F-1 students participating in post-completion OPT who have earned or are currently earning a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD may be eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension. A qualifying degree program will have its field of study/major listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) list of STEM-designated degree programs. Students must also have work (or a job offer) with a company that properly uses the government’s E-Verify system and meet the other criteria outlined in this section. A student can apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the STEM OPT extension as early as 90 days before post-completion OPT ends, but USCIS will not accept an application after the end date of post-completion OPT.
How is the 24-month STEM OPT extension different from the 17-month extension?
The primary differences are:
- Form I-983 Students and their employers must complete the Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan in order to apply for the STEM OPT extension or for a new job to begin during the STEM OPT extension period. This only applies to students participating in the 24-month STEM OPT extension, so students who are currently on the 17-month STEM OPT extension and do not intend to apply for additional STEM OPT time need not be concerned with this.
- Two STEM OPT Extensions It is possible to participate in the STEM OPT extension twice as long as all of the following criteria have been met: 1) the student is in a new period of post-completion OPT at the time of the application, 2) the degree basis for the STEM OPT extension is at a higher degree level than the degree on which the first STEM OPT extension was based.
- STEM OPT Extension Based on Previous Degree F-1 students who are participating in post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree and who earned a STEM-eligible degree in the ten years prior to their application are eligible to use that prior STEM degree to apply for the STEM OPT extension as long as all of the following criteria have been met: 1) the U.S. institution that conferred the degree must currently be accredited and SEVP-certified, 2) the student has not already received a STEM OPT extension based on the prior degree and, 3) the student meets all of the other requirements for the STEM OPT extension.
- Students Currently on STEM OPT Extension May Apply for Additional 7 Months A student currently participating in the STEM OPT extension may apply for an additional seven months of STEM OPT as long as all of the following criteria have been met: 1) the student has a minimum of 150 days of STEM OPT remaining when USCIS receives the application, 2) USCIS receives the application between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016.
Who may apply?
Which Montclair State students may apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension?
F-1 students who meet all of the following criteria:
- Are currently participating in post-completion OPT and have reported their employment to ISSS.
- Have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment during the post-completion OPT period and will not exceed that limit prior to the STEM OPT extension start date
- Have previously earned (in the past ten years) or are currently earning (in thesis/dissertation status at Montclair State University only) a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. which has its field of study/major listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s list of STEM-designated degree programs
- Have a job or a job offer for paid employment of at least twenty hours per week with a company enrolled in and using the DHS’s E-Verify system
- Submit an application to USCIS on or before the end date of their post-completion OPT period. This means that the latest an application should be submitted to ISSS 15 days before the end date on the post-completion OPT EAD.
- Have not previously used the STEM OPT extension for this degree level
- Have not previously used the STEM OPT extension more than once
When to Apply to USCIS
- No earlier than 90 days before your post-completion OPT expires
- USCIS must receive your application while your post-completion OPT is still valid (unexpired), so you should submit your application to the Office of Global Engagement no later than 15 days before the end date of your post-completion OPT (listed on your EAD)
Note: Once your application is pending with USCIS, by law your OPT is automatically extended for up to 180 days or until USCIS adjudicates your application, whichever comes first. You may find more information on working with a pending STEM OPT extension application on page 21 of the USCIS Handbook for Employers.
How to Apply
The Office of Global Engagement will provide you with a new I-20 with STEM OPT recommended, if eligible.
To receive your new I-20, please create a shipment request with eShip Global (see eShip Global instructions), enter your address, and pay the fees. We will use this secure account to ship your new, OPT 24-Month STEM Extension I-20 to you.
Once you receive your new I-20, please review it and make sure all information is accurate. If everything looks correct, you must sign your new I-20. If there is an error, we highly recommend notifying the office and returning the I-20 as quickly as possible, so as to not delay your STEM OPT application process.
When submitting your application to USCIS, please make sure all copies are single-sided and are not stapled together. Please check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date and complete mailing instructions; it is extremely important that you send your application to the correct address to make sure there are no delays. We recommended that you use either FedEx, UPS, or USPS Certified Mail with a return receipt requested, in order to track your application and make sure it successfully arrives to USCIS.
As long as you submit all of the required documentation, USCIS will adjudicate your application, which takes approximately 90 days. If USCIS has any questions, they will send you a request for information/evidence. If this happens, please notify the Office of Global Engagement.
If your application is approved, USCIS will mail you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for the STEM OPT extension, which will list the start and end dates you are authorized to work on the STEM OPT extension.
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