F-1 STEM OPT Extension
F-1 students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) may be eligible for an extension of their Post-Completion OPT work permission.
Before making any plans to be employed on STEM OPT, please speak to your DSO in the Global Engagement Office. If you consider applying for OPT via the online USCIS process, please get in touch with us before submitting anything via the USCIS portal.
Eligibility for 24-Month STEM OPT ExtensionToggle More Info
- Be maintaining valid F-1 status.
- Be on a period of standard Post-Completion OPT.
- Hold a degree in a field of study (indicated on the I-20) that qualifies as STEM eligibleaccording to the official STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- Have a job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify.
- Demonstrate the job is directly related to a STEM field.
- Confirm the job is paid.
- Prepare and sign the Training Plan (Form I-983) with your employer.
(The training form must be completed before The Global Engagement Office enters the OPT STEM extension request into your SEVIS record and prints the new I-20 that you will need to apply for the OPT STEM Extension.
- Apply before your current Post-Completion OPT expires.
Your employer must:
Eligibility for the Second Period of STEM OPT After Higher DegreeToggle More Info
Suppose you enroll in a new academic program in the US in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level. In that case, you may be eligible for the second period of 24-month STEM OPT (i.e., two 24-month STEM OPT extensions may be permitted).
Example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and you later earn a Master’s degree in Computer Science or another STEM eligible field, you may apply for Post-Completion OPT, and then the additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your Master’s degree.
Eligibility Based on a Previously Obtained STEM DegreeToggle More Info
If you are currently in a degree field (or on Post-Completion OPT from that degree) that is not identified as STEM eligible but have previously earned a STEM eligible degree from an accredited US higher education institution, you may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension under certain conditions:
- You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions.
- Your previous degree must have been conferred less than ten years ago during your STEM OPT application.
- Your previous degree is assigned a STEM eligible code found on the STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time of STEM OPT application.
- You haven’t already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree.
- Your practical training opportunity is directly related to your previously obtained STEM degree.
- Your employer meets the criteria listed above.
Example: If you are currently participating in Post-Completion OPT based on a Master’s degree in Business and Management, but you previously received a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics as long as you meet all the criteria above.
STEM OPT When to ApplyToggle More Info
- You can submit your STEM OPT extension application to USCIS as early as 90 days before the end of your current OPT period.
- We recommend that you submit your STEM OPT Request and upload your I-983 and I-765 no later than one month before the end of your current Post-Completion OPT.
- Please remember that USCIS must receive your complete application package before your current OPT period expires.
- If you timely file your STEM OPT extension application, you will be able to continue working while your application is pending until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days beyond the expiration of your Post-Completion OPT whichever comes first.
- It can take 90 days or more for USCIS to process STEM OPT extension applications.
- Please note that you should not travel if your post-completion OPT period has ended and you have not yet received your STEM OPT EAD.
STEM OPT Application ProcessToggle More Info
To begin your STEM OPT application, follow these steps in sequential order.
Regardless of the method used to apply for STEM OPT, you must first meet with a Designated School Official (DSO) in the Global Engagement Office. You must receive a new I-20 recommending STEM OPT before submitting your application to USCIS for processing. If you submit your STEM OPT application without this new I-20, USCIS will likely deny your case.
- Contact your employer to confirm that your workplace participates in E-Verify
- You can find information online via the USCIS E-Verify Employer Search Tool:
- Confirm that your degree is in a STEM field
See the CIP code on Page 1 of your I-20 form and compare it to the STEM Designated Degree Program List
- Complete the I-983 Training Plan Form with your employer.
- Submit the I-983 Training Plan Form to your DSO in the Global Engagement Office before the end date of your current OPT.
- Your DSO will review the Training Plan and provide you with a new I-20 with the OPT STEM extension recommendation.
