OPT STEM Extension

Certain F-1 students in a period of post-completion optional practical training are eligible to request a 24-month extension of their OPT based on a degree earned in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math). This page will provide a general overview of the OPT STEM extension process. However, all F-1 students who want to pursue the OPT STEM extension must read the entire F-1 OPT STEM Extension Guide for full details on eligibility and the application process.

In general, to be eligible for the OPT STEM extension, you must:

There are several rules regarding the timing of your OPT STEM extension application:

  • You must submit the OPT STEM Extension and OPT Employment Verification records in Terra Dotta at least 30 days prior to your current OPT expiration date
  • You can apply for the OPT STEM up to 90 days prior to the expiration of your current OPT period
  • Your OPT STEM extension application must be received by USCIS prior expiration of your current OPT period
  • Your OPT STEM extension application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the issuance of the Form I-20 recommending the OPT STEM extension

Refer to the following external websites for more information on the OPT STEM extension:

OPT STEM Extension Application Process

Part 1: Complete Form I-983 with employer

Form I-983 is the formal training plan that clearly articulates the STEM OPT student's learning objectives and affirms the employer's commitment to helping the student achieve those objectives. Form I-983 and instructions are found on the DHS Study in the States website.

Part 2: Submit OPT STEM Extension Request to Center for Global Health

To begin the OPT STEM process, you must complete and submit the following applications through your Terra Dotta portal:

  1. OPT Employment Verification
  2. OPT STEM Extension Request

Both of these records must be completed and submitted before we can process your request. Both records must be fully submitted in Terra Dotta at least 30 days prior to your current OPT expiration date.

After submitting both requests, it may be 2-4 weeks before your requests are processed by the Center for Global Health. The exact processing time is highly variable and depends on the overall volume of requests at the time. If your requests are approved, you will be notified by email, and an updated Form I-20 will be issued for you showing the OPT STEM extension request.

You cannot apply for OPT STEM extension through USCIS until you receive the OPT STEM extension Form I-20 from the Center for Global Health.

Part 3: Submit I-765 Application to USCIS

Once you receive the OPT STEM extension Form I-20, you can proceed with the USCIS I-765 application. You must complete USCIS Form I-765 and gather supporting documentation to submit with the form. You are also required to pay the application fee. Refer to the F-1 OPT STEM Extension Guide for more details on filling out the Form I-765 and submitting the application to USCIS.

There are currently two options for F-1 students to submit the OPT STEM I-765 application to USCIS:

  1. Submit paper I-765 application to the appropriate USCIS service center or lockbox
  2. Submit I-765 application online

The decision regarding how to submit your I-765 application (paper or online) is completely up to you. Regardless of which method you choose, you must read the I-765 instructions and review your application materials thoroughly before submitting to ensure that you are submitting a complete application.

If you choose to submit the paper application, you must check the USCIS I-765 website and the USCIS fee calculator on the day that you are submitting your application to be certain you are using the correct form edition and submitting the correct fee. You should print the USCIS fee calculation sheet on the date of mailing to include with your application. Make sure the printout sheet includes the date (typically in the header or footer). If you choose to submit the application online, you will automatically be utilizing the current USCIS form.

Again, keep in mind the application time limits outlined above. If you submit your application to USCIS too early or too late (even by one day), it will be rejected.

If USCIS approves your OPT STEM extension application, you will receive a new EAD card. Once you receive your new EAD card, you must upload a copy through the OPT STEM Extension record within your Terra Dotta portal. Refer to the Terra Dotta OPT STEM User Guide for detailed instructions on this process.

During OPT STEM Extension

During your OPT STEM extension, you are required to report your employment and contact information (address, email, phone) to the MUSC Center for Global Health. You are also required to provide periodic updates (called validation reports).

General reporting requirements:

  1. Contact information. You must report the changes in your physical address, mailing address, phone or legal name within 10 days of change.
  2. Changes to employment. You must report any changes in your employment (work location, job title, supervisor, employment end date, etc) within 10 days of change. If you change your employer, you must complete a new Form I-983 with your new employer and submit the Form I-983 final evaluation for your previous employer.
  3. Validation reporting. You must submit an OPT STEM validation report every six (6) months, starting from the OPT STEM extension start date. This means you will submit validation reports at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months.
  4. Form I-983 evaluations. You must report on your progress with your practical training using the Form I-983 OPT STEM training plan. The evaluation section is found on page 5. Your employer must sign the self-evaluation prior to submission. Evaluations must be submitted at the midpoint (12 months) and at the end of your OPT STEM extension (24 months). The final evaluation report must also be submitted at the end of any particular employment (if you change employers during the OPT STEM extension period).

You will not be reminded to submit the reports. It is your responsibility to comply with the reporting requirements in a timely manner. Failure to submit the reports on time can result in termination of your F-1 SEVIS record for failure to report during OPT.

All reporting during your OPT STEM extension is done through your Terra Dotta portal. Address and contact information updates are submitted through your Terra Dotta user profile. Employment updates, OPT STEM validation reports, and Form I-983 evaluations must be submitted using the OPT Employment Verification electronic Terra Dotta form. Refer to the Terra Dotta OPT STEM User Guide for detailed instructions on how to submit the various reports.

You cannot have more than 150 total days of unemployment during the entire time of your post-completion OPT. This includes the initial period of post-completion OPT and the OPT 24-month STEM extension period. You are responsible for keeping track of your days of unemployment during both post-completion OPT and the OPT STEM extension periods. SEVIS will also track your days of unemployment.

Exceeding the amount of allowable days of unemployment is a violation of your F-1 status. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the authority to terminate your F-1 SEVIS record if you exceed the allowable days of unemployment.

Completion of OPT STEM Extension

Once you have completed your period of OPT STEM Extension, you are permitted to remain in the United States for 60 days following the OPT end date. This grace period is intended for you to be able to settle your affairs in the U.S. and prepare to return to your home country. You are also permitted to travel within the U.S. during this grace period.

During the 60-day grace period, you cannot do the following:
• Apply for re-entry into the United States in F-1 status
• Apply for an F-1 program extension
• Work or study