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 authorized for post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension. Students may be eligible for a maximum of two periods based on different STEM degrees in their lifetime following the completion of eligible degrees.
The STEM-Designated Degree Program List is organized based on U.S. Department of Education CIP Codes and can be found at the Study in the States website.
- CIP Codes at MIT are assigned to each academic program based on the MIT program curriculum and is determined in coordination with departments and the Office of the Provost, Insitutional Research
- The CIP code is used to determine eligibility for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension
- Please check your CIP Code on page 1 of your Form I-20 (under ‘Program of Study’ in the middle of the page) against the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Program List to confirm that your program is a STEM-designated degree program
For more information, Study in the States has launched the STEM OPT Hub.
To qualify for the 24-month STEM extension, individuals must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Is participating in an authorized period of post-completion OPT (for any period of the 12-months available at the degree level POST-completion of degree) in a field that is based on your most recent degree on May 10, 2016
- Most recent earned degree must be a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a field that is currently on the DHS STEM-Designated Degree Programs List OR for eligibility based on a previous STEM degree, the degree must be earned within the last 10 years at an accredited institution in the U.S.
- Employed/have a position offer from an employer registered in the DHS E-Verify Program; STEM OPT Extension restricts work to E-Verify employer only
- NOT planning to participate in self-employment or volunteer work for STEM OPT Exension
- Be able to complete the Form I-983 Training Plan with your employer (all employers, if you have multiple)
- Accumulated no more than 90 days of unemployment during the current post-completion OPT authorization
- Employment during the 24-month STEM OPT Extension must be directly related to your MIT primary/major field of study and the STEM degree in which you qualify for the extension
- Have not previously received more than one STEM OPT extension in total and have not yet received an extension under the qualifying STEM degree
- Be within 90 days of the end of the current OPT benefit period
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be advised that not all employers are certified by the U.S. DHS for E-Verify for a number of institutional reasons. Therefore, please check with your current employer to ensure that they are an E-Verify certified employer before you assume that you are eligible to continue work with that employer under the 24-month STEM OPT Extension.
E-Verify Employer Search Tool – It is recommended that even if your employer appears on this E-Verify listing that you contact your employer to confirm that your employer is E-Verify for the position for which you are hired.
The USCIS Processing Center must receive the complete STEM OPT Extension application and all required documents before your current OPT authorization/EAD card expires. Failure to comply with this deadline will result in loss of the entire STEM OPT Extension benefit.
- The ISO recommends that you begin preparing the STEM OPT Extension documents and request for a new Form I-20 from the ISO approximately 100-120 days prior to the expiration of your EAD card.
- You may submit your application for STEM OPT Extension to USCIS no earlier than 90 days prior to the expiration date of your current OPT authorization/EAD card.
- The 24-month STEM OPT Extension begins on the day after the approved OPT end date printed on your current Employment Authorization (EAD) card.
- The student’s employment authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days if the 24-month STEM Extension application remains pending after the current post-completion OPT EAD expires.
(This allows for continued employment at the STEM OPT employer while the application is pending. However, travel outside the U.S. should be considered carefully. See below for details.)
USCIS processing times can take as long as 3-4 months. Please apply as soon as possible to ensure that you receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) on time. The EAD is the official work permit issued by USCIS that allows you to be hired and work in the U.S.A. during OPT. It is not possible to request an expedite of an OPT application from USCIS, so please plan your application process accordingly.
How to Apply for F-1 STEM OPT Extension
To request the 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation from the ISO, you must submit a request for your STEM OPT Extension Form I-20 online at iMIT.mit.edu;
- Log in to Limited Client Services for Alumni
- Request your PIN if you do not yet have one. If you do not receive this PIN, we may have your incorrect email on file. Please email or call the ISO to give us your new email information.
- Then, choose “F-1 Practical Training”, then “STEM OPT Extension Application”.
It will take our office up to two weeks to prepare your new Form I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation, after which you need to submit your application to the USCIS.
For the STEM OPT Extension Form I-20 request to the ISO, please prepare the following documents. You will need to submit all the information below and a copy of all documents via iMIT.mit.edu.
- $200 MIT Administrative Fee for STEM OPT extension, paid by credit card, money order, or bank/cashier’s check
(money order or check should be made payable to “MIT” – no personal checks or cash accepted)
- Copy of your current valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
- Letter, on company letterhead, signed by your employer verifying:
- That the employer is enrolled in E-Verify (provide E-Verify number, if possible)
- Employer’s name and complete address (including zip code)
- Supervisor’s name, title, and contact information (e-mail and phone number)
- Employment start date
- Position title and description of how the employment is directly related to your primary field of study
- A completed Form I-983 signed by you and your employer for every employer
- A written summary of previous employment while on post-completion OPT, including names and addresses of companies, start and end dates of employment, job title and description of how work was related to your major degree program, name of supervisor with contact information.
