OPT STEM Extension

Certain F-1 students who are currently authorized for post-completion OPT may qualify to apply for a 24-month extension of that OPT authorization, bringing the total OPT available to 36 months. Students should read the information below thoroughly to determine eligibility and process.

Study in the States has a number of useful resources on their STEM OPT Extension Hub; their STEM OPT Reporting Requirements chart is particularly helpful.

*On April 12, 2021, USCIS announced that F-1 students are eligible to file their I-765 STEM OPT Extension application online at uscis.gov/i-765. Please review available information at USCIS website. The application process information below is primarily relevant for students who will file by mail. Students must still acquire an I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation from ISSA before filling. 

Eligibility

To be eligible for the 24-month extension, a student must have received, or be completing, a degree included in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Designated Degree Program List. If you are unsure if your degree qualifies, please review the Registrar's Curricula List, which includes CIP codes. Please note: CIP codes are used for many purposes and are tied to Department of Education filings. They cannot be artificially changed to meet STEM OPT eligibility.

The STEM extension may be requested on the basis of the most recent degree earned from Notre Dame or on a prior STEM degree if the following requirements are met:  

  • The STEM degree must have been issued within the 10 years preceding the request for the extension
  • The STEM degree must have been issued by an educational institution located in the US, and with US accreditation
  • The job the extension is based on must be related to that STEM degree

Additional eligibility requirements for all applicants:

  • The student has current F-1 post-completion OPT status 
  • The employment opportunity must be full-time  (For immigration purposes, full-time is defined as more than 20 hours per week)
  • The student's employer must be participating in E-Verify program (See details below)
  • The student must not be self-employed
  • The student must not have been granted more than one STEM extension in the past  (The STEM extension is only available twice per lifetime, regardless of the number of STEM degrees earned)
  • The STEM application must be received by USCIS before the expiration date of the current post-completion OPT
  • The student and employer must complete Form I-983 and agree to adhere to it 

The E-Verify Program

The E-Verify program is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is a free, easy-to-use web-based system available to employers and in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can check this list to learn if your employer is registered with E-verify, but please contact your employer to confirm and to obtain their E-Verify number.

Application Process for the 24-Month STEM Extension

Step 1:  Confirm your eligibility to apply for the OPT STEM Extension.

Step 2:  Go to ISSAlink.nd.edu and submit the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension Application. All students should use the "Login for Notre Dame Graduates" link on the login page. You will be asked to upload copies of the following documents:

  • Current EAD card 
  • Completed I-765 form (new form released 08/2020), unless filing online.
  • Completed form I-983 (See information below)

Step 3:  ISSA will send you your new Form I-20 with STEM OPT Recommendation. Current SEVP Policy allows ISSA to distribute an electronic copy, which we will email, and you will then print off and sign.  

Step 4:  Follow the instructions provided to complete your application with USCIS. In April 2021, USCIS announced online filing for OPT and STEM OPT applications. We generally recommend this process, as long as you remember you will need to upload the I-20 with OPT STEM Extension Recommendation from ISSA. 

Tips for completing the PAPER based Form I-765

General guidelines for completing the paper based Form I-765 can be found here, but the instructions below are OPT STEM Extension specific.

  • Part 1: Mark the box "Renewal".
  • Part 2, Item 5: If you might move while this application is pending with the USCIS, consider using your employer's address as the mailing address.
  • Item 27 should be answered "(c)(3)(C)."
  • Item 28a: Write the name of your degree (Biological Sciences, Chemical Engineering, etc)
  • Item 28b&c: Your employer will need to provide you with the E-Verify information. Please be sure that the number provided is the employer's E-Verify Company ID, and NOT the employer's Taxpayer ID.
  • Do not answer Items 29 - 31. They do not apply to your application.
  • Be sure to sign and date the form in black ink.
  • Be sure to submit all 7 pages, even if you have written NONE or N/A on pages 5-6. USCIS has rejected applications that were missing pages.
  • Be sure to include information about all previous OPT and CPT authorization in Part 6.
Information about Form I-983

The Form I-983 is used to define the formal training plan for the STEM OPT Extension experience. You will need the following information about Notre Dame to complete Section 1 of the Form I-983 is the information you will need:

  • Name of school recommending STEM OPT:  University of Notre Dame du lac
  • Name of school where STEM degree was earned:  University of Notre Dame du lac
  • SEVIS School Code of school recommending STEM OPT:  CHI214F10484000
  • DSO School Official name and contact information:  Cynthia Reeves, issa@nd.edu

Because the I-983 is an agreement between the employer and employee, ISSA cannot provide guidance on the content. Employers with questions should start by reviewing the information on the Study in the States website.  If questions remain, they should contact the company’s HR department or immigration legal staff, or the Department of Homeland Security

It is imperative that every section on pages 1-4 of this form be completed.  ISSA is required by law to review the form for completion upon receipt and to provide it to SEVP if requested.  If any part of pages 1-4 of the form is not complete, we are not allowed to process your request for the STEM OPT extension. DHS has provided instructions here

Any material changes to the I-983 require students to submit a new/updated I-983 to ISSA within 10 days of the change. These changes may include:

  •  a change of employer,
  • a change of employer or Employer Identification Number (EIN) resulting from corporate restructuring,
  • any reduction in compensation from the amount previously submitted (not tied to reduction in hours worked),
  • any significant decrease in hours of engagement,
  • any decrease in hours below the 20-hours-per-week minimum,
  • any change of supervisor or supervisor contact information, or
  • any change of site of employment or employer address.

By signing the I-983, the student and the student's employer have agreed to provide a new or updated I-983 if the above changes occur. Failure to report changes in a timely manner may result in a termination of the student's SEVIS record and the end of STEM OPT Extension.

Timing for Submitting Application

There are a few deadlines to consider with the OPT STEM Extension Process: 

  • The OPT STEM Recommendation from ISSA is only valid for 60 days. 
  • For those filing by mail, the student signature on the paper Form I-765 is only valid for 30 days.
  • Students must apply for STEM OPT before current OPT EAD expiration date.
  • USCIS can receive the OPT STEM Extension application up to 90 days before current OPT EAD expires.

Once ISSA creates your new Form I-20 with the OPT STEM extension recommendation, that I-20 and Recommendation are valid for 60 days. If you find that you must delay the application more than 60 days after the I-20 was signed by an advisor, it is important that you contact ISSA for assistance. USCIS will reject an application if the OPT request in SEVIS is more than 60 days old on the date it is received. 

Your signature must be in ink on the I-20 and I-765, the signature on the I-765 form is also valid for 30 days. If your signature is more than 30 days old as you prepare to submit, you can complete a new I-765 form to replace the expired form.

USCIS must receive your extension application no sooner than 90 days before your current OPT end date, but no later than that current OPT authorization end date. While USCIS must receive your application before your OPT ends, it is not necessary for your extension application to be approved before the expiration of your current EAD card. 

If your EAD card expires while your application is pending, your OPT authorization is automatically extended to allow time for processing. You may continue to work while the application is being processed for up to 180 days. It is not necessary to obtain documentation from ISSA for this timeframe.

Student Responsibilities During the OPT STEM Extension

Using the Login for ND Graduates on ISSAlink.nd.edu, students will continue to have access to ISSAlink during the OPT STEM Extension. Using that login, report the following information :

  • Submit the "Report New U.S. Address" form in ISSAlink within 10 days of any U.S. address change.  
  • Submit the "STEM OPT Extension Reporting" form every six months from the start date on the STEM OPT EAD card. 
    • 6-Month: Report OPT Participation 
    • 12-Month: Report OPT Participation and Annual I-983 Self-Evaluation (page 5)
    • 18-Month: Report OPT Participation
    • 24-Month: Report OPT Participation and Final I-983 Self-Evaluation (page 5)

Reporting windows are open 30 days prior to the due date and 31 days after the due date. If you submit your report outside this reporting window, ISSA cannot record your response in SEVIS.

  • Use the "STEM OPT Extension Reporting" form to report all changes in employer or material changes (noted above) to employment on the I-983 Training Plan. Changes must be reported within 10 days of the change.  Remember that all employment while on STEM Extension must be with an E-Verify company.

Again, we recommend that both the student and their employer review the Study in the States STEM OPT Reporting Requirements to ensure a successful OPT STEM Extension training experience. 

Failure to report the above information within the noted timelines may result in the termination of your F-1 status and OPT.

Other responsibilities for you to manage while on your OPT STEM Extension include: 

  • Manage unemployment allowance - You cannot accrue more than 150 days total of unemployment during the combined 36 months of OPT.
  • Report changes to immigration status - submit "Report Change of Status" form in ISSAlink.nd.edu.  
  • Report permanent departure from U.S. - notify ISSA at issa@nd.edu   
  • Request transfer of SEVIS record to new institution - submit "F-1 Transfer Out Request" form in ISSAlink. The transfer of your SEVIS record to the new school or the beginning of a new full-time program at the University of Notre Dame will end your OPT authorization.
STEM OPT EMPLOYER SITE VISITS

Since the 24-month STEM OPT rule became effective in May 2016, the Department of Homeland Security has had the authority to conduct site visits of any STEM OPT employers, either randomly or for cause. 

DHS has advised that the purpose of the site visits is to ensure that STEM OPT program requirements are being met, including that the employer possesses and maintains the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences consistent with the Training Plan for STEM OPT Students on the Form I-983, to confirm that the employer is complying with the Training Plan, and that the employer is adhering to all applicable regulatory provisions that govern the STEM OPT program. 

To better understand the scope of a DHS STEM OPT employer site visit by DHS, you can review the preamble of the 24-month STEM OPT Rule or the Study in the States Employer Site Visits page. Additional information about STEM OPT can also be found on the USCIS website.