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> DOWNLOAD THE STEM OPT WORSKHOP PRESENTATION (SPRING 2021) <

Update (April 30, 2021):  The International Center has added instructions for online STEM OPT filing. See below.

If you are currently working on post-completion OPT and you have completed a US degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT. This extension applies only if certain requirements are met.

Eligibility Requirements for the STEM Extension of OPT

To be able to apply for the STEM Extension of OPT, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You are currently in F-1 status and working using post-completion OPT
    • You must be in an approved period of post-completion OPT before you can qualify for the STEM extension - you cannot apply directly for the STEM extension without having approval for post-completion OPT first
    • You cannot apply for the STEM Extension once your post-completion OPT period expires
  • You have completed a US degree in an eligible STEM field
    • The degree can be your most recent degree from Tufts, or an earlier degree you received from Tufts or another US institution
    • The degree must have been issued by an accredited US college or university within the past ten years
    • The US college or university must currently be approved to sponsor F-1 students
    • You cannot have used the degree previously to get a STEM Extension (only one extension per STEM degree)
  • You have a full-time job offer of at least 20 hours per week or more from a US E-verify employer in your STEM field (see below)
    • Volunteer and self-employment positions cannot be used to request the STEM extension
    • Job offers from employers who are not enrolled in E-verify cannot serve as STEM employers

You can be authorized for the STEM Extension of OPT only twice across your lifetime. If you have already been approved for the STEM Extension twice, you are not eligible for additional extensions.

STEM Extension Eligibility

To qualify for the STEM Extension of OPT, you must have received a US degree (bachelor's, master's, doctorate) from an accredited college or university that is currently authorized to sponsor F-1 students. The degree must be in a field of study that belongs on US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Designated Degree Program List (updated 2/1/2021). To see if your degree, qualifies, check the most recent Form I-20 that was issued for your degree.

  • Your I-20 will indicate a "CIP" (Classification of Instructional Program) code next to the major (example: Mathematics has a CIP code of 27.0101)
  • If the CIP code on the I-20 is on the Designated Degree Program List, it should qualify for the STEM Extension
  • STEM minors or concentrations do not qualify for the STEM Extension

In addition, the degree

  • Must have been awarded by a US institution (college or university) within the last ten years
  • The US institution must currently be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to sponsor F-1 students
  • The degree cannot have been used before to obtain a previous STEM Extension (each STEM degree can be used only once to qualify for the STEM Extension)

To apply for the STEM Extension, you must have an offer for a full-time (20 hours per week or more) job offer from a US employer. The job must offer supervised, on-site training in your STEM major. Self-employment and volunteer experiences do not qualify for the STEM Extension.

In addition, the STEM employer:

  • must be a participant in the US government's E-verify program and have an active E-verify number
  • must have sufficient resources and personnel to offer you a bona fide training opportunity in your STEM field
  • must assist you in preparing a Form I-983 Training Plan

While remote (on-line) employment can qualify as an acceptable job offer, the job must still provide you with a supervised professional training experience directly related to your STEM degree. Your employer is expected to provide guidance and supervision as described in the Form I-983 Training Plan.

Staffing and Temporary Agencies

Important restrictions apply if your job offer is from a staffing or temporary agency or consulting firm. Such companies may seek offer students employment 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.

As noted in the 2016 STEM OPT rule, certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through ‘‘temp’’ agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other similar relationships may not be able to demonstrate a bona fide employer-employee relationship and, therefore, may not meet the requirements of the STEM OPT extension.

USCIS will accept your STEM Extension application no earlier than 90 days before the expiration of your post-completion OPT and no later than the last day of your post-completion OPT. Once your post-completion OPT has expired, you can no longer apply for the STEM Extension. 

The International Center recommends that you prepare your STEM Extension well in advance of your OPT expiration date. Take into account that the STEM Extension application is lengthy and can require extensive preparation of a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks before it is ready for filing with USCIS.

