F-1 24-Month STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) Extension

Reminder: BEFORE filing a STEM OPT Extension application with USCIS, students MUST FIRST request in iMIT and receive a new Form I-20 with recommendation for STEM OPT Extension from the ISO to include in their application to USCIS.
Filing an application to USCIS without the Form I-20 with recommendation for STEM OPT Extension will result in USCIS DENIAL of the application.
Full details on filing a STEM OPT Extension application are linked on this webpage below.
Please contact your ISO Advisor if any questions arise.

USCIS Premium Processing Fees Increase Effective February 26, 2024
On December 28, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) announced a final rule that will increase the filing fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for Premium Processing for certain applications, using Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing, due to inflation. The final rule will become effective on applications postmarked, or received via online filing, on or after February 26, 2024.

The Final Rule can be viewed on the Federal Register website here.

For filing with an initial application, or for a pending application, Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization for F-1 Optional Practical Training or STEM Optional Practical Training Extension, the Premium Processing Fee increases from US$1,500 to US$1,685.

USCIS had made Premium Processing available to applications for F-1 Optional Practical Training or F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training Extension in March and April 2023.  This new update, effective February 26, 2024, was simply an increase of the Premium Processing Fees.

If after review of the ISO online resources, and USCIS guidance, you have any questions, please contact your ISO Advisor

Students may apply for F-1 STEM OPT Extension by application to USCIS online (through the USCIS Online Account) OR by paper mail. Details on both procedures are provided below.

Students MUST be physically present inside the U.S. at the time the OPT 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.

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 (also PDF copy) 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.

Eligibility Requirements

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.

Application Deadlines

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;

  1. Log in to Limited Client Services for Alumni
  2. 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.
  3. 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
    • Salary/compensation
  • 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 submit online to USCIS or mail the documents listed in the following section to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.

Submitting the STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS Online

USCIS announced on April 12, 2021 that applications for F-1 Optional Practical Training and F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training Extension may be filed online with USCIS. Applicants will create a USCIS Online Account to access the ability to file the application online.

Students who choose to file online should read all online application screens completely and thoroughly. In addition, USCIS has advised that filing online or filing a paper application by mail should take approximately the same processing time.

REMINDER: Students who decide to submit their OPT application online should:
• Gather and collect ALL the required documents and materials as if they are filing their OPT application by mail to USCIS.
• This should be done in advance of submitting the application to USCIS online.
• Students MUST obtain their new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation from the ISO BEFORE going online to file their OPT application with USCIS.
• The online Form I-765 will require students to upload ALL required and supporting documents in the below ‘Checklist of Documents To Mail To USCIS’; students must also pay the application fee online as well.

As USCIS has not published or provided any detailed guidance or a step-by-step set of instructions, the ISO has provided the below resources for F-1 students to review. The ISO will continue to post updates and resources as soon as they are published by USCIS:

• ISO’s USCIS Online Form I-765 Filing Resource Guide: Overview of online filing basics. 
• Overview of myUSCIS for Applicants: Overview of USCIS online filing system (May 5, 2021).
• Updated Questions & Answers: CIS Ombudsman’s Webinar Series, USCIS Introduces Online Filing for Form I-765 (May 5, 2021).
• Engagement Readout: USCIS Introduces Online Filing for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, for F-1 Students Seeking Optional Practical Training (May 5, 2021).
• USCIS Webinar Slides (PDF):  USCIS Online Filing for Form I-765 for F-1 OPT/STEM OPT Extension (April 2021).
• USCIS’ Online Filing and Customer Service Tools: Engagement Readout, PowerPoint presentation copy, and Q&A (March 31, 2021).
• USCIS’s Original Announcement: Regarding the Online Filing of Form I-765 for F-1 OPT and F-1 STEM OPT.
• USCIS General Online Filing Information: Overview of online filing.

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.
  • When filing a paper application by mail to USCIS, it is advised by USCIS that you do NOT do the following:
    • Hole punch, staple, paper clip, binder clip, or otherwise attach documents to one another.
    • Include photos or scanned documents smaller than 4×6 inches for evidentiary purposes. Provide photocopies of these items instead. The only exception is when we request a passport photo with the filing.
    • Include anything that contains electronic chips and batteries (such as musical greeting cards) or any non-paper materials such as cassette tapes, CD-ROMs, DVDs, toys, action figures, or thumb drives. We will not accept these types of materials. However, we will accept photographs or photocopies of these items.
    • Submit forms or evidence documents bound with a binding or spiral wire/plastic.
    • Submit evidence using photo albums, scrapbooks, binders, or greeting cards.
    • Fold documents. 
    • Place sticky notes on documents. 
    • Use insertable tab dividers. 
    • Print forms on colored paper. 
    • Submit more than one copy of the same document or evidence unless required by the form instructions or regulations. If you are required to submit a copy of a complete prior application, petition, or request, clearly mark it as a “COPY” at the top of each page to ensure it is processed as intended. 
    • Send original documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, naturalization certificates, except when:
      • Required by the form instructions for the application, petition, or request you are filing; or
      • We specifically issue a request for you to submit an original document.

Checklist of documents to be submitted online or mailed to USCIS as part of the STEM OPT Extension application:
(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” (in the memo line of the check/money order, please write “Form I-765” and your SEVIS ID) OR
    Form G-1450 with credit card information (Note: given recent student reports, may be advisable to notify your bank/credit card company of this upcoming charge so they do not have their system flag it as potential fraud).
    IMPORTANT NOTE: If filing application by mail to USCIS, it is strongly recommended that students use a bank-certified check, cashier’s check, or money order to pay the USCIS application fee rather than paying by credit card (given if there is a problem with the credit card payment student would not be notified for many weeks and would have to resubmit the application — but if after filing deadline the application would not be able to be resubmitted).
  • (Optional, but Strongly Recommended) 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)
  • FOR ONLINE FILING: Accreditation Letter — The USCIS online filing of Form I-765 for STEM OPT does appear to request a copy of verification that your school/institution is accredited. From MIT’s Accreditation webpage, you can download and include a copy of the current MIT Accreditation Letter available here.

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)
  • AND
  • 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 in iMIT (within 10 days). Any change of the following information must also be reported in iMIT (also within 10 days):

  • 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

Full guidance on reporting requirements during authorized period of 24-month STEM OPT Extension is available on the F-1 STEM OPT Reporting Requirements webpage: https://iso.mit.edu/employment/f-1-stem-opt-extension-reporting-requirements/

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.