STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT)

NOTE: Please allow up to 10 business days for processing, so plan accordingly. Reviewing and processing STEM OPT applications requires more time and more careful processing. Depending on the volume of all applications we receive, sometimes we may really need 10 business days to process these requests. Thank you for your understanding. 

Resources: NAFSA, Association of International Educators, USCIS 24-month STEM OPT Hub; Fragomen Worldwide Law Firm STEM OPT Alert
 

1. STEM OPT Eligibility Requirements

  • Must currently be on post-completion OPT.
  • F-1 students with Bachelor's, Master's or PhD degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) are eligible to apply. The STEM Designated Degree Program List can be found on the SEVP website. 
  • Job or job offer directly related to the STEM field of study.
  • Job or job offer from an employer who participates in the U.S. Government E-Verify employment verification system
  • Limited to two STEM OPT extensions during student lifetime. Students who had already obtained one STEM OPT become eligible for a second STEM OPT extension after:
    • Earning another qualifying STEM degree at a higher degree level and
    • Obtaining a new initial grant of standard 12-month post-completion OPT based on that higher degree. 
  • Must submit the  24-month extension to the USCIS BEFORE your initial 12-month period of OPT ends.
  • Must comply with additional reporting requirements related to your name, address and employer information (see #7,8,9 below).
  • May not request all 36 months (12+24) in the initial OPT application: must apply for initial 12 months of post-completion OPT first. 

2. Am I eligible for a STEM extension based on the earlier STEM degree?

You may be eligible for a STEM OPT extension if you hold a prior U.S. degree in a qualifying STEM field, provided that:

  • Your previously obtained STEM degree is directly related to the OPT opportunity;
  • Your prior STEM degree was conferred within 10 years of the STEM extension application date; you cannot qualify merely on the basis of having met degree requirements;
  • Your prior STEM degree was earned at a U.S. institution that is accredited and registered with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) at the time the Davis IC issues your I-20 for the 24-month STEM extension;
  • Your prior STEM degree is in a field listed on the STEM designated program list at the time the Davis IC issues your I-20 for the 24-month STEM OPT extension; and
  • You are currently in a period of 12-month OPT based on your most recent U.S. degree. 

3. What is E-Verify

E-Verify is an electronic employment eligibility verification system under which employers commit to use an electronic database to check whether the name and social security number presented by new hires match the records in the Social Security database, and whether any immigration documents presented by the employee match information in the Department of Homeland Security database. If an employer is not enrolled in E-Verify, a STEM student CANNOT obtain a 24 month OPT extension. 

4. When to Apply for a STEM OPT Extension

You may file for the 24-month STEM extension up to 90 days prior to the end of your post-completion OPT. You may submit your application to the Davis IC up to 105 days prior to your current OPT end date. You must apply before your current OPT end date. Please make sure to send your documents to Davis IC no later than 30 days prior to your current OPT EAD card end date.

5. STEM Extension OPT Application Checklist and Instructions

You may send your 24-month STEM OPT Application to the USCIS no earlier than 90 days prior to your current 12-month OPT end date. The earliest you may request a STEM OPT I-20 from the Davis IC (see Step 1 below) is 105 days prior to your current 12-month OPT end date.

Before you submit your STEM OPT application to Davis IC, please make sure that you have reported your current OPT employment and current address to the Davis IC OPT Reporting Form

STEP 1: SUBMIT THE BELOW DOCUMENTS (#1, 2, and 3) VIA DAVIS IC SECURE DOCUPORT.  

Please do not submit your documents via email since it is not a secure form of submission.

1.Information Sheet for the STEM OPT Extension - All items must be completed.

2. Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization

Follow the tips below when completing the I-765 form:

  • Either type or neatly fill out the form in black ink and sign the form in blue ink.
  • Make sure that all information is completed correctly. 
  • Check the box: Renewal of my permission to accept employment.
  • Item #26 – Your SEVIS ID number can be found on the top of the first page of your I-20. If you have any previous SEVIS IDs, please list them on page 7 under Additional Information.
  • The code for Item #27 is: (c)(3)(c).
  • Item #28.a – your degree level and major
  • Item #28.b – the employer's name as listed in the E-Verify system
  • Item #28.c – the employer's E-Verify company identification number or a valid E-Verify client company identification number. 
  • Your EAD card will be mailed to the address you indicate on the I-765 form. So it is important that the address will be valid for at least 120 days from the date you send your STEM application to USCIS. The U.S. Postal Services DOES NOT forward EAD cards, even if you arrange to forward your mail with the Post Office. 

3. Form I-983 Training Plan and Evaluation

You and your employer are required to jointly prepare a formal training plan on Form I-983 and submit it to Davis IC. We cannot recommend you for a STEM extension until we review and approve the plan. The I-983 training tutorial is available is here.

The plan must explain how the STEM OPT employment will provide a work-based learning opportunity and must also describe:

  • The specific goals of the training opportunity, including the knowledge, skills or techniques that will be imparted to you;
  • How your employer intends to meet these goals;
  • How the training is directly related to your qualifying STEM degree;
  • Your employer's methods for evaluating the success of the training opportunity;
  • How your employer will oversee and supervise your employment-based training; and
  • Your compensation, which must be commensurate with that paid to similarly situated U.S. employees. 
  • In addition, you and your employer must attest that you will comply with STEM OPT program rules.

NOTE:  The training plan asks for a name of your DSO. Please leave that field blank. The Davis IC advisor processing your STEM OPT application will enter that information. 

We recommend that you fill in all information directly on the I-983, but if there is not enough space, and you need to attach additional pages, each continuation pages must reference the section and question that the continuation is needed for and be signed and dated by the Employer Official with Signatory Authority.

Davis IC is required to review the training plan to make sure that it contains all of the required elements and is signed by you and your employer before we can issue you a new I-20 with a STEM OPT recommendation. 

More detailed information about the Form I-983 training plan, as well as instructions how to complete the training plan, can be found on the Department of Homeland Security website.  You and/or your supervisor should consult the SEVP instructions for any questions you may have regarding the form completion. If any additional assistance is needed, you and/or your supervisor may need to seek advice from your company's Human Resources or Office of General Counsel. 

4. Create a shipment request with eShip Global and enter your address and payment information. The Davis IC will use this secure eShip Global account to send your original STEM OPT I-20 Form along with the photocopy of your I-765 and instructions for you to follow when mailing your STEM OPT application to the USCIS.  We regret that I-20 forms cannot be sent via email or fax.

STEP 2: RECEIVE, REVIEW, AND MAIL YOUR STEM APPLICATION TO THE USCIS

1. After you receive the STEM OPT I-20 From and enclosure from the Davis IC, you are responsible for reviewing your STEM application and sending it to the USCIS. It is crucial that you send an application that is complete and accurate. Incomplete and/or inaccurate applications may result in delay or denial of your STEM OPT. Make sure that you use express mail such as Fedex, UPS, or USPS Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested, so that you can track it to ensure it arrives to the USCIS successfully. 

The following items must be included when you send your STEM application:

  • Original completed I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with original signature. DO NOT send the I-765 photocopy.
  • Photocopy of a signed new STEM  I-20 pages 1 and 2. You must sign your new I-20 before making a photocopy.
  • Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance - Optional. When you include this form, you will receive an email or text message informing you that the USCIS has received your application. 
  • Application fee: $410 check or money order payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The fee must be drawn in U.S. dollars from a financial institution that is physically located in the U.S.
  • Proof of STEM degree in the form of a copy of your Princeton University transcript.
  • Two (2) U.S. passport-style photos taken within 30 days of filling the application. The photos must be a full frontal face position and meet the specification for full frontal passport photos. Please refer to page 20 of the I-765 Instructions Sheet for photo criteria. Lightly print you name and admission number (I-94) in pencil or felt pen (so the number does not smear) on the back of each picture.
  • Photocopies of the following
    • Biographical page(s) of your passport, including the expiration date. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months in the future at the time of STEM OPT application. 
    • The most recent F-1 visa stamp in your passport (citizens of Canada are exempt from the visa requirement).
    • The most recent admission stamp from your passport.
    • An electronic I-94 printout that you can retrieve from the CBP website.
    • Pages of ALL previously issued I-20s (Princeton and any other institutions). Make certain all I-20s have been signed by you. USCIS may deny your application if copies of all I-20s are not included. If you don't have all I-20s issued to you, please write a letter stating that you did not keep the previous I-20s.
    • Any previously issued employment authorization document (EAD).

