016.

  • Safeguards for U.S. Workers in Related Fields. The rule requires theemployer to certify that the terms and conditions of a STEM practical training opportunity are commensurate with those applicable to similarly situated U.S. workers on the Form I-983, Training Plan.

  • School Accreditation, Employer Site Visits, and Employer Reporting. To improve the integrity of the STEM OPT extension, the rule: (1) Generally limits eligibility for such extensions to students with degrees from schools accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education; (2) clarifies DHS discretion to conduct employer site visits at worksites to verify whether employers are meeting program requirements, including that they possess and maintain the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences; and (3) institutes new employer reporting requirements.

The rule retains other provisions of the 2008 IFR, as follows:

  • E-Verify and Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT Employers. The rule requires STEM OPT employers to be enrolled in and remain in good standing with E-Verify and to report changes in the STEM OPT student's employment to the DSO within five business days.

  • Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT Students. The rule requires STEM OPT students to report to their DSOs any name or address changes, as well as any changes to their employers' names or addresses. Students also must verify the accuracy of this reporting information every 6 months.

  • Cap-Gap Extension for F-1 Students with Timely Filed H-1B Petitions and Requests for Change of Status. The new rule includes the Cap-Gap extension provision, under which DHS temporarily extends an F-1 student's duration of status and any current employment authorization if the student is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition and change-of-status request pending with or approved by USCIS. The Cap-Gap extension extends the OPT period until the beginning of the new fiscal year (i.e., October 1 of the fiscal year for which the H-1B status is being requested).

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for the 24-month STEM extension, individuals must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Must have earned Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a field that is currently on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Programs List

  • Is participating in post-completion OPT in a field that is based on your most recent degree on May 10, 2016

  • Employed/have a job offer from an employer registered in an E-Verify Program; STEM OPT Extension restricts work to E-Verify employer only

  • Be able to complete the Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer

  • Accumulated no more than 90 days of unemployment during the current post-completion OPT authorization

  • Employment during the 24-month STEM OPT Extension must be directly related to your CSUEB primary/major field of study and the STEM degree in which you qualify for the extension

  • Have not previously received the 24-month STEM OPT extension under the STEM degree

  • Be within 90 days of the end of the current OPT benefit period

  • Volunteer/unpaid, employment through employment agencies and self- employment are NOT allowed. 

Applying for the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension

24 Month STEM Extension Handout

Form I-983

USCIS Form I-765

Changing Employers While your 24 Month STEM OPT application is Pending with USCIS

Yes, but USCIS will need to be notified of such change. You will be required to submit an updated Form I-983 with the new employer information and the 24 Month STEM Extension I-20 Requst Form to CIE. If your STEM OPT period has already started, you must also submit the final self-evaluation (page 5 of Form I-983) for your previous employer.

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