F-1 students with STEM degrees in fields listed on the ICE STEM Designated Degree Program List may be eligible for the 24-Month OPT STEM Extension.
Eligibility & When to Apply
F-1 students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees in fields listed on the ICE STEM Designated Degree Program List may be eligible for the 24-Month OPT STEM Extension. It allows you to continue working off-campus in a job related to your major directly after the completion of Post-Completion OPT.
Who is eligible for the STEM Extension?
You must be currently authorized for Post-Completion OPT (or you are on the "Cap Gap Extension").
You must have received a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from a SEVIS certified U.S. school in a field on the ICE STEM Designated Degree Program list. Only degrees received within 10 years of the date of your DSO recommendation for an OPT STEM Extension are eligible.
You may use a degree received from a U.S. school other than the University at Buffalo, provided that you meet all of the requirements listed in this section.
You must have a job or a job offer from an employer that meets all of the requirements explained below:
The employer must be registered in the E-Verify system. E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). It allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.
Your employment must be directly related to your field of study. It is your responsibility to prove and document how your employment is directly realated to your field of study.
You must work at least 20 hours per week.
You must be paid. Volunteer employment is not permitted.
You cannot be self-employed.
The employer must agree to sign and adhere to the training program outlined in Form I-983.
Each student is permitted a lifetime maximum of two OPT STEM extensions. To qualify for a second OPT STEM Extension, your second STEM eligible degree must be at a higher level than your first STEM eligible degree and you must have a valid Post-Completion OPT EAD card.
Be sure to use the correct eligibility code for the 24-Month STEM Extension: (c)(3)(C).
Carefully review the Form I-765 instructions on the USCIS I-765 webpage and the ISS Tips provided to you in the E-Form.
UB OPT Fee receipt.
Photocopy of your diploma indicating completion of a STEM eligible degree or transcripts indicating that you have completed all degree requirements with the exception of your thesis/dissertation.
Such documentation must specify your field of study.
If you are applying on the basis of a degree received from another U.S. educational institution, you will also be required to upload proof that this degree was in a STEM eligible field. A copy of your previous school’s I-20 and transcript may suffice.
If additional documentation is needed, we will contact you.
Form I-983(“Training Plan for STEM OPT Students”).The form must be complete, including all required signatures. Below is additional information that will be helpful when completing the Form I-983.
Information specific to students completing Form I-983 is available on the student page.
Information specific to employers and Form I-983 is available on the employer's page.
Need help with Sections 1 & 3?
UB specific information is available on the next tabs.
4. Click "Submit”. After reviewing your application, ISS will enter your OPT STEM recommendation into the SEVIS system, which will produce a new I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation. You will receive an email confirming that your OPT STEM I-20 is ready. We will mail your I-20 to you if you indicated on the E-form that you would like it mailed.
ISS processing time is 5-7 business days.
Application Step 2: Apply for Your STEM EAD
After receiving your new I-20 from ISS, submit your STEM OPT application to the USCIS Service Center for an EAD.
The USCIS must receive your complete application:
1.) Before your current EAD expires AND
2.) Within 60 days of the issuance of your I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation.
Do NOT submit your application to the USCIS more than 90 days before your current EAD expires. If you do, your application may be denied.
ISS recommends that you submit the following documents to the USCIS:
Original Form I‑765. Don't forget to sign and include all seven pages!
Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance).
Photocopy of your diploma or transcripts indicating that you have completed all degree requirements with the exception of your thesis/dissertation.
Your diploma must specify your field of study. If not, you must include a photocopy of your official transcript.
If you are applying on the basis of a degree received from another school, you must also submit your transcript from the previous school.
Photocopy of EAD card(s).
Application fee of $410
This can be a personal check (from a U.S. bank), or a U.S. money order.
Personal checks and money orders should be made payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security".
Write the 11-digit number from your I-94 on your check or money order and don’t forget to sign and date the check. Click here to see an example personal check.
Photocopy of your current I‑20 – page 1 and page 2 with OPT STEM recommendation.
Don't forget to sign and date the Student Attestation section of your I-20.
Photocopies of all previous I‑20's. Do not send originals.
Photocopies of your current, valid passport (biographic and photo pages) and U.S. visa stamp page in your passport.
Photocopy of the front and back of your most recent I-94 Card OR print-out of electronic I-94 (available on CBP's website).
Two (2) identical natural color photographs of yourself, taken within 30 days of your application and not previously used.
Please review these photo specifications. If your photos do not meet USCIS requirements exactly, your application may be rejected or denied.
In pencil, please write your name and I-94 number lightly on the back of each photo.
Be sure to photocopy your entire OPT application for your personal records.
What about the I-983?
You do not need to send the Form I-983 with your initial application to USCIS.