2. Mailing your application to the USCIS

Make sure that you do not submit your STEM OPT application to the USCIS more than 90 days prior to your current OPT expiration date.

NOTE: All documents should be single-sided copies. Do not staple any documents.

  • Check your application for completeness and accuracy.
  • Double check that the I-765 and the STEM OPT I-20 have been signed within the last 21 days.
  • Make a copy of your application for your records.

Depending on where in the U.S. you reside, you will mail your application to the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox or the USCIS Dallas Lockbox. Please consult the USCIS website for detailed information about mailing instructions. Make sure to send your application to the correct address. Otherwise, your STEM OPT may be delayed. Please send it via express mail such as Fedex, UPS, or by USPS Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested, so that you can track it to ensure it arrives to the USCIS successfully. 

6. Working while STEM OPT Application is Pending

Even if your current OPT EAD expires, you may continue to work up to 180 days beyond the expiration date while your STEM OPT application is pending. However, it is important that you apply for an extension in a timely manner. 

7. Student Reporting Requirements While on STEM OPT

It is the student's responsibility to provide updates and changes in information to the Davis IC, and failure to do so would constitute a violation of the student's F-1 status.

Update Your Changes within 10 days of the change: Since you are still in F-1 status under Princeton University sponsorship while on the STEM OPT extension, you must continue reporting any changes of address to the Davis IC within 10 days of change. Please report address changes, name changes, employment updates, employment interruptions and loss of employment by submitting the OPT Address/ Employer Change Form. You can also make these updates yourself using the SEVP Portal. For guidance on using the Portal, please visit the SEVP Portal Help page. If your account is locked or you need password assistance, please email Andria Kwasnicki, at andriak@princeton.edu for assistance.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As a relatively new resource, SEVP is still working on improving and correcting glitches in the SEVP Portal. If you report an employment update on the portal and do not hear from our office within 5 business days, please reach out to puvisa@princeton.edu to confirm that your update was processed successfully.  

Six-month Validity Report: You must also send to the Davis IC a validation report every six months starting from the date your STEM extension starts and ending when your F-1 status ends or the STEM extension ends, whichever comes first. The validation report MUST include your:

  • Legal name
  • Residential or mailing address
  • Employer name and address
  • Start date at employer
  • Status of current employment/practical training experience

Students should complete the Validation Report Form and submit to Docuport along with either the Initial STEM evaluation or Final STEM evaluation if due. Please see Section 8 for more information on the STEM Evaluation reporting requirements. 

Updated Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan: A new Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan must be executed and submitted to the Davis IC within 10 days of:

  • Beginning a new employment with a new employer during the 24-month extension
  • Any time there is a "material change" in the terms and conditions of the original I-983. Material changes include but are not limited to:
    • any change of Employer Identification Number (EIN) resulting from a corporate restructuring
    • any reduction in compensation from the amount previously submitted on the Form I-983 or successor form that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
    • any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity
    • any change or deviation that renders an employer attestation inaccurate, or renders inaccurate the information in the Form I-983 or successor form on the nature, purpose, oversight, or assessment of the student’s practical training opportunity

8. Evaluation Requirements

You must complete two self-evaluations during the course of your STEM OPT period: the first one within 12 months of the STEM OPT start date and a second, concluding evaluation at the end of your STEM OPT period and at the conclusion of any job. Evaluations must be signed by the student and your immediate supervisor, and then submitted to the Davis IC.

