STEM Extension Information

STEM OPT Extension Guidelines


IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ
(UPDATED MARCH 1ST, 2021):

On February 26, 2021, USCIS announced flexibilities for certain foreign students affected by the delays in receipting OPT/STEM applications. 

Note: these flexibilities apply only to applications received on or after Oct. 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, inclusive.

  1. If your application was rejected, USCIS will accept a refiled Form I-765 for OPT and STEM OPT as filed on the original filing date if:
  • The original, timely filed application was received on or after Oct. 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, inclusive; and
  • USCIS subsequently rejected it.

Refiled applications must be received by May 31, 2021, for USCIS to treat the application as though filed on the original received date. Do NOT refile if your application was not rejected.

 2. Applications with missing or deficient signatures will continue to be rejected at the lockbox.  However, if an application with a with missing or deficient signatures is receipted, the application will not be denied but instead receive an RFE to give applicants am opportunity to correct the deficiency.

For more information, please visit the USCIS Alerts Page.

If you have not heard from USCIS:

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is experiencing significant delays with receipting OPT/STEM OPT applications nationwide. The processing delays are affecting all OPT and OPT STEM applications. Delays of up to 8-9 weeks are now common.  If you have filed your application on time, you may legally stay in the U.S. until your application has been adjudicated.

We recommend all applicants who have not received a receipt notice within 60 days of filing to follow the steps below:

  1. Retain all evidence that you filed your application in a timely manner as well as proof of delivery.  You should also keep a copy of any communications you have sent to USCIS.
  2. Check with your bank/financial institution to see if funding has been processed by USCIS.
  3. Contact USCIS. Check to see your application status and if they can provide you a receipt number.  There are times when the application has been receipted but the notice has not yet been sent out.
  4. E-mail the USCIS “lockbox” at [email protected]
  5. If USCIS does not respond to your inquiry within 30 days, you may submit a request for case assistance to the CIS Ombudsman.

*The ISO does not recommend refiling a new application if there are no errors with your original application.  Doing so may cause further delays and result in students being possibly charged twice for the filing fee. *

If it has been more than 6-weeks since your application arrived at USCIS and your case still has not been receipted, you can e-mail the USCIS “lockbox” (they process the incoming applications) at [email protected].

Please reach out to the ISO at [email protected] for any additional inquiries/concerns you may have. 

 


 

Students who hold degrees in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT), in addition to their 12-month Post-Completion OPT.

Non-STEM field students do not qualify to apply for the extension. It is possible, however, to use a prior U.S degree to apply for the extension if the degree was in a STEM field and was conferred within the last 10 years.

Please check the Designated STEM Degree Program List to see if your degree qualifies you for a STEM OPT extension. If you are not sure, please contact your ISO Advisor.

 

STEM OPT Guide Sections

  1. Eligibility Requirements
  2. How and When to Apply
  3. Sending Your Application to USCIS
  4. Rules and Reporting
  5. H-1B and OPT Cap-Gap Extensions

 

Eligibility Requirements

F-1 international students may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension if they:

  • Are maintaining an active F-1 status
  • Are currently on 12 months post-completion OPT
  • Have a degree in STEM field from U.S accredited institution
  • Have a paid full-time (20 hours or more) position from an E-Verify employer
  • Have a job directly related to the STEM field of study (It is the student’s responsibility to demonstrate the relationship between their job and the STEM field)
  • Have an employer that is willing to complete the I-983 training plan
  • Submit their STEM OPT application to USCIS before the post-completion OPT ends (before the expiration of the EAD)

The STEM employer must be:

You cannot do the following while on STEM OPT:

  • You cannot accumulate more than 150 days of unemployment time during your 36 months of OPT (12 months Post-Completion OPT + 24 months STEM Extension OPT)
  • You cannot be self employed
  • You cannot be paid by a staffing agency while working for a different employer
  • You cannot work in an unpaid position
  • You cannot change employers without submitting a I-983 training plan

 

How and When to Apply

  • You may submit your application to the ISO within the Regulatory Filing Window time period (90 days prior the expiration of your OPT EAD).
  • USCIS must receive your complete application before the expiration date of your EAD, or else it will be denied.