- FGCU Accreditation Statement to be provided by your DSO in GEO
Employment during STEM OPT extensionToggle More Info
- If the STEM OPT EAD card is filed and pending with USCIS but not approved by the expiration date of the initial OPT EAD card, you may continue working for 180
- Candidates must be paid for all their jobs during the OPT STEM extension period.
- You should perform job duties related to your major area of study for an employer who is included in the E-Verify database.
- Your prospective employer must submit a duly filled Form I-983, which states the training plan designed for you.
During the STEM OPT extension period, candidates can work for multiple employers but not simultaneously. As a detailed training plan is prepared and executed by every employer who hires F-1 STEM OPT candidates, you can work for only one employer at a given point in time.
FAQ page for OPT and STEM OPTToggle More Info
What is Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Post-Completion OPT is a benefit of F-1 status that allows F-1 students to obtain work authorization for full-time employment in their field of study for up to 12 months after completion of a degree or, for graduate students, after completion of all degree requirements except for a graduate thesis, dissertation, or equivalent. OPT employment MUST be in the degree field. Initial employment may only begin after a student applies to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card).
How many hours can I work on OPT?
For your OPT employment to be considered active, you must be working 20 hours per week or more between all OPT jobs combined. If your combined OPT employment is under 20 hours per week, this time may count against your unemployment time.
Can I go back to school after OPT?
As long as you get a new I-20 within 60 days of your OPT expiration date and start school in the first available semester within five months of that expiration date-you are still in F-1 status. (See Going back to school)
NOTE: As soon as you get a new I-20, you forfeit the remainder of your OPT if you got a new I-20 before your OPT expires.
Can I work between graduation and my OPT start date?
Once you complete your degree, you cannot work on or off-campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your selected start date has arrived, even if your USCIS case status indicates that your application is approved.
If I complete a degree program, use 12 months of practical training, and then begin the second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training?
Yes, but only at a higher degree level.
Do I have to use the entire 12-month OPT period at once, or may I use it in increments?
Before completion of studies, OPT may be used for short periods, referred to as Pre-Completion OPT. After completion of studies, it may only be used as a single block of time (minus the difference of any previously-used OPT periods).
May I save any of my unused post-completion OPT eligibility and use it at a later time?
No. Once you apply for Post-Completion OPT, the OPT eligibility for that degree ends. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.
Can I have multiple jobs on OPT?
- You may work for more than one employer or job, but all employment must be related to your degree program.
- The cumulative number of hours should be 20 or more in a week. You can accept full-time employment, part-time employment, or both.
- STEM OPT: You may only work for ONE employer while on STEM OPT extension
Can I travel on OPT?
You can travel on OPT. However, you will need to have your EAD work authorization card, an I-20 with a current travel signature given in the past six months by a DSO in the Global Engagement Office, a valid visa and passport, and a letter from your employer. Traveling before your OPT is approved is more complicated, and you should ask about this at the OPT workshop or discuss it with your Designated School Official in GEO.
If my visa expires after I graduate, should I stay in the USA until my OPT application is accepted/approved?
No USCIS regulation says that you cannot travel outside the US or apply for a new US visa while a student is waiting for the OPT to be approved. It is the advice of the GEO staff that you do not travel outside of the US if you do not have a valid F-1 visa to return to the US—applying for a new visa after graduation while in application status for OPT is very risky. There is no documented reason for you to return to the US legally, and the consular officer may deny the application. It is advised that if you need a new visa, you wait until after the OPT is approved and you have secured employment and then travel home to get a new visa. Any travel outside of the US while on OPT requires a valid US visa and proof of employment to return to the US.
Please refer to notes about Travel While on OPT on the OPT Application Tips and Requirements on the OPT page. Note: emergency travel may be allowed. Consult with GEO staff if an emergency arises that will cause you to travel before your OPT is approved
Can I volunteer and/or intern during OPT?
Yes, you can volunteer or intern during OPT, but it needs to be related to your field of study. When volunteering or interning, you must get a contract or agreement from your supervisor that indicates your job description and your time commitment. Work during OPT does not need to be paid but always needs to be related to your degree