USCIS must receive a student’s F-1 STEM OPT Extension application before the expiration of the initial F-1 OPT authorization EAD card.
Failure to timely file the STEM OPT Extension application will result in losing the STEM OPT Extension benefit based on the earned MIT degree.
June 17, 2021: ISO has received a lot of inquiries about students filing F-1 OPT or F-1 STEM OPT applications online on the USCIS website. Students have started to use this option, but USCIS has not published any detailed guidance on filing online. Students who choose to file online should read all screens completely and thoroughly. USCIS has advised that filing online or filing a paper application by mail should take approximately the same processing time.
The ISO will be sure to post updates on filing online as soon as they are published by USCIS.
April 14, 2021: ISO advises that students continue to file OPT applications via PAPER and by MAIL to USCIS until clarifications can be received about how photos will be included for newly allowed online filing of Form I-765 applications for OPT and STEM OPT Extension. ISO will update students as soon as additional information is available.
January 8, 2021: USCIS announced an adjustment of filing location in Chicago for new filings of foreign student Form I-765 employment authorization applications (including F-1 OPT and F-1 STEM OPT). The new filing/mailing address is available on the instructions for the Form I-765 and the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-765 on the USCIS website.
The USCIS Lockboxes in Texas and in Phoenix continue to process I-765 applications already received.
Delays in receiving Receipt notifications for applications filed with USCIS? Please consult the ISO Knowledge Base Guidance on Receipt Notification delays.
What is the STEM OPT Extension?
Recipients of a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a field listed among the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM-Designated Degree Program List, and who are currently on post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT Extension.
The DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List is organized based on CIP Codes. F-1 Students can find their current program CIP code in the Program Information section on page 1 of the Form I-20.
STEM OPT Regulation Highlights
- STEM OPT extension may be as long as 24 months after initial post-completion OPT period
- Students may be eligible for up to two STEM OPT extensions based on two STEM degrees at different degree levels in a student’s lifetime
- Students have the ability to apply for a STEM OPT Extension based on a previously earned STEM degree from an accredited U.S. institution within 10 years under which the student has not previously applied for STEM OPT Extension.
- New expanded list of DHS STEM Designated Degree Program CIP Codes
- Student and employer are required to complete the Form I-983 in order to begin the STEM OPT extension process
- Student has additional reporting requirements to maintain the STEM OPT authorization
- Employers also have additional reporting requirements and may be subject to DHS site visits
- Volunteering and self-employment are not permitted during the STEM OPT extension (all positions must be paid)
- Student must work at least 20 hours per week (each position worked under STEM OPT authorization must be for at least 20 hours per week)
- Students are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment under the STEM OPT period in addition to the current 90 days of unemployment allowed under the initial 12 month post-completion OPT period; up to 150 days of total unemployment
Off-Campus Employment (including STEM OPT Extension) Must be Directly Related to MIT Degree Field of Study
F-1 visa regulations require all authorized off-campus employment be “directly related to the student’s major area of study” and an integral part of the student’s established curriculum [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)], in addition to other criteria.
The U.S Department of Homeland Security reviews employment by international students with great scrutiny, and therefore all activity must be directly related to the student’s major field of study for the degree earned at MIT.
USDHS, on September 27, 2019, issued Policy Guidance re-affirming this requirement and their additional focus on this issue, including a new requirement that ISO Advisors review employment under CPT/OPT/STEM OPT Extension to confirm it meets these requirements. The ISO had seen additional scrutiny even before this Policy Guidance—with student visa applications at U.S. Embassies/Consulates, as well as applications for employment authorizations and Change of Status (including H-1B and Green Card) with USCIS, be delayed with questions about direct relationship to degree. Students must take great care to be sure the position being pursued under CPT, OPT, or STEM OPT requires their specific degree program and is an application of that degree (not just general concepts or one course taken during a degree program). The ISO addresses this requirement further in our Employment webpages, in our Employment Information Sessions, and in a specific article on this topic in the ISO Knowledge Base. Please feel free to contact your ISO Advisor if you have questions about an internship/training/employment being directly related to your degree field of study.
