opt stem (24-month extension)

This webpage will answer various questions you may have about the current OPT STEM Extension rule (24-months). PLEASE NOTE THIS INFORMATION IS ONLY FOR STUDENTS WHO OBTAINED THEIR DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS. Employees of the University on OPT from another school should contact their program sponsor for further information.

Q: What is the OPT STEM Extension rule?
A: Certain students who are currently participating in their 12 months of post-completion OPT are allowed to file for an additional 24 months of OPT.  F-1 students who subsequently enroll in a new academic program and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level are eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.  To improve the educational benefit of the STEM OPT extension, the rule requires employers to implement formal training programs to augment students' academic learning through practical experience. This requirement is intended to equip students with a more comprehensive understanding of their selected area of study and broader functionality within that field.  The rule permits an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree to use a prior eligible STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension, as long as both degrees were received from currently accredited educational institutions. The practical training opportunity must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

Q: Who qualifies?
A: To qualify you must be maintaining your F-1 status and fulfill all the following criteria:

  • Are approved for your initial allocation of 12 months of post completion OPT.
  • Have an offer of paid employment for at least 20 hours per week from an employer enrolled in E-verify. E-Verify information can be found here.  Student may not be self-employed.
  • The student and employer must complete a Form I-983 Training Plan, and the student must present the completed I-983 to the DSO before the DSO can issue the required I-20 needed for the STEM extension.
  • Have kept ISSS updated with both your physical address and employer address.
  • Have not exceeded more than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT.
  • Have completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in a STEM field, OR have completed all course requirements and is completing thesis or dissertation

Q: How can I check if my major allows the STEM extension?
A: Every major has a numerical code, known as a CIP code.  You can find the CIP code for your major in the ‘program of study’ section on page 1 of your I-20. If your major field’s CIP code appears on the STEM designated degree list then it is eligible for the STEM extension.

Q: When should I apply?
A: You must apply in the 90 day window before your current EAD expires. As long as your application is received by USCIS before the EAD expiration date, you will be allowed to remain in the US and continue employment for 180 days or until a decision is made on your application. You cannot apply more than 90 days before your OPT is scheduled to expire. You must submit your OPT STEM Extension application materials to USCIS no later than 60 days after the I-20 with the OPT STEM recommendation was created.

Q: How can I apply?
A: You will need to contact ISSS to be recommended for the OPT extension, and receive a new I-20 reflecting this. Please use the iStart system to request this new I-20. You will also need to provide ISSS the I-983 training plan.  Please leave the DSO name blank on the I-983 when you upload to iStart.).  If you are applying for the additional 7-months then you need to also complete pages 1 - 6 of the Form I-983.  You do not need to include the I-983 with your application to USCIS.  Once you have the new I-20, you should then file to the USCIS Lockbox with jurisdiction over the state you currently live in (either Phoenix or Dallas).

In your application to USCIS, you should include:

  1. Personal Check or money order for $410.00, payable to the “US Department of Homeland Security”.
  2. Two photographs. Lightly write your name and SEVIS ID on the back of the photos.  Place the photos in a clear Ziploc-type bag.
  3. Form I-765. List your eligibility code in question 16 as (c) (3) (c)
  4. Photocopy of pages 1 & 2 of your new I-20 with the ISSS recommendation for OPT extension, signed by both you and an ISSS advisor
  5. Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card or download and print out the electronic admission record from www.cbp.gov/i94.
  6. Photocopy of the identity page and visa page from your passport, including passport expiration date.
  7. Photocopy of the front and back of your last EAD & I-797 Notice of Action.
  8. Photocopy of any previous I-20s with OPT recommendations from current level of study.
  9. Photocopy of diploma from UIUC or official UIUC transcript letter showing your conferred degree.  If you do not have a conferred degree, please contact your department to obtain a letter stating that you have finished degree requirements, and only have thesis.

    Note: Mail by certified mail with a Return Receipt Requested or Express/Overnight with Delivery Confirmation. Make photocopies of all documents you send for your records. DO NOT SUBMIT THE APPLICATION ELECTRONICALLY.

Q: If my employer has obtained an H-1B for me, effective this coming October, do I still need the extension?
A:  Another rule, the H-1B cap-gap extension states that the duration of your F-1 status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT, who is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This applies to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf. This will allow the continuation of employment between the expiry of OPT and the start of the H-1B without filing for the 24 month extension for all students on OPT.

Q: How can I report my employment information?
A:  OPT applicants are now only allowed a total of 90 days unemployment during their initial 12 month OPT allocation, and 150 days during their 36 month total OPT allocation. It is therefore vital that you keep ISSS updated with your employer information to avoid being erroneously viewed as unemployed. This can be done through iStart at https://sunapsis.illinois.edu within 5 days of the change. Please note that if you accrue 90 days or more of consecutive unemployment, your F-1 status will be automatically terminated in the SEVIS system. If you have an active netID and password, login under Full Client Services. If your password is expired, login under Limited Services using your UIN, Date of Birth and a temporary PIN number that you can have emailed to yourself.

Q:  What are the additional reporting obligations?
A:  Six-month validity reports. A student in a period of 24-month STEM OPT must confirm the validity of the following information with the DSO every six months:

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

STEM OPT students must also separately report changes to this information within 10 days of the change, including any loss of employment.

Q:  What is the NAICS code?
A:  The code can be found here.  Please note the NAICS code for UIUC or any institute of higher education in the US is 611310.

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

  • Beginning a new practical training opportunity 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

SEVP's STEM OPT Hub states,

"It is not the DSO's responsibility to be proactive with material changes. It is the student's responsibility to provide changes in information to their DSO, and failure to do so would constitute a violation of the student's F-1 status.
If there are material changes to or deviations from the Form I-983 the DSO has on file during the STEM OPT extension period, the student and employer must sign a modified training plan reflecting the material changes. The student (or employer) must file the modified Form I-983 with the DSO at the earliest available opportunity."

Evaluation Requirements. A student must complete two self-evaluations during the course of his or her STEM OPT period: the first one within 12 months of the STEM OPT start date and a second, concluding evaluation at the end of his or her STEM OPT period. Evaluations must be signed by the student and his or her immediate supervisor, and then submitted to the DSO. The school whose DSO recommended the student's STEM OPT extension is responsible for ensuring that SEVP has access upon request to each student evaluation (in either electronic or hard copy), beginning 30 days after the document is submitted to the DSO and for three years following the completion of each STEM practical training opportunity.

SEVP's STEM OPT Hub states,

"The student must complete the first "Evaluation of Student Progress" portion of the Form I-983 within 12 months of the listed STEM OPT start date. At the end of the STEM OPT extension, a student must conduct a second, final assessment. Once the evaluations are complete, the student must collect signatures from their employer and return the form to the DSO, who will keep it in the student's physical student record.

Student evaluations are a shared responsibility of both the student and the employer to ensure that the student's practical training goals are met. The student is responsible for conducting self-evaluations, obtaining the necessary signatures and returning the assessments to their DSO for inclusion in the student's record.

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

  • Assess their overall performance using the measures identified in the agreed upon training plan.
  • Evaluate their 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.

Once complete, the student must sign, print their name and enter the date of the signature. 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.

The student submits the first signed assessment to their DSO within 12 months of the start date listed on the form. The student needs to submit a second and final evaluation that recaps all the training and knowledge acquired during the complete training period to their DSO at the end of the STEM OPT extension."

Students currently on 17-month extension:
Transition plan overview – please read the current information on the “Study in the States” website for all possible scenarios if you currently on or pending the 17-month extension.

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