Preparing and Submitting Your STEM Application

Once you have determined you are eligible for the STEM extension and you have a job offer from a STEM-eligible E-verify employer, you and your employer must complete and sign a Form I-983 Training Plan. The purpose of the training plan is to describe how the job offer provides you with on-the-job training in your STEM degree. Form I-983 also includes obligations that your employer must accept as a condition of participating in the STEM OPT program.

The Form I-983 must be submitted to the International Center for review to ensure that the form is complete and all signatures have been affixed. While the International Center is not responsible for determining the content or quality of the Training Plan, we may contact you if there are questions about whether or not the job opportunity described on your plan meets the STEM OPT requirements.

The plan should NOT be submitted to USCIS when you apply for the STEM extension; however, all parties (you, your employer, and the International Center) must have a copy available if USCIS requests it when they are reviewing your petition.

Even after your Stem Extension has been approved, you must keep your Form I-983 as you will later need to complete the self-evaluation sections on page 5 of the form. See the section below on "Mandatory Updates, Job Validation Reports, and Self Evaluations."

Once you have completed your Form I-983, you will need to complete the following documents and submit it to the International Center using our electronic ICenter Portal.

  1. Retrieve and save a copy of your I-94 record
  2. Save a scanned copy of your completed and signed Form I-983 Training Plan. Only ink signatures are allowed. Digital signatures/e-signatures are not acceptable.

In addition, the International Center charges a $200 service fee to process STEM application and maintain active STEM SEVIS records. Please pay the STEM OPT Services Fee before submitting your request to the International Center.

Once you have these documents, prepared, submit your  STEM Extension OPT Request to the International Center.

The International Center will review your information and contact you with any questions. In general, once the International Center receives your request, it will take up to 2 weeks for the Center to process a STEM Extension I-20 for you. If you would like your I-20 sent to you by express mail to your US address, you will need to request an express mail voucher using UEMS e-Ship Global.

Once you have received your STEM Extension OPT I-20 from the International Center, sign it in the "Student Attestation" section at the bottom of page 1.

Proceed to file your application online with USCIS: online version of Form I-765. Do not complete this step until you have received an OPT I-20 from the International Center.

Application Deadline

Remember that USCIS must receive your STEM Extension OPT application before or no later than the last day of your current post-completion OPT authorization. In addition, your application must be received within 60 days of the date your STEM Extension I-20 was issued by the International Center.

 

If you would rather file a paper-based OPT application via mail, use the paper version of Form I-765.

If your STEM Extension application is timely filed with USCIS (i.e., USCIS receives a complete application packet before the expiration of your post-completion OPT), then you may commence your employment while waiting for USCIS application to be processed and an EAD card to be issued. This temporary employment authorization is valid for up to 180 days, or until USCIS makes a decision on your application, whichever comes first.

To continue working while your STEM Extension is pending, refer your employer to USCIS Publication M-274, Chapter 6.4.2.

Once your STEM Extension is approved, you will receive an updated I-766 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. You should present the card to your employer so that they can update your employment and payroll records accordingly.

STEM Extension Reporting, Employment, and Update Requirements

During your STEM Extension period, you have several different kinds of mandatory reporting requirements. It is your responsibility to meet these requirements. Failure to do so may lead to the cancellation or loss of your STEM Extension benefit.

Changes to Personal Information: Report within 10 Days

Job Validation Reports: Report Every Six Months

Every six months (at 6, 12, and 18 months) during your STEM Extension period, you are required to confirm your job information and contact information by submitting a STEM Extension Validation Report. Failure to submit a timely job validation report may lead to termination of your STEM Extension benefit.

Self-Evaluations: Report at One Year and at End of Employment 

You must submit a mid-term self-evaluation about the STEM training position after one year and then a final evaluation at the end of the STEM employment period. The self-evaluation forms are found on Page 5 of your I-983 Training Plan. The purpose of the form is for you evaluate your progress on meeting the goals of your STEM training experience. Your employer / supervisor must then sign the self-evaluation, although the self-evaluation should be written by you.

If you quit your STEM OPT training experience before the end of the 24 month period, you must submit a final evaluation at the time you leave your employment.

Once your self-evaluation is completed, you can upload the evaluation form using the International Center Portal.