In order to apply for an I-20 with OPT STEM extension recommendation, students must submit their request to the ISO through the Request STEM OPT button below. Below you will find a list of required materials that you will need to prepare in order to complete the online submission.

Note: F-1 students must submit a STEM Extension processing fee (https://go.gwu.edu/stemfee) to the ISO prior to submitting an OPT STEM extension request through ISOGateway. Please note this fee is non-refundable.

You will also need to upload the following through ISOGateway:

  • Current OPT EAD
  • Completed I-765
  • A readable printout of the most recent I-94 (Download from DHS)
  • Copy of Passport & F-1 Visa
  • Employment offer letter showing the following:
    • You are currently employed by the company, or that you have been offered a position at that company by the end of your 12 months Post completion OPT
    • Salary/compensation information
    • You are/will be working at least 20 hours/week
    • Brief explanation of your duties and how they relate to the STEM field of your degree
    • The employer is registered with, or participates in the E-Verify program
    • Primary location of employment (address)
    • Your supervisor's name, title, phone number, and email address
  • Completed I-983 with all required signatures (Please see our Sample I-983)

Request STEM OPT in ISOGateway

 

Sending Your Application to USCIS

On 4/12/2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) can now file their form I-765 online if filling under the pre-completion, post-completion and the 24-month STEM extension categories.

It is extremely important to proceed carefully with the online application process. The system allows you to submit your application without all required documents and this may result in complications with your online application.

Otherwise, you may continue to submit the OPT application to USCIS by mail. Please consult with an ISO advisor if you are unsure about the process.

Document Checklist:

Your application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must include the following documents:

  • Original I-765 completed in black ink, signed in blue ink
  • Personal check or money order for $410. On Sept. 29, 2020, a federal district court preliminarily prohibited DHS from implementing or enforcing any part of the previously announced "USCIS Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements" rule. While the rule is preliminarily prohibited, USCIS will continue to accept the current I-765 form edition and fee ($410). Please visit the USCIS website for more information.

DO NOT send cash. Your check should be made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”

  • 2 passport style photos in a clear Ziploc bag (Photo Guidelines)
  • Official degree transcripts, and a copy of diploma if available
  • Copy of the most recent Form I-20, signed by ISO Advisor and student, containing the 24 months STEM Extension recommendation  
  • Copies of all previously issued I-20s
  • Copy of your passport
  • A printout of the most recent I-94
  • Copy of F-1 visa
  • Copy of your current EAD card front and back
  • Copy of any previous EAD cards (if applicable)
  • Optional Form G-1145 (if you would like to receive electronic notifications regarding your case)

Mail Your STEM OPT Application to USCIS

Once you receive your new STEM OPT I-20 from ISO, you are ready to mail your application to USCIS.

We recommend that you make a copy of all application materials for your records.

Important Note: Your STEM OPT application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the issuance of your new STEM OPT recommendation I-20 and by the end date of your post-completion OPT/expiration date of your EAD.

  • To make the mailing process of your application to USCIS simple and efficient we recommend using the steps in the table below to create a shipping label through eShipGlobal. By using eShipGlobal, students can choose their carrier (UPS, Fedex, or USPS) and type of delivery (next day. 2-day, etc.) with a discounted rate.

1- Register for an account with UEMS at https://study.eshipglobal.com/register/ if you do not already have an account.

3- Fill out the form information. Find your address already prepopulated in the “Senders Address”. Then select the proper USCIS location

2- Click on the “OPT Application” image or the “Send Documents To USCIS” button. 

4- Select the carried you want to use, pay for the shipment and print the label. Then drop it  off at the nearest carrier location

*STEM OPT applications must be sent to the USCIS Service Center Lockbox facility. If you reside in the DMV area please send your application to the address below. If you do not reside in Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia, please visit the USCIS website to confirm where to mail your application.