- Copy of completed Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. (Please download the most recent edition, see all instructions, type your form instead of handwriting, sign in black ink, please keep a photocopy for your records). Be sure to use MOST CURRENT version of Form I-765.
Once eligibility is determined, the ISO advisor will issue a new Form I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation on page 2 of the Form I-20. After approximately 10 business days, the ISO will email you to inform you that your Form I-20 has been issued and make the document available to you based on your specified preference. Please sign it and make a copy of pages 1 and 2. You will need the copy of this Form I-20 to apply for the STEM OPT Extension.
When you have the Form I-20 with the STEM OPT Extension recommendation in hand, you will need to mail the documents listed in the following section to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.
Mailing the STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS
After you receive the new Form I-20 with the 24-month STEM OPT Extension recommendation, mail the following documents to the correct USCIS Processing Center. Please note that the Processing Center (Lockbox) address where you mail your documents depends on the address and State you write on the Form I-765, Section 7, Physical Address.
Please mail your OPT application documents via express mail either via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) or via Private Courier Service (FedEx, DHL, UPS) to the proper USCIS mailing address indicated for OPT applications in the Form I-765 Instructions at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765.
Important Notes and Tips:
- The application and the required documents must be mailed and received at the USCIS Processing Center within 59 days from the date the ISO advisor recommended the STEM OPT Extension and issued the new Form I-20.
- Students must be physically present in the U.S. at the time the application is received/receipted by USCIS; therefore, students can only mail/submit the application to USCIS while you are physically present in the U.S.
- We strongly recommend that you express mail the application to USCIS and keep the mailing return receipt of your package as evidence that you submitted the application in a timely manner.
- Please keep a photocopy of the full application including all documents submitted to USCIS for your records.
- The U.S. Postal Service cannot forward USCIS government mail using the USPS Mail Forwarding service. If you need to update the mailing address on the Form I-765 after you submit the application to USCIS, please contact your ISO Advisor for more information.
Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:
(Please put together your application in the following order. Do not staple your documents.)
- Bank-Certified Check or Money Order for Form I-765 application fee (check USCIS Form I-765 webpage to confirm fee amount) made payable to US Department of Homeland Security OR Form G-1450 with credit card information
(In the memo line of the check/money order, please write “Form I-765” and your SEVIS ID number.)
- (Optional) To receive a text message and/or email when USCIS accepts your Form I-765, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance. You will also receive a physical receipt notice in the mail.
- 2 passport photos less than 30 days old
(Write your name and SEVIS # number in pencil or felt pen lightly on the back and towards the bottom of each photo so as to not damage the photos or have writing appear on the face of the photo. Paper clip photos on top of Form I-765. Further information is available here.)
- Original I-765 form application (https://www.uscis.gov/i-765, use most recent edition, read all the I-765 Instructions, type your form instead of handwrite, sign in black ink, please keep a photocopy for your records). Check ‘Initial permission to accept employment’ and in field #27, indicate (c)(3)(C) for eligibility code. Be sure to use MOST CURRENT version of Form I-765.
- Copy of Form I-20 with STEM OPT Extension recommendation (pages 1 and 2; please remember to sign your Form I-20)
- Copies of any previous I-20 forms in reverse date order (pages 1 and travel signature page, all MIT and previous school forms, please sign your I-20 forms)
- Copy of I-94 card (front and back) or electronic I-94 Form as PDF
(retrieve the I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/)
- Copy of identity pages in passport (passport must be valid)
- Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), front and back, if applicable
- Copy of F-1 Visa (even if the visa is expired) – NOTE: Does not apply to Citizens of Canada, who are not issued an F-1 visa issued by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
- Copy of STEM degree (official transcript, or copy of your diploma with level and program of study)
- Letter from STEM OPT eligible employer as mentioned above (confirming positon offer and E-verify information)
Travel while on 24-month STEM OPT Extension
Travel while on STEM OPT Extension is not restricted. During the 24-month extension, you must carry the following documents in order to return to the U.S.:
- STEM OPT Employment Authorization (EAD) card
- STEM OPT Form I-20 with a valid travel signature (valid for 6 months)
- Valid F-1 entry visa stamp in passport (issued by U.S. Consulate abroad, to enter the U.S. in F-1 status for STEM OPT)
- Valid passport
- Letter from your E-Verify employer confirming your STEM OPT employment
If you are missing any one of these documents, you risk being denied entry to the United States. If your current OPT EAD card is expired and you do not yet have the STEM OPT Extension EAD card, the ISO strongly recommends against travel outside of the U.S. at this time.
