Employment: STEM OPT Extension

Students who are currently on post-completion OPT and who graduated with a degree in a qualifying STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. In addition to the STEM degree requirement, students must have active or offered employment with an E-Verify employer in a field directly related to the STEM degree.

STEM OPT Fast Facts

-A student may qualify for up to two STEM OPT extensions per lifetime. Each extension must be based on a separate period of post-completion OPT, and the second STEM OPT extension must be based on a higher earned degree level than the first STEM OPT extension.
-If your current OPT is based on a non-STEM degree, but you have an offer to work in the job related to a prior qualifying STEM degree, you may be eligible to obtain a STEM OPT extension off the prior earned degree (contact your ISSS advisor).
-If you are currently on post-completion OPT with thesis pending, and you wish to apply for an OPT STEM extension based on the degree you are still working on, it is best to complete the current degree BEFORE submitting your STEM OPT extension.
-You cannot choose your 24 month OPT extension dates – the 24 months extension begins the day after your current OPT ends.
-Your STEM OPT extension must be based on current or future employment with a qualifying employer in a job directly related to your STEM degree.
-Your STEM OPT extension qualifying employer must be enrolled in E-Verify, have an EIN number, and agree to certain requirements laid out in an I-983 Training Plan.
-You may not engage in unpaid internships or self-employment during the STEM OPT extension period.
-You are allowed an aggregate of 150 days of unemployment time while on the STEM OPT extension, including any employment time accrued during standard post-completion OPT. If you accrue more than the allowed unemployment time, your F-1 status may be no longer valid.

When and How to Apply For STEM OPT

-You may apply up to 90 days before your current post-completion OPT EAD end date. You must first apply to ISSS for a new Form I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation, and then submit an application to USCIS.
Your application must be received by USCIS by your current OPT end date, and within 60 days of when ISSS issued your STEM OPT extension recommendation.
-If your application is still pending approval when your current OPT expires, you may work for the STEM extension qualifying employer for up to 180 days while awaiting a decision from USCIS on your application.

STEP 1: SUBMIT TO ISSS

1. STEM OPT Extension Application Form (ISSS 356)
2. Form I-765. Download at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765. Tips for completing Form I-765 can be found below. We will return this to you.
3. Completed Form I-983 – Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. Only pages 1-4 must be completed for your initial application. Please refer to the I-983 Instructions for tips on completing the form. In the “DSO Name and Contact Information” section, list your assigned International Advisor. Please make sure that ALL fields are complete.
4. Copy of UConn diploma or official transcript showing degree completion. If thesis pending, we will need confirmation from your academic advisor that you have only the thesis/dissertation left to complete.
5. If STEM OPT Extension is not based on UConn degree: Copy of STEM diploma from accredited U.S. university (conferred within last 10 years)
6. Copy of all previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)
7. Receipt for payment of 24 Month STEM OPT SEVIS Maintenance Fee. This fee must be paid online through the UConn Bursar website. Click on “International Student and Scholar Services” and scroll down to “24-Month STEM OPT Processing Fee”. After paying the $300 fee, you must print a receipt and include this with your application documents to ISSS.

Tips for Completing Form I-765

  • The form is available as a fillable form online at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765. Download and type the form online, then print and sign in blue ink.
  • “I am applying for…” Check “Permission to accept employment” if this is an initial 12-month OPT application.  Check “Renewal of my permission to accept employment” if this is a 24-month STEM OPT extension of your current OPT.
  • Question #3: Your Receipt Notice and EAD will be mailed to the address you provide. If you are not sure where you will be living in the future months, you may use International Student and Scholar Service’s office address: 2011 Hillside Rd., Unit 1083, Storrs, CT 06269. If you will move to a new address, please note that the U.S. Postal Service will not forward this mail, even if you file a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service.  If you use a personal address and you move before your EAD is issued, you must update your address with both the USPS and with USCIS (see instructions for those with pending applications).
  • Questions #9.a. - #13.b.: (Social Security Administration) If your request for employment authorization is approved, the SSA may assign you an SSN and issue you a Social Security card, or issue you a replacement card. If you want the SSA to assign you a Social Security number and issue you a Social Security card, or issue you a new or replacement Social Security card, then answer “Yes” to both #10 and #11. You must also provide your father’s and mother’s family and given names at birth in #12.a. - #13.b. SSA will use #12.a. - #13.b. in issuing you an SSN card. You are not required to request an SSN using this application. Completing #10 - #13.b. is optional. However, you must have an SSN properly assigned in your name to work in the United States.

