STEM OPT

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive a qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) degree to apply for a 24-month extension of their current post-completion OPT. F-1 students can request a STEM extension once per degree level (i.e. bachelor's, master's, or doctorate) but only twice throughout their academic career.

More information on STEM OPT can be found on the Department of Homeland Security's website here.

YOUR ABILITY TO APPLY FOR STEM OPT IS CONTINGENT ON OISS APPROVAL

RELEVANT NEWS

DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now has the authority to conduct worksite inspections for students on STEM OPT. The purpose of these inspections are to ensure that the student's employer is in compliance with STEM OPT regulations and following the training plan as agreed upon in the submitted Form I-983. ICE will provide 48 hours advanced notice before appearing for an inspection, however no advanced notice will be provided if the inspection is triggered by a worksite complaint logged with DHS or other evidence of noncompliance with STEM OPT regulations. Any communication regarding this event will initially be sent to the supervisor listed on the Form I-983 though the employer should determine if they would like to designate an additional point of contact in case they are selected for investigation.

More information on Employer Site Visits can be found on the Department of Homeland Security's website.

ELIGIBILITY

STEM OPT extensions are available to certain F-1 students who are currently on an initial period of post-completion OPT. STEM OPT can be granted once per degree level (i.e. bachelor's, master's, or doctorate) and up to two times over the student's entire academic career. F-1 students who would like to request a STEM OPT extension must first submit an OPT application. Once OPT is granted, the student must continue to maintain all OPT and F-1 status requirements in order to be eligible for an extension request. The student can then request a STEM OPT extension application once they reach 90 days before the end date listed on their OPT EAD card.

In order to be eligible for a STEM OPT extension request, an F-1 student must hold a bachelor's degree or higher in a STEM eligible field from an accredited school certified by SEVP at the time the extension application is submitted to USCIS. 

In certain circumstances, some F-1 students may be eligible use a prior STEM degree earned in the U.S. to fulfill eligibility requirements. To use a prior STEM degree, you must:

  • Have received your most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S.
  • Have received your prior, qualifying STEM degree in the U.S. within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension
  • The qualifying STEM degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time you submit your STEM OPT extension application (rather than at the time you received the degree)

Click here for more information on Eligible STEM Fields.

Students must have a job offer from a STEM OPT eligible employer in order to complete their extension application to USCIS. An employment opportunity is considered STEM OPT eligible if:

  • The employer is enrolled in the USCIS' E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
  • The job offers at least 21 hours of work per week
  • The job offer is paid
  • The job will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to your qualifying STEM degree

Students on STEM OPT cannot be self-employed or work in an unpaid position.

Students must complete the Form I-983: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students together with their prospective employer. Pages 1-4 of the Form I-983 will be completed for the initial application and page 5 (Evaluation of Student Progress) will be left blank until it's time for the student to complete their annual reporting requirements during the authorized STEM OPT period.

Review more information on the Form I-983 on the Department of Homeland Security's website here.

WHEN TO APPLY

It is important to submit your extension request within the stated deadlines otherwise your application could be rejected by USCIS. Applications for a STEM extension must be submitted per the following deadlines: 

  • Applications cannot be submitted to USCIS earlier than 90 days before the expiration date listed on your current 12-month OPT EAD card
  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT extension application before the end date listed on your current 12-month OPT EAD card

If you have successfully submitted your STEM OPT application before the expiration date listed on your current OPT EAD card, you may be eligible to continue working up to 180 days after your EAD expiration date or until you have received an official application decision from USCIS (whichever comes first).

EMPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS

Unlike the 12 month OPT, volunteer/unpaid work or self-employment, is not permitted under the 24-month STEM OPT Extension regulation. The regulations require that a student must have a bona fide employee relationship with an employer in order to be eligible for a STEM OPT extension.

Period of Unemployment

You are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment once you are approved for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. That means that you would be granted a maximum of 150 days for unemployment during post completion OPT period = 90 days during the initial 12-month OPT and an additional 60 days during the STEM OPT extension. You must report to the Employment Update Form within 10 days with any changes to your employment status.

HOW TO APPLY FOR STEM OPT EXTENSION

Review the STEM OPT extension application checklist and collect the documents as listed. Contact an OISS advisor for assistance if you have any questions or if you'd like to schedule an appointment.