However, DHS has clarified in the preamble to the 24-month rule [81 FR 13103 par.774] that, “Students on STEM OPT extensions (including those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending) may travel abroad and seek reentry to the United States in F-1 status during the STEM OPT extension period if they have a valid F-1 visa that permits multiple entries and a current Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months. The student’s status is determined by CBP upon admission to the United States or through a USCIS adjudication of a change-of-status petition.”
If you wish to travel outside the U.S. without the STEM OPT EAD card, you must have proof that your STEM OPT application was filed in a timely manner and carry the USCIS receipt notice (Form I-797) during your travels. Please note that your entry to the U.S. on F-1 status while your STEM OPT application is pending may ultimately be determined by CBP upon admission to the United States.
Travel Signature while on STEM OPT
Alumni/ae who need an updated travel signature during STEM OPT Extension should request a new Form I-20 by submitting the “Request Replacement of Form I-20” online form at iMIT.mit.edu > F-1 Student Services. Please make sure that your reporting requirements to the ISO are up-to-date prior to your online request.
Periods of Unemployment while on 24-month STEM OPT Extension
During the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, maintenance of your F-1 status depends on your employment. You are not permitted to accumulate more than a total of 150 days of unemployment for the entire period of OPT (including the first 12 months of OPT prior to the STEM OPT Extension). The limits of unemployment time are 90 days for the first 12-months of OPT and 60 days during the 24-month STEM OPT extension. Accumulating more than 150 days of unemployment during the OPT period is a violation of your immigration status that could result in termination of your practical training.
What constitutes Qualified Employment while on 24-month STEM OPT Extension?
- Paid employment, full or part-time for one or more employers, contracting activity, employment through an agency or through a consulting firm, as long as all employers are registered with E-Verify and the employment is at least 20 hours/week (variable schedule, within a month, must average out to at least 20 hours/week)
- Employment in a position directly related to the student’s STEM degree on which the STEM OPT is based and/or earned at MIT
- Valid Form I-983 completed for each employer and position
Alumnus/a Responsibilities While on Authorized STEM OPT
After an F-1 student is granted the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, the student must report to his or her DSO (within 10 days) any change in:
- Issuance of STEM OPT EAD card – must submit a copy via iMIT
- Alumni/ae’s Legal name
- Alumni/ae’s Residential or mailing address
- Alumni/ae’s E-mail address and phone number
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Supervisor’s name and contact information (phone, email address)
- Dates of employment (beginning and ending dates) at each employer
- Verification of how the job is related to the degree/field of study
- Loss of employment (within 5 business days)
- Decision to end employment/ STEM OPT Extension and leave the U.S.A.
- Transfer and/or beginning of new program of study
- Change of visa status (provide documentation of change of status)
- Validation report every 6 months
- Student self-evaluation report every 12 months
How to Report a Change of E-Verify Employer during 24-month STEM OPT Extension
Within 10 days of change, you are required by law to report a change of your employer to the ISO.
You must submit a letter from your new employer and an updated Form I-983 to the ISO so that we can update your SEVIS record and issue an updated Form I-20 with your new employer information printed on Page 2 of the Form I-20. Please refer above to the requirements of the employer letter.
If your employment is terminated, your employer and/or you must report this termination to the ISO within 5 business days.
To report your changes, see our F-1 STEM OPT Extension Reporting Requirements page for more information.
Validation Report Required Every 6 Months
During the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you are required by law to send a Validation Report to the ISO every 6 months starting from the date the 24-month extension begins and ending when the student’s F-1 status is completed or the 24-month extension ends, whichever is first.
This Validation Report is required even if there have been no changes in your employer, living address, or other required reporting information.
To submit your validation report, see our F-1 STEM OPT Extension Reporting Requirements page for more information.
Student Self-Evalution Required Every 12 Months
During the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you are required by law to send a Self-Evaluation Report on the Form I-983 to the ISO every 12 months starting from the date the 24-month extension begins and ending when the student’s F-1 status is completed or the 24-month extension ends, whichever is first.
- The 12-month and the 24-month Self-Evaluation Report can be found on page 5 of the Form I-983.
- Students who have changed employers during the STEM OPT Extension period are requred to submit a new Form I-983 at the time of the employment change.
To submit your self-evaluation report, see our F-1 STEM OPT Extension Reporting Requirements page for more information.
NOTE: The requirement to report any updates while on OPT continues if the student’s 24-month STEM OPT Extension is extended further by the automatic H-1B OPT Cap-Gap extension.
Please feel free to contact your ISO Advisor if you have any questions concerning the F-1 STEM OPT Extension Process.