USCIS Chicago Lockbox 

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries: 

 

USCIS
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

For FedEx, UPS, and DHL Deliveries:

 

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

*These addresses may change, so we recommend checking the USCIS Lockbox Update page for updates.

 

Rules and Reporting

Even after F-1 students begin OPT, the ISO will still monitor students’ SEVIS status, and students must still work with the ISO to maintain their F-1 visa status. It is the student’s responsibility to report information related to their STEM OPT employment. The ISO will continue to support and maintain the students’ record during this period.

While on your 24-month STEM OPT, you are required to update your employment and/or personal information to the ISO within 10 days of any changes. The below information must be reported:

- Your residential address

- Your phone and email address

- Employer('s) name and/or EIN

- Employer('s) address

- Job Title

- Start and/or end dates of employment

- Any periods of unemployment

 

- Material Changes to your I-983 (Salary, Benefits)

- Validation Reports every 6 months

- 12-Month Evaluation I-983 Final Evaluation I-983 at the end of each employment 

- 24-Month Final Evaluation I-983 

- Ending your STEM and leaving the U.S. permanently

- Change of visa status

 

All STEM OPT extension reporting requirements have to be submitted through the ISOGateway under F-1 Practical training/STEM OPT.

 

  • 6-Month Validation Report

From the start date of your STEM OPT, you must submit a Validation Report every 6 months.

Please select STEM 6-month validation report and complete the e-form.

  • The First 12 months on the STEM OPT Extension

Twelve months from the start date of STEM OPT, students must submit an updated I-983 with their first self-evaluation. The section titled “Evaluation on Student Progress” on Page 5 of the I-983 form needs to be filled out and signed by you and your supervisor.

Please select STEM 12 and 24-month Evaluation and complete the e-form. Make sure to upload the required documents.

  • Completion of the 24-month Extension Period

At the end of your 24-month STEM Extension, at the end of your employment, or on the start date of a change of status (example: changing to H-1B status), students must submit an updated I-983 with their final self-evaluation. The section titled “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” on Page 5 of the I-983 form needs to be filled out and signed by you and your supervisor.

Please select STEM 12 and 24-month Evaluation and complete the e-form. Make sure to upload the required documents.

  • Change of STEM employer

Students with a 24-Month STEM extension cannot begin new employment without first following the applicable steps below:If you are ending employment, you must complete and submit to the ISO a completed final employment evaluation from Page 5 of the I-983 within 10 days of ending the employment.

To begin new employment, you must submit a completed I-983 from the new employer and a copy of the job offer. The ISO must confirm that your new I-983 has been reviewed and approved before you can begin the new employment. ISO will make the necessary updates to your SEVIS record and add the new employer information.

Please access your ISOGateway and select STEM Change of Employer and complete the e-form

Important Note: If your STEM OPT extension application is still pending adjudication from USCIS and you decided to change employer, you need to answer “No” to the question “Did your STEM Extension get Approved by USCIS?” and follow the instructions in red. Please note that you will need to submit your I-797 receipt notice as part of the requirements in order to process your “Change of Employer before STEM approval”.

 

H-1B and OPT Cap-Gap Extensions

The Cap-Gap extension is available to F-1 students who, as of April 1st, were either on approved OPT or in their 60-day grace period and have a pending or approved change-of-status H-1B petition with the USCIS that was filed prior to the expiration of their OPT or 60-day grace period.

Students are eligible for the Cap-Gap extension if:

The employer files the H-1B petition and it is received by USCIS prior to the end of the post-completion OPT. In this case, a student’s employment authorization is extended until September 30th.

The employer files the H-1B petition and it is received by USCIS after the end of post-completion OPT but during your 60 day grace period following OPT. In this case, the student is allowed to remain in the US but not authorized to work until the H-1B goes into effect on October 1st.

Note: If the H-1B is not approved by Sept 30, the F-1 employment authorization will end. A student will have the standard 60-day grace period from the Cap Gap end date of Sept 30.

Not looking for STEM OPT?

 12-Month OPT Guidelines