NOTE: If your employer uses E-Verify to confirm new employees’ eligibility to legally work in the United States, the information you provide on Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, will be compared to data in SSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases. Employees must have an SSN in order for E-Verify to confirm their eligibility to legally work in the United States.

  • Question #14: Use the number from your I-94 admission record, which can be printed at www.cbp.gov . If you have changed to F-1 status within the U.S., and have not traveled since, you may find your I-94 number on your I-797 approval notice. Include a copy of your Approval Notice (I-797).
  • Question #15: This is asking if you have ever applied for an EAD from USCIS. Check “Yes” if you have applied for an EAD in the past while in F-1 status or any other visa type held in the U.S. even if the EAD was denied or withdrawn.  Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or on-campus employment is not authorized through USCIS; check “No” if you have only received CPT or on-campus employment in the past.
  • Questions #16, 17, 18, 19: Use the information from your most recent entry stamp in your passport. In some cases you may have made a short trip to Canada or Mexico, which is not reflected by your current entry stamp. This is standard, and it will be ok to use the information from your entry stamp if you don’t know the actual date of entry from your last trip. In item 15, write out “F-1 Student”, not just “Student”.
  • Question #20: Use one of the three following codes:
    • Pre-completion OPT: (c)(3)(A)
    • Post-completion OPT: (c)(3)(B)
    • 24-month extension for STEM graduates: (c)(3)(C)
  • Question #21: Degree, Major, Employer Name and E-Verify # only if you are applying for STEM OPT Extension (C 3 C), otherwise leave blank
  • Question #22 & #23: Leave blank.  This question is not for F-1 students.
  • Certification: Sign the form in blue ink.

STEP 2: SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION TO USCIS

After reviewing the OPT Application, ISSS will issue the following documents:
1) Updated Form I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation and STEM employer information on page 2
2) Form I-765 with any suggested revisions
3) Instructions for filing STEM OPT application with USCIS, listing all application materials and USCIS mailing address.

Documents to submit to USCIS:
1. Form G-1145, if you want to receive email/text message application status updates. Get this form online at https://www.uscis.gov/g-1145
2. Two recent color passport style photographs (write name and SEVIS ID number softly in pencil on back of photos). See I-765 Filing Instructions for further photo details https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
3. $410.00 in the form of a personal check or money order made to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (a personal check is preferable)
4. Completed I-765, typed, printed and signed in blue ink. Download form at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
5. Photocopy of the Form I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation on page 2. Make sure that you sign the bottom of your form before making a photocopy
6. Photocopy of all previous forms I-20. Make sure that you signed all previous forms I-20.
7. Print out of I-94 admission record (from cbp.gov website). If you have a paper I-94 issued by the government at a land border or through a change of status application, photocopy of that I-94 card.
8. Photocopy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)
9. Photocopy of your most recent visa stamp (the visa can be expired and/or of a different visa category other than F-1)
10. Photocopy of biographical page(s) of the passport, with expiration date. If your passport will expire within 6 months from the time of filing your OPT application with USCIS, you should renew it with your home country’s embassy or consulate before you submit your OPT application
11. Photocopy of your diploma or transcript showing earned STEM degree.
12. List of all employers and dates of employment during your 12-month standard OPT period.

Note: Please be sure to make a photocopy of all your paperwork for your records before mailing your application.

STEP 3 – AFTER FILING APPLICATION WITH USCIS

Receive I-797 (Receipt Notice): The USCIS Lockbox will forward your application to a USCIS Service Center for processing. Several weeks after receiving your application, USCIS should send you a Receipt Notice (I-797). This will list the Service Center where your application is being processed, the date your application was officially received, and a case number in reference to your application. Carefully review the notice to make sure your personal information is correct.  If it is not, contact the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) number listed on your receipt notice, as well as your DSO/International Advisor at ISSS, immediately.

Receive I-797 (Approval Notice):  If your STEM OPT application is approved,  USCIS will send you an approval notice (I-797).  This is a notification on your application status, NOT your actual work authorization/permission. USCIS processing time for OPT is up to 90 days (but may occasionally take longer).

Receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD): You will receive an EAD separately in the mail from USCIS. This is your proof of employment authorization. Present this to your employer AND submit an OPT Information Form with a copy of your EAD to ISSS upon receipt. EADs cannot be forwarded by the post office, so if you move or change your mailing address you MUST notify USCIS with the updated address for EAD mailing.