How to Apply for STEM OPT Extension
In order to assist students in understanding their eligibility for STEM OPT Extension, please click the link that applies to your current status:
- Current Student – Current student applying for initial 12-month post-completion of degree OPT
- Alumni on post-completion OPT – Currently authorized for 12-month post-completion of degree OPT, planning to apply for STEM OPT Extension (based on ‘current’ STEM-eligible degree or previously earned STEM-eligible degree)
Historical Updates regarding STEM OPT Changes
Based on an August 12, 2015 federal court ruling on a lawsuit challenging the validity of the STEM OPT program and subsequent rulings, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was given until May 10, 2016 to complete new STEM OPT rulemaking in order to continue the STEM OPT Program beyond May 10, 2016.
Updates on STEM OPT Proposed Rule:
- June 17, 2016 – WashTech files new lawsuit with U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia based on specifically the 2016 STEM OPT rule and procedural claims.
- May 13, 2016 – DC Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses WashTech appeal.
- March 11, 2016 – US DHS publishes its final rule for STEM OPT and Cap-Gap program effective May 10, 2016. Study in the States launches STEM OPT Hub to help schools, students, and employers understand the new regulations.
- March 9, 2016 – US DHS schedules publication of Final STEM OPT and Cap-Gap Rule for 3/11/2016. Pre-publication PDF version available for download.
- January 23, 2016 – US District Court grants DHS request (pdf) for an extension of the stay to May 10, 2016
- December 22, 2014 – DHS requests an extension of the stay (pdf) beyond February 12, 2016 to meet the court’s original vacatur order given receipt of over 50,000 comments on the proposed rule
- October 19, 2015 – US DHS publishes updated Proposed Rule for F-1 STEM OPT
- September 22, 2015 – ISO Email to MIT Students concerning the STEM OPT lawsuit
- August 12, 2015 – Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. DHS
Court Ruling & Court Order (pdf)
- STEM OPT Hub (DHS Study in the States)
- USCIS STEM OPT Resource
- Final STEM OPT Rule (Effective May 10, 2016)
- Original ISO STEM OPT Extension Implementation Presentation – April 2016 (for download, 1.3 MB, pdf)
- DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List (based on CIP Codes)
- MIT STEM Eligible Program List by CIP Code (to be posted)
- Employer Reporting Requirements (DHS Study in the States)
- Resources for Employers (DHS Study in the States)
- Guidance for Employers and the Form I-983 (DHS Study in the States)
- MIT Graduate Student Council (GSC) Public Comment Letter on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the F-1 Visa STEM OPT Extension (11/16/2015)
- MIT ’The Tech’ Guest Column on the Rulemaking regarding the F-1 Visa STEM OPT Extension (11/12/2015)
- STEM OPT Rulemaking (NAFSA)
- Guidance for MIT Departments/Offices hiring individuals on F-1 STEM OPT (from MIT International Scholars Office)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
This list of questions and answers will be updated regularly as the ISO receives more questions from students and alumni and clarifications from the Department of Homeland Security.
Q: I am currently working on post-completion OPT, authorized after a non-STEM degree, but I have earned a previous STEM degree from a US institution. If I am eligible to apply for a STEM OPT Extension based on the previous STEM degree, can I continue working in my current job?
A: Given the limited guidance provided by DHS, if you did not apply for STEM OPT Extension based on the earlier earned STEM degree, you may be eligible to apply for a new STEM OPT Extension based on that previous STEM degree. However, the job you are pursuing must be directly related to the STEM degree. If your current job is not related to the STEM degree, you may apply for the STEM OPT Extension if you change to a new position which is directly related to your current degree and your previous STEM degree.
Q: I am applying for STEM OPT Extension and I need to travel outside of the U.S. Can I travel outside the US while the STEM OPT Extension is pending?
A: Based on the processing times and current DHS guidance, we recommend that a student not travel while the STEM OPT Extension application is pending.
If a student’s current EAD card expires while the STEM OPT Extension application is still pending, a student can continue to work under the terms of the authorized OPT while he/she is waiting for its approval.
While a student can travel while the current OPT Employment Authorization (EAD) card is still valid, if your current EAD card has expired you should NOT leave the US as you will need the new EAD card for the approved STEM OPT Extension in order to re-enter the US and, if needed, apply for a new F-1 entry visa stamp at the US Consulate while abroad in order to re-enter the US..