It is extremely important that applicants for OPT submit a complete and accurate application to the USCIS. The USCIS recently announced that they have full discretion to deny applications without first issuing a Request For Evidence (RFE). This means that if there is a mistake in your application or you forget to include a required document, USCIS may deny your application. For additional information see USCIS RFE AND NOID POLICY.
Where Do I Send My OPT Application?
The address to use depends on the mailing address listed on your I-765. Please refer to the USCIS' lockbox page for details.
You should use a reliable, express delivery service (e.g. UPS, FedEx) to mail your application. Utilizing an express delivery service will enable you to track your application and its delivery. Please save your receipt.
While Your Application is Pending with USCIS
What if my mailing address changes?
ISS recommends that you use a mailing address on your Form I-765 where you can receive mail for 3-5 months after applying for OPT. However, if your mailing address changes after you submit your OPT application to USCIS, you must notify the USCIS, the Post Office and ISS of your change in address within 10 days of the change. Failure to notify USCIS and the Post Office in a timely manner could result in delays in receiving your EAD.
To notify the USCIS, use their online Change of Address Form. You will need your OPT Application Receipt Number to complete the form. If you move to a new address, you should also notify the US Postal Service (USPS) using their online form. Finally, to notify ISS, follow the instructions found at the bottom of this page.
How long is the STEM OPT application process?
Currently, processing time at the USCIS can be as long as 5 months. However, processing times vary widely, depending on the time of year and workload at the Service Center to which you send your application. We encourage you to regularly review the processing times found on the USCIS website.
If you have a job offer and 120 days has passed since the Receipt Date on your I797 Receipt Notice, you may contact us for assistance. We can inquire with USCIS about the status of your application. However, we cannot guarantee that our inquiry will result in an expedite or change in processing times.
Once you have waited 150 days, or beyond the current maximum published USCIS processing times, we recommend that you take the following actions:
Email ISS with a copy of your receipt notice and a description of the actions you have already taken (any communication with USCIS, for example). If ISS has not already inquired with USCIS on your behalf, we will do so.
File a Case Assistance Request with the CIS Ombudsman Office. You can find additional information about the role of the CIS Ombudsman and how to file a request for assistance here.
If you received a Request for Evidence, we do not recommend taking any of the actions above until you have waited 60 days after USCIS received your response.
Is it possible to expedite my OPT application?
USCIS expedite criteria are very strict and it can be difficult to provide sufficient evidence to meet the USCIS criteria. Having a job offer or the possibility of losing that job do not generally qualify for an expedite unless you can effectively make an argument that your situation does meet the criteria. If considering an expedite, please ensure that you have sufficient documentation and a compelling argument.
Additional information on expedite criteria and how to file can be found on the USCIS page.
Can I work with a pending 24-Month OPT STEM Extension application?
If you submitted your complete application to the USCIS in a timely manner (i.e. before your EAD card expired), then you may continue working for up to 180 days while your application is pending with the USCIS. However, if your application is denied by the USCIS, you must stop working upon the date of denial or risk accruing unlawful presence.
Can I change employers with a pending 24-Month OPT STEM Extension application?
It is possible to change employment while your application is pending with the USCIS. However, you are required to report any change of employment to ISS and to the USCIS. ISS must issue you a new I-20 reflecting your new employment information. Your new employer must meet all USCIS criteria for a STEM Extension employer and you must submit a new Form I-983 and Final Evaluation for your previous employment, to ISS.
Contact ISS for instructions on how to report your new employment to the USCIS.
Can I travel outside the U.S. with a pending 24-Month OPT STEM Extension Application?
If your Post-Completion EAD has expired, we do not recommend traveling outside the U.S. until after your 24-Month OPT STEM Extension application is approved and you have your new EAD card.
It is imperative that you read, understand, and adhere to OPT STEM requirements. Failure to do so could result in the denial of future immigration benefits.
After your 24-Month OPT STEM EAD Expires
If you maintained your immigration status during your 24-Month OPT STEM Extension, you will have a 60-day grace period after your EAD expires. You are permitted to remain inside the U.S. during those 60 days to prepare for your departure, apply to change your status (if eligible) or begin a new degree program. If you are not admitted to a new degree program or do not submit a change-of-status application before the end of the 60 days, you must leave the U.S.
During your 60-day grace period, you may not work. If you fail to depart the U.S. before the end of your 60-day Grace period (if eligible), you will begin to accrue unlawful presence.
If you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level at UB, then your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated.
If you are accepted to begin another degree program at UB and your OPT has not yet expired, your OPT will terminate on the first day of classes for your new degree program.
If you later decide not to mail your 24-Month OPT STEM Extension application to USCIS for any reason, you must notify ISS immediately so that we can cancel your OPT recommendation in SEVIS.
While on OPT, you are still in F-1 status.
Want to learn more about OPT?
Attend a workshop! Get the Fall 2019 workshop schedule here.