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OPT Extension for STEM Degree Students

A 17-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available for certain F-1 nonimmigrant students. This extension is not available to all F-1 students on OPT. This page is designed to help students understand who is eligible for the extension, the steps students must take to apply for the extension, the benefits the extension gives to students and their employers, and the obligations students and employers have during the extension.

Overview of OPT STEM

All F-1 nonimmigrant students can be authorized for 12 months of post completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT can be extended from 12 months to 29 for F-1 students who have completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and who are employed by employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment verification program. E-Verify is a free internet-based system which is operated by USCIS, in partnership with the Social Security Administration and determines a new employee’s eligibility to work. Students who have yet to complete the degree are not eligible for the 17-month extension.

OPT STEM Reporting

This rule has several reporting components. It requires F-1 students on authorized OPT to report changes in the student’s name or address and changes in the employer’s name or address. It requires students every 6 months verify the accuracy of this information with his or her school. The rule requires the employers of F-1 students who have received an extension of post-completion OPT authorization to report to the student’s Designated School Official (DSO) within 48 hours of the termination or completion of a student's employment with that employer, if it ends prior to the end of the authorized period of OPT.

Maintaining Continuous Employment

A student who has properly filed Form I-765 for OPT extension prior to the expiration of his or her post-completion OPT EAD is allowed to maintain continuous employment for up to 180 days while USCIS adjudicates the extension request. Application can be made 120 days in advance of the expiration of the post completion EAD. The rule also provides relief for students seeking H-1B specialty worker status and for the employers who wish to hire them.

The status of F-1 students, as well as their work authorization, is automatically extended if a timely-filed H-1B petition has been granted by, or remains pending with, USCIS. This means that anyone whose OPT expires between April 1 and September 30, whose employer has filed an H-1B application with the USCIS, can remain employed as long the petition remains pending (i.e. it is accepted for inclusion in the H1-B lottery) or the petition has been approved for an October 1st start date. However, such students are required to obtain a new I-20 form from UC International Services showing an OPT recommendation that extends the employment beyond expiration of the EAD card. Students will need to provide UC International Services with proof of H-1B receipt or approval in order to obtain the new I-20 form.

OPT STEM Limitations

There are limits to the amount of time a student can remain in the U.S. on OPT while being unemployed. Students can remain on OPT while unemployed for an aggregate of 90 days during a 12 month OPT period. Students who receive the 17-month OPT extension can remain unemployed for an aggregate of 120 days. You will be expected to depart the U.S. after 90 or 120 days (whichever applies to you) of unemployment.

OPT STEM Eligibility

In order for you to take advantage of the OPT extension, your degree, as shown on your I-20 form in SEVIS, must be in a degree field that is on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List. STEM refers to degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. This means if your degree is in such fields as business, education, the humanities, social sciences or visual and performing arts, you will not be able to apply for an extension of your OPT.

A list of STEM fields can be found here.

E-Verify Employers

In addition, your employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify Employment Verification Program operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Currently, it is estimated that only about 1% of employers nation-wide are registered participants in E-Verify. If your employer is not registered in the E-Verify system, you CANNOT apply for extension of your OPT, even if your field of study is on the STEM degree list. Employers must also agree to report termination of your employment to UC International Services no later than 48 hours after your employment has ended. Employers interested in becoming enrolled can visit the E-Verify site at https://e-verify.uscis.gov/enroll.

Unemployment During OPT

DHS regulations define the period of an F-1 student’s valid status as the time the student is pursuing a full course of study or is engaged in authorized post-completion Optional Practical Training, plus a 60 day grace period. The DHS has established an aggregate maximum period of allowed unemployment of 90 days for students on 12-month OPT. Students who qualify for and receive the 17-month OPT extension can be unemployed for an aggregate of 120 days.

Exceptions to the 90 days of unemployment includes periods of up to 10 days between one job ending and another one starting, and 10 days from the beginning of the EAD card. Volunteer (unpaid) employment while on post-completion OPT does not accrue unemployment time provided the volunteer work is for 20 hours per week or more. Volunteer work is not available during the 17 month STEM extension. Unemployment does not count during pre-completion OPT.

This particular part of the rule also puts responsibility on students to keep UC International Services up to date with the name and address of your OPT employer. Unless we have the SEVIS system updated with the name and address of your employer, you will be accumulating unemployment time in SEVIS. Once you have reached the 90 or 120 day maximum your F-1 status will be terminated.

For those of you currently looking for employment, please notify UC International Services with the name and address of your employer once employment is secured. If you don’t secure employment within the 90 days of beginning your OPT, you will be expected to depart the U.S. or otherwise take steps to maintain proper F-1 status (get a new I-20 to start a new program of study).

H-1B Cap-Gap Relief

Perhaps the most significant part of the OPT regulations relates to what is called "cap-gap" relief. This rule extends the status and work authorization of any F-1 student whose OPT EAD expires between April 1 and September 20 if the student is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This rule applies to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization automatically terminates upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

Students are required to obtain a new I-20 form from UC International Services showing an OPT recommendation that covers this "cap-gap" period. Students will need to provide UC International Services with proof of H-1B receipt or approval in order to obtain the new I-20 form. Cap-gap students can apply for the OPT extension even if the current OPT has expired, but the student would need to have the employer request a withdrawal of the approved or pending H-1B petition before 10/01. Students need to supply evidence that a withdrawal request has been made.

OPT STEM Extension Authorization

Eligible students who wish to extend their OPT must submit the Optional Practical Training Request eForm in iStart. You will be required to upload all the documents below when submitting the eForm and forward the original documents to us when approved:

  1. Copies of all I-20’s ever issued to you; your unexpired passport; I-94 card (front and back) or the electronic I-94 card, your F-1 visa stamp, and a copy of your degree.
  2. Copy of your transcript showing degree completion and the field of study.
  3. Check for $380.00 made out to "the Department of Homeland Security."
  4. 2 photos of yourself (see attached example sheet). The photos must meet the following format: color photos with a white background. Photos should be unmounted, printed on thin paper, glossy and unretouched. The photos should be passport style. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photos should be 2 x 2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin measuring 1 inch to 1 3/8 inches. Lightly print your name and your I-94 card# on the back of each photo with a pencil. For your convenience, you can obtain the required photos in two locations on campus. They are:  (1) Photographic