Reporting Requirements

Submit Employment Information to ISSS online by filling out the OPT Information Form: All students on OPT and STEM OPT Extension must report their current address of residence, employer’s name and address and employment status to ISSS as soon as you receive your EAD, so that a DSO/International Advisor can report the information in SEVIS.

You MUST submit this form every time your address or employment information changes.  This is a requirement to maintain your F-1 status. You must update ISSS with your employment information to ensure that ISSS updates your active employment information to the government. Failure to update ISSS with your employment information may lead to termination of your SEVIS record.

Submit Validation Reports to ISSS Every Six Months: Students on STEM OPT must complete a new OPT Information Form on the ISSS website at the 6, 12, 18 and 24 month points of their STEM OPT Extension, even if no changes have occurred to the employment situation or address. Go to www.isss.uconn.edu and scroll down to Submit OPT Employment Information, to fill out the OPT Information Form.

Submit Form I-983 Self-Evaluation Reports to ISSS: Along with your 12-month and 24-month OPT Information Form submissions,  you must upload your I-983 Self-Evaluation Reports to ISSS (p. 5 of the I-983). The first evaluation must be submitted with the 12 month validation report, and the final evaluation must be submitted at the 24 month validation report.  

Submit an updated Form I-983 whenever there are substantive changes to the terms of the employment originally listed on the form (i.e. hours of employment, site of employment, etc.), even if employer remains the same.

Employment Changes

Any changes in your employment status must be reported to ISSS using the OPT Information Form within 10 days.

Leaving employer (no new employment): Report the last day of your employment. Upload page 5, with completed Final Evaluation on Student Progress, signed by your employer. This is required even if you did not work in your position for a full year. In addition, your employer is required to report to ISSS your termination or departure from employment within 5 days (they agree to this when completing Form I-983).

Changing employer: Follow instructions above for “Leaving Employer”. In addition, report your new employer and employment start date on the OPT Information Form. Remember that your new employer must also meet all STEM OPT Extension requirements. Upload a new completed I-983, pages 1-4.

Adding a second employer/multiple employers: Add the employer and employment start date on the OPT Information Form. Remember that your second employer must also meet all STEM OPT Extension requirements. Upload a new completed I-983, pages 1-4.

If you change employers while OPT is pending: Complete above steps. ISSS will issue an updated Form I-20 and mail that to USCIS on your behalf. You do not have to mail any updated documents to USCIS. However, if you have lost your employment on which your STEM OPT application is based, and do not have an offer with a new qualifying employer, your STEM OPT application may be denied.

Employment through a Staffing Agency or Consulting Firm

You may work while on STEM OPT extension at a client location through a staffing agency or a consulting firm, however the employer who completes Form I-983 with you must be the employer that provides and supervises your training. This may be the staffing agency/consulting firm only if:

  • They are providing the training and supervising your work
  • They are an E-Verify employer
  • They complete with you a new I-983 training plan for each client location to which you are assigned.

The employer on your I-983 should be consistent with the employer listed on your Form I-765 for your initial STEM OPT Extension application.

If these conditions are not met, the client must complete the I-983 training plan and must meet all STEM Extension OPT employer conditions. 

For Employers

By employing an F-1 student visa holder with an OPT STEM Extension, you are providing a valuable opportunity for that student to gain further experience related to their field of study. You are also responsible to complete and adhere to the conditions laid out on the I-983 Training Plan. This includes reporting to ISSS any termination or departure of your employee within 5 days of the occurrence. To report the departure of your employee who is working on a STEM OPT Extension, you may email the DSO listed on page 1 of the Form I-983 training plan, or email international@uconn.edu. While completing the I-983 training plan with your employee, you may find it helpful to refer to the government’s Instructions for Completing Form I-983. ISSS may not provide you with any specific information regarding your employee or their visa status. Please refer to the resources below for further information on the STEM OPT Extension.

Further Resources

ICE Resources

STEM Eligible Majors (CIP Codes)
https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf.pdf

Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/I-983.pdf.pdf

Instructions for Completing Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/I-983-instructions.pdf.pdf

Study in the States Resources

Study in the States Overview and Tutorial for Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students
https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/form-i-983-overview

Study in the States web site:  STEM OPT Help Hub
https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub

SEVP STEM Extension Overview (including list of eligible fields of study)
https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-extension-overview.