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International Students: STEM OPT Extension Eligibility

DHS grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students who are currently in a period of post-completion OPT once per degree level (i.e., bachelor's, master's or doctorate). A student may participate twice in the STEM OPT extension over the course of their academic career. Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.

To participate twice in the STEM OPT extension, a student must earn a second qualifying degree at a higher education level and must be participating in an initial period of OPT at the time they apply to USCIS for their second STEM OPT extension. In some cases, students may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree to qualify for their second STEM OPT extension. More information about using a prior STEM degree to qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension is detailed in the “Degree” portion below. 

Degree

To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student must hold a bachelor's degree or a higher degree in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited (by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education) at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.

Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified school to fulfill this eligibility requirement. To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the F-1 student must:

  • Have received their most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree* (at the bachelor's level or higher) within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension with USCIS.
  • The qualifying STEM degree needs to be on DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT extension, rather than at the time that the student received the degree.

For more information about which programs of study qualify for the STEM OPT extension, visit our eligible classification of instructional programs codes resource page.

Employer

In order to receive the STEM OPT extension, a student must pursue their practical training through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS' E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Additionally, STEM OPT extension applicants must select employers that can guarantee the student will complete a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and provide the student with formal training and learning objectives.

The student must work with their potential STEM OPT extension employer to complete the Form I-983, which must include how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree. Visit our Students and the Form I-983 page to learn how to properly complete and submit the Form I-983.

F-1 students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Form I-983 because F-1 students may not provide the employer attestation (i.e., signatures) on their own behalf. However, they may use a start-up business so long as all regulatory requirements are met. The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Please note that a student’s post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as the student’s STEM OPT extension employer.

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Students in 60-Day Grace Period

Like the 17-month STEM OPT extension, students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial (usually 12-month) period of post-completion OPT.

Accordingly, if a student anticipates that they will enter the 60-day grace period before May 10, 2016, the student should not wait to apply. Such a student should apply for the 17-month STEM OPT extension before their initial OPT period expires and follow the respective transition plan that applies to them. 

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