How can an international student extend optional practical training (OPT) beyond 12 months? OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study (see my previous blog post for more information on OPT). In general, F-1 students can obtain up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before or after the completion of their studies. In April 2008, a new regulation passed to include provisions to extend the period of OPT by 17 months for F-1 students who graduate with science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees.

F-1 students may apply for a 17-month extension of their post-completion OPT if 1) they have maintained valid F-1 visa status; 2) are in a period of post-completion OPT approved after earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a designated STEM program; 3) have a job or a job offer from an employer enrolled in the E-verify program.

There are six things students should know about OPT STEM extension:

1. Eligibility: F-1 students must graduate with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a field of study designated by the Department of Homeland Security. See here for a current list of designated STEM programs.

2. E-verify: F-1 students must have a job or job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify, a government employment verification program.

3. Filing procedures: F-1 students must apply for OPT STEM extension by obtaining a new Form I-20 from their university designated school official (DSO) recommending a STEM extension. Students must then file Form I-765 with supporting documents and the required filing fee. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will send a new employment authorization document once the STEM extension is approved.

4. Continued work authorization: F-1 students may continue to work on an expired employment authorization document for up to 180 days while the STEM extension petition is pending if:

  • The student is currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
  • A properly and timely filed STEM extension application was filed with USCIS.

5. Student Responsibilities: F-1 students must report changes in name, address, employer and loss of employment to the DSO within 10 days of any change. The student must also report to his or her DSO every six months, confirming the information listed above even if there have been no changes.

6. Unemployment periods: F-1 students may not accrue an aggregate unemployment period of 120 days over 29 months if using the OPT STEM extension option.

Posted by: Holly Hatton