To complete these self-evaluations, you must specify the evaluation date range (i.e., the timeline considered during the evaluation) and:

  • Assess your overall performance using the measures identified in the agreed upon training plan.
  • Evaluate your success in applying and acquiring the new knowledge, skills and competencies that were previously identified in the plan.
  • Discuss accomplishments, successful projects, overall contributions, etc. that occurred during the specified review period.
  • Address whether there are any modifications to the objectives and goals for projects or new areas for skill and competency development. 

After the student signs a completed evaluation, the employer must show concurrence with the assessment information that the student has entered. To do this, the employer's Official with Signatory Authority must sign, print name and enter the date of signature on the evaluation form. 

For the first self-evaluation, please complete the first portion on page 5 of the I-983 Training Plan and submit the entire I-983. 

For the second and final self-evaluation, please complete the second portion of page 5 of the I-983 Training Plan and submit the entire I-983.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to security reasons, we are unable to accept document submission via email. All documentation must be submitted to Davis IC through DocuPort 

9. Employer Reporting Requirements During STEM OPT

The employer must notify the Davis IC when the student's employment is terminated for any reason before the end of the authorized STEM OPT extension period. The employer must report such a change in employment no later than five (5) business days after the student's employment terminates. If needed, employers should seek guidance about this from their legal counsel, immigration attorney or directly from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  

10. Can I change employers during the STEM OPT period? Do I need to submit a new training plan if I change employers?

Yes, you may change employers provided the new job meets program requirements and the new employer is registered and participating in E-Verify.
If you change jobs while working on a 24-month STEM OPT extension, you and your new employer must prepare and submit a new Form I-983 Training Plan to the Davis IC within 10 days of starting the new job. To submit an updated training plan to Davis IC, you must use Docuport. You must also submit a final evaluation for the job you are leaving.

11. What are the limitations to employment during the STEM OPT period?

The 24-month STEM OPT period is limited to certain employers and employment opportunities, as follows:

  • Your STEM OPT employer must have an Employment Identification Number (EIN).
  • Your STEM OPT employer must be enrolled in and using the E-Verify program at your STEM OPT worksite.
  • The employment opportunity must be directly related to your qualifying STEM degree.
  • There must be an employer-employee relationship between you and your employer. For this reason, self-employment and employment with staffing or temporary agencies likely will not qualify. Please see the FAQs below for more information.
  • Volunteer or unpaid employment will not qualify. 
  • You may work concurrently for multiple employers during the STEM OPT period only if you work at least 20 hours per week for EACH employer, and each employer also meets all of the above criteria.
  • The USCIS website states that “STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student.” Therefore, if you have a training opportunity that involves working off-site or from home, please talk with your employer to determine if this is permissible. Employers may wish to consult with their Office of General Counsel.

12. Can I work in a volunteer/unpaid position?

No, a student seeking a STEM OPT extension is not allowed to use volunteer opportunity as a basis for a STEM OPT extension. Students are prohibited from using the STEM OPT to work in a volunteer capacity. 

13. Can I be self-employed?

No, self-employment is not eligible for a STEM OPT Extension. The regulations require that a student must have a bona fide employer-employee relationship with an employer to obtain a STEM OPT extension. While the student is eligible to be employed by a start-up business, all regulatory requirements must be met and the student may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf. 

14. Can I work for a staffing or temporary agency?

The USCIS website states, "Staffing and temporary agencies and consulting firms may seek to employ students under the STEM OPT program, but only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training experience to the student and they have and maintain a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student." You will need to talk with your employer to determine if your employment meets this criteria. They may wish to consult with their Office of General Counsel.

