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STEM OPT Extension

NOTE: For students applying for STEM OPT BEFORE May 10, 2016, or for those already on the 17 month STEM extension, please be sure to review our 24 Month STEM OPT Transition website for specific information about this transition period!

 

24-Month OPT STEM Extension

Students that graduate from UMBC with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) can be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT work authorization through the STEM Extension.

To qualify for the STEM Extension, students must:

  • have an application submitted before their first year of OPT ends (can apply as early as 3 months before the OPT year end date).  The STEM Extension can only be applied for immediately following a first OPT year.
  • be working for an E-Verified employer (check to see if your employer is E-verified here, or ask your employer directly) who is willing to complete the I-983 Training Plan with you
  • have a major on their I-20 that is eligible for the STEM Extension (check with the IES office if you aren’t sure if your major is applicable).  As of May 10 2016, students that have PREVIOUSLY completed a STEM-eligible degree in the US can also apply for STEM OPT, even if the most recently completed degree in not STEM-eligible.
  • have either graduated with a STEM degree OR have completed all coursework, but not the thesis, for their degree.

Please note, the STEM Extension is  available twice in your time in the US –  you can apply for one STEM Extension after a regular OPT year, up to two times.  Please note you cannot use both STEM Extensions after one OPT year.

 

STEM Extension Application Documents and New I-20

The application process is extremely similar to the first year of OPT.  Use this checklist to prepare your STEM OPT application:

  • Check/money order for $410 only made out to the Department of Homeland  Security. (Do not abbreviate)
  • 2 passport size photographs (these must be new and cannot be re-used from previous applications)
  • Form G-1145, for email and/or text message updates on your application
  • Form I-765, signed
  • Copy of new I-20 issued by international adviser for STEM OPT (read details below on requesting this I-20)**
  • Copy of your most recent I-94 (front and back if you have the card version)
  • Previous OPT or EAD cards that have been issued to you under F-1 status (copy of front and back)
  • Official transcript or copy of diploma showing acquired STEM degree*

*For students that have completed required coursework but not your thesis: Please note, you must have completed all required coursework for your degree program to apply for the STEM Extension, but you do not have to have completed your thesis (citation).  If you have not yet completed your degree, you will likely be asked to prove that you have completed all coursework.  We recommend that you request a letter from your academic adviser or from the Graduate School indicating that your coursework is complete and that only your thesis remains to complete your degree.  While this is not listed on the application requirements, including this letter in advance will help make sure your application is not delayed by an RFE (Request for Further Evidence) asking for this proof.

**The IES office will need to create a new I-20 for your STEM Extension application, and will need to receive and review the following documents before issuing the new I-20.  This process can be done remotely as many students are not in Baltimore when applying for the STEM Extension. Please forward these documents to ies@umbc.edu when you are ready to apply:

  • I-983 Training Plan completed and signed by your supervisor – please be sure to review the instructions on completing the form from this link.
    • The first page of the I-983 can be completed with information from the first page of your I-20.
    • Page 5 is an evaluation that is due after one year of STEM OPT, and an evaluation due after 2 years of STEM OPT.  These should not be completed when you submit your I-983 to apply for STEM OPT.
  • Your completed I-765
    • Item 11 asks if you have applied for employment authorization before.  Since the answer will now be “Yes,” be sure to also complete the additional questions asking:
      • “Which USCIS Office”: You can see which USCIS office approved your application on the bottom of your Approval notice – if you applied while living in Maryland, this would be “Vermont” if approved before approximately April 2016, and the Potomac Service Center after that date.  Please note it is NOT Texas, where you mailed your application – this is simply the processing facility that does the initial review.
      • “Dates”: enter the start date of your first year of OPT
      • “Results”: enter “granted”
    • Item 17 asks for your employer and STEM degree information, but this information often does not fit in the space provided.
      • For your degree, we recommend using the initials of the degree type (MS, BS, PhD, etc), and a short version of your degree as best you can (for example, Info Sys for Information Systems) – the exact degree type will be obvious from your transcript or diploma copy.
      • For your employer, enter what you can of the name – USCIS will be able to look the company up by the E-Verify ID you provide as well
      • E-Verify ID: This should be the Company’s E-Verify ID, not yours!  It is usually a six-digit code, that you will need to request from your company directly.  This information is not published publically.

After reviewing these documents, we’ll prepare a new I-20 for you and mail it to you.  You are also welcome to request a scanned copy in addition to the mailed copy to expedite your application.  PLEASE ALLOW UP TO 1 WEEK FOR THE I-20 TO BE PREPARED, and do not send your documents multiple times, as this slows down the review process.

Mailing address – You will need to mail the STEM OPT application to the appropriate USCIS LockBox facility based on where you live.  You can find the correct address based on your current home state here.

Please remember that the I-20 cannot be more than 60 days old when received by USCIS with your application, so please do not request the new I-20 until you are ready to apply.  Your application will be denied if your I-20 is too old when received!

 

STEM Extension Rules and Regulations

Please note these few additional rules concerning the STEM Extension in addition to the regular OPT regulations:

  • Students are required to submit the self-evaluation from the I-983 training plan no later than the end of the first year, and end of the second year, of STEM OPT.  This is the student’s responsibility, and currently there is no infrastructure in place to allow us to send reminders, so please plan carefully for this requirement!  Please use Pages 6-7 of the I-983 for the self-evaluation form.
  • Students on the STEM Extension can ONLY work for E-Verified employers, throughout their OPT STEM Extension.
  • Update the IES office with any change in your employer information within 10 days of the change, using this OPT employer update online form (you must be logged in to your UMBC account!).
  • The STEM Extension carries over any unused unemployment days from your first year of OPT, and also provides you with 60 additional unemployment days.
  • The IES office is required by law to check in with you every 6 months during the STEM Extension to verify your employer information and address in your immigration record – please be sure to respond to these emails.
  • After the first year of OPT expires, a student with a pending STEM Extension application can continue working in the US while waiting for the extension to be approved, up to 180 days (citation, under “What is the application process for the 17 month STEM Extension?”) .
  • Students on the STEM Extension can travel abroad during the Extension following the same rules as travel under OPT.
    • Please avoid travelling internationally if you have an H-1b application submitted for you until it is approved AND active, typically on Oct 1 of the year it’s applied for.
    • The 24 month STEM OPT rules also clarify that you can travel abroad and return to the US with a pending STEM OPT application, but you need to have your OPT EAD card and STEM OPT I-20 with you

 

Changing employers during the STEM Extension

You are welcome to change employers during your STEM Extension.  The new employer MUST be E-Verified, and must be willing to complete the I-983 Training Plan with you.

When you are ready to change your employer, please send the OPT Employer Update Form, and completed and signed I-983 Training plan.  We will update your immigration record and I-20, and will mail you the new I-20 and the address you provide on your form.

 

STEM Extension application versus H-1b application 

Many students will have an employer file for their H-1b status while they are in their first year of OPT.  If you have a pending H-1b application as your OPT gets close to expiring, it will be up to you if you want to apply for the STEM Extension.  Many students choose to do this in case their H-1b application is not selected for review, or in case it is denied.  If your OPT end date passes and you are later denied or not selected for H-1b, you will NOT be able to submit an OPT application after your OPT end date.

You can have both applications pending at once, and this will not impact your H-1b application.  If your H-1b is approved, when it takes effect your STEM Extension will automatically be cancelled out.

You can learn more about the H-1b process here.