To ensure the integrity of the program and provide safeguards for US workers, the STEM employer must ensure that

  • it remains actively enrolled in and in good standing with the USCIS E-Verify program
  • it has a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes
  • it reports material changes of the STEM OPT student’s employment by submitting a modified Form I-983 to the DSO at the earliest available opportunity
  • it reports the STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO (internationalcenter@tufts.edu) within 5 business days of the employee's departure
  • it implements a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience
  • it provides a bona fide employer-employee relationship and offers an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated US workers in duties, hours, and compensation
  • it has sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training at the location and for the position described in the Form I-983 training plan
  • it not use the STEM OPT program to replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent US worker

Employers should also note that DHS may, at its discretion, conduct a site visit of the employer to ensure that program requirements are being met, including that the employer possesses and maintains the ability, personnel, and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences consistent with the Training Plan.

Students who have been approved for the STEM extension are given an additional sixty (60) days of unemployment time, in addition to the 90 days of unemployment allowed during the standard post-completion OPT period, for a total of 150 days of unemployment.

If you used any portion of unemployment during your standard post-completion OPT, you may add the additional 60 days to calculate your total unemployment allowance. Unemployment refers to any day in which you do not have a valid, full-time (20 hours per week or more) training opportunity in your STEM degree. Once you reach the maximum 150 days, your STEM Extension benefit may be considered lost. If you are nearing your unemployment maximum, you should prepare to take steps to safeguard your status by either departing the US, returning to school, or seeking a change to another non-immigrant status. We recommend contacting the International Center if you have any questions or concerns about your unemployment allowance.

During the STEM Extension period, you may add or change STEM employers as long as the following requirements are met:

  • Your new employer must have a valid E-Verify Number and must help you with completing a new Form I-983 Training Plan (see the section above, 'Step 1, Complete Form I-983')
    • During STEM OPT, you cannot accept employment from employers who are not participants to the US government's E-Verify Program - any employer must be participants to E-Verify and provide job opportunities of at least 20 hours per week
  • You must submit your new employer and I-983 training plan information to the International Center within ten days using our online STEM OPT Update Form.
  • The International Center must add your new employment information (and, if necessary, remove your old employer) to your I-20 once it has reviewed and approved the new STEM employer and training opportunity

Remember that if you are leaving a STEM employer you must complete a final self-evaluation form, based on Page 5 of the Form I-983 Training Plan that was submitted for that employer.

Stopping or Ending Your STEM OPT Employment

Your STEM Extension employment comes to an end whenever any of these takes place:

  • You reach the end of your 24 month extension, after which you have a 60 day grace period to prepare for departure from the US or to take other steps to maintain your status
  • You voluntarily end your STEM employment and depart the US
  • Your status changes from F-1 to H-1B or another status, thus ending your STEM Extension authorization on the date the change becomes effective

Step 1: Prepare and Submit a Final Self-Evaluation

In all of the above situations, you should prepare a final self-evaluation report (based on page 5 of your most recent Form I-983). You may need to prepare more than one self-evaluation if you were authorized to work for more than one STEM employer. The final self-evaluation is your evaluation of your STEM job experience. It must be signed by you and by your employer before submitting it to the International Center.

Step 2: Notify the International Center

  • If you are completing your 24-month STEM Extension OPT, submit the final self-evaluation through the OPT Reporting Tool. 
  • If you are leaving the US before the end of your STEM extension is over, or if your status is changing from F-1 to another status, send an email to the International Center at internationalcenter@tufts.edu regarding your plans. Indicate your name and intended date of departure (or the date your status will change from F-1 to your new status) so we can be sure your SEVIS record is completed or updated correctly. Provide a copy of your final self-evaluation with your email.

Other Information

Travel on STEM OPT

  • While your STEM Extension application is in process with USCIS, the International Center recommends that you not travel outside the US
    • In addition, if your employer is sponsoring for an H-1B work visa while you are working on STEM, consult with your H-1B employer about travel outside the US
  • Otherwise, travel once your STEM Extension has been approved is similar to international travel while on post-completion OPT - review our Travel Resources and information page