F-1 OPT: STEM Extensions
F-1 students who pursued their US degree in a qualified field of Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) and are currently pursuing their initial 12-month F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization period may be eligible to apply for an extension of their work authorization. This benefit was originally introduced in 2008 and has been in effect since then. However, on May 10, 2016, new Federal regulations take effect governing the STEM Extension OPT option. In effect, UR students may be subject to either the 2008 STEM Rule or the 2016 STEM Rule, depending on their individual circumstances.
17-month STEM Extensions (2008 Rule)
The conditions and requirements of the 17-month STEM Extension remain in effect for any student who already received a STEM authorization prior to May 9, 2016. These students will be able to continue using their current work permission under the 2008 rule and were not required to obtain a new STEM authorization. It is no longer possible for students to change from 17-months to the 24-month STEM Extension, since the transition period ended in August 2016. Similarly, this version of the rule is now expired for any new STEM extensions and you must meet all conditions of the 2016 rule (below) in order to apply for extended OPT work permissions at this time.
24-month STEM Extensions (2016 Rule)
The revised STEM rule includes important changes from the previous rule, such as expanded eligibility and time limits along with additional requirements on training objectives and record-keeping. In summary:
- STEM Extension OPT will be granted for 24 months, following an approved and unexpired 12-month OPT period, for students who have completed a US degree program in a STEM-designated field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
- Eligible students will be able to apply for this benefit based on a previous STEM degree earned in the US, provided it was completed within 10 years of the school’s recommendation for the new STEM Extension.
- The STEM Extension will be available twice during a student’s lifetime, provided the second authorization period follows completion of a higher level STEM degree than the first approved extension.
- During the authorized 24-month STEM Extension, a 150-day unemployment limit will be available as an aggregate total over the 3 years of OPT and STEM Extension periods combined.
- The Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students will need to be maintained between the student and their employer, describing specific goals and achievement methods of the training opportunity, a performance evaluation process, and supervisory structure throughout the STEM Extension period. Form I-983 will need to updated for any change(s) and submitted to ISO promptly.
- Employers will need to accept certain employer responsibilities and criteria in order to host a STEM Extension trainee, including enrollment in E-Verify, verification of annual evaluations, protections for US workers under comparable duties, hours, and compensation, and reporting to ISO. Employers may also be subject to site visits from the US Department of Homeland Security to evaluate the training resources and structure.
See ISO's STEM Extension Workshop resources. Additionally, government guidance and resources for STEM Extensions can be found on the Study in the States website: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub.