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Monday, May 12, 2014

STEM OPT Extensions Need to be Timely

Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-l students is limited to 12 months and must be completed within 14 months of the student's graduation. However, some students may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT following the initial 12-month period based on a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) extension.
  
The STEM subject must be in the major or dual-major of the student's most recent degree received. It also is important to remember that the F-l student may request the 17-month STEM extension up to 120 days prior to the end of post-completion OPT and employment authorization will be automatically extended for a period of 180 days. Form 1-765, Application for Employment Authorization for the STEM extension, must be received by USCIS before the expiration of the current OPT period. USCIS recommends filing the STEM extension between 90 and 120 days prior to the expiration of the student's current OPT.
In order to obtain an STEM OPT extension for more than a 12 month period, the following criteria must be met:
  • The student must currently be participating in a 12 month period of approved OPT;
  • the student must have been enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year in a college, university, conservatory or seminary in an ICE certified program;
  • the student must have obtained a degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) area of study as listed on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM designated Degree Program List;
  • the student must be working for an employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study;
  • the student must be working for, or be intending to work, for an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program, and
  • the student must properly maintain F- 1 status.
The Designated School Official (DSO) at the college or university must recommend the 17-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying a student’s eligibility, certifying that the student’s major/dual major is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List,  endorsing the recommendation on Form I-20.  The student must then apply for the 17-month extension on Form I-765, together with the timely (within 30 days) endorsed I-20, a copy of their degree with the valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number for the employer with whom they are seeking the 17-month OPT STEM extension.
The CIS has indicated that that an expired EAD (Form I-766) issued for post-completion OPT, combined with a Form I-20 endorsed by the F-1 student’s DSO recommending the STEM extension and the CIS receipt notice (Form 1-797) showing timely filing of the STEM extension application will serve as a temporary List A employment authorization and identity document.
Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment white the extension application is pending until a final decision is made on the Form I-765 extension or for 180 days, measured from the EAD expiration date, whichever comes first.