15. Should my employer and I expect periodic worksite visits from the Department of Homeland Security?

Yes. The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to visit your STEM OPT worksite to make sure that you and your employer are meeting program requirements. Site visits may include interviews with you and your supervisor and a review of your training plan and other documentation.
In general, the DHS will give your employer 48 hours notice in advance of a site visit but could make an unannounced visit if there is a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with program rules.

16. Periods of unemployment during STEM OPT

You are not required to remain continuously employed during your STEM OPT period but there are limits to how long you may be unemployed. Your obligations will vary depending on whether you are in a 12-month initial OPT or 24-month OPT STEM extension:

  • 12-month initial period of OPT: You may be unemployed for no more than 90 days during your initial period of OPT. You must report to the Davis IC Reporting Form if you experience any interruption or loss of employment.
  • 24-month STEM OPT: You are permitted a maximum of 150 days for unemployment during your post-completion OPT period - 90 days during the initial 12-month OPT and an additional 60 days once you are approved for a 24-month STEM extension. You must report to the Davis IC Reporting Form within 10 days if you lose your job or leave it before the STEM OPT period ends. 
  • 17-month STEM OPT: If you are currently on a 17-month STEM extension and you do not plan to apply for a 7-month extension, you are permitted a maximum of 120 days of unemployment during your entire post-completion OPT period - 90 days during the initial 12-month period and an additional 30 days during the STEM extension. You must report to the Davis IC Reporting Form within 10 days if you lose your job or leave it before the STEM OPT period ends. 

17. Travel during STEM OPT and applying for a new F-1 visa

Since you will remain in F-1 status under Princeton University visa sponsorship throughout your STEM OPT Period,  you must adhere to the F-1 travel regulations for STEM OPT.  When reentering the U.S., you must carry:

1) Valid passport with valid F-1 visa stamp (Canadians are exempt from the visa stamp requirement);

2) STEM OPT I-20 with travel signature dated within the past six months of the date of reentry;

3) Proof of work authorization in the form of your STEM OPT EAD card; and,

4) A letter from your STEM employer stating your job title, brief job description, employment start and end dates, and current salary.

Renewing the F-1 Visa on STEM OPT:  If you need to renew your F-1 visa while traveling on STEM OPT - you should schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate preferably in your home country to apply for a new F-1 visa in order to return to resume your STEM OPT employment. Please consult the U.S. Embassy/Consulate Website for further information when applying for a new visa. Students who need to apply for a new visa while traveling on STEM OPT are strongly advised to consult with their international student advisor and their employers BEFORE traveling. 

IMPORTANT: It may be more difficult to obtain a new F-1 visa while on STEM OPT since the issue of non-immigrant intent and the intention to return home at the completion of the STEM OPT may be more difficult to prove once you have obtained a degree and are working in the U.S.

On August 8th, 2017, the U.S. Department of State issued a revised guidance to consular officers regarding the issuance of student visas, stressing that the officer must be "satisfied that applicant intends to depart the U.S. upon completion of the approved activity." The consular officers are instructed that they must refuse the visa if they are not satisfied that the applicant's present intent is to depart the U.S. at the conclusion of his/her study or OPT. If the consular officer determines that you have intention to abandon your home country and remain in the U.S., s/he will be required to deny your visa application. 

We strongly advise all F-1 students on STEM OPT, but particularly those with expired F-1 visas, to exercise caution in choosing whether to travel. If you are asked to travel for business, you should ensure that your employer is aware of the risks. We also strongly advise you to consult with an immigration attorney regarding your risks in obtaining a new visa. 

18. Travel while your STEM OPT application is pending

If you have applied for the STEM OPT extension, but you have not received the EAD card approval, you should be able to reenter the U.S. as long as your current period of OPT has NOT expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S. and you carry proof that you have filed your STEM OPT extension in the form of the STEM OPT application receipt notice.

However, if you have applied for the STEM OPT and have not yet received the EAD card approval, and your current OPT HAS EXPIRED, traveling abroad may be risky. Make sure to consult with your Davis IC advisor PRIOR to leaving the U.A. and PRIOR to finalizing your travel plans.