Complete and submit your STEM OPT Extension application to OISS (in-person or through email). Please allow 3-5 business days for our office to process your request. Once your STEM OPT application has been reviewed and you are deemed eligible for an extension, an OISS advisor will issue a new I-20 with your STEM OPT recommendation. The OISS advisor will send you an email with instructions to pick-up your new I-20 or, if you're off island, a link to process an I-20 shipment to your location.

It is required that all F-1 HPU students have a new I-20 with a STEM OPT recommendation from our office in order to complete an extension application. If you mail an extension request to USCIS without a STEM I-20, your application will be rejected.

Keep your new I-20 with all of your previous I-20s. Do not throw away any Form i-20.

Collect your new I-20 with a STEM OPT recommendation along with mailing instructions from our office. You must endorse and sign your new I-20 at the bottom of page 1. OISS recommends that you make a copy of your entire STEM OPT extension application before mailing it out to USCIS.

Mail your STEM OPT extension application out to USCIS once your packet is complete. Refer to the mailing instructions given to you by an OISS advisor or review your designated mailing location on the USCIS website. OISS recommends that you send the application with a tracking number to ensure your application has reached its destination.

Remember that your application must be received before your Post-Completion OPT expires and within 60 days of your STEM OPT I-20 issuance.

Traveling Abroad During STEM OPT

Since you will remain in F-1 status under Hawaiʻi Pacific University visa sponsorship throughout your STEM OPT period, then you must adhere to the F-1 travel regulations for STEM OPT. When re-entering the U.S., you must carry:

  1. Valid passport with valid F-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from the visa requirement)
  2. STEM OPT I-20 with travel signature (travel endorsements are valid for 6 months from signature date)
  3. STEM OPT EAD card
  4. Employment verification letter (optional, but recommended)

OISS does not recommend traveling abroad if your post-completion OPT has ended and your STEM OPT extension request is still pending.

REPORTING REQUIREMENTS DURING OPT STEM EXTENSION PERIOD

You must report any updates to your contact or employer information within 10 days of any change. You can choose to update this information through the OPT Employer Form or your SEVP Portal. This could potentially include changes to your:

  • Legal name
  • Current address
  • Phone or email address
  • Current supervisor
  • Dates of employment

Updates to your employment information may require additional documentation. Once you submit updates to your OISS advisor, they may request you submit a new Form I-983.

To maintain legal F-1 status during your 24-month STEM OPT authorization period, you must report the following information to OISS every six months:
Confirm to OISS through our STEM OPT 6 Month Validation Report Form or through your SEVP Portal:

           • Legal name
           • Residential or mailing address
           • Employer name and address
           • Status of current employment

You must report any changes to the above information, including loss of employment, within 10 days of the change.

*Failure to report information to OISS every six months will result in the termination of your F-1 student visa status (including OPT), per USCIS regulations.

You must submit an annual self-evaluation to your OISS advisor about the progress of your training experience. This self-evaluation must be signed by you and your employer on page 5 of the I-983 Training Plan.

*Failure to submit the self-evaluation to OISS each year will result in the termination of your F-1 student visa status (including OPT), per USCIS regulations.

If you believe your STEM OPT employer is not complying with the terms and conditions of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations, the Form I-983 instructions, and the completed Form I-983 on file with OISS, you may:

There are a number of enforcement and oversight mechanisms to help ensure compliance, including reporting requirements, employer site visits, periodic evaluation of a student’s training and required notification of any material changes to or deviations from the Training Plan.

For easy reference, please follow the chart below for STEM reporting requirements. All forms must be submitted to iss@hpu.edu.

Deadline

First Action Required

Second Action Required

6 Months

Employment Validation Form

or mark your validation through SEVP Portal

None

12 Months

Employment Validation Form

or mark your validation through SEVP Portal

Evaluation on Student Progress

on page 5 of your Form I-983

18 Months

Employment Validation Form

or mark your validation through SEVP Portal

None

24 Months

Employment Validation Form

or mark your validation through SEVP Portal

Final Evaluation on Student Progress

on page 5 of your Form I-983

All reporting deadlines must be calculated from the start date printed on your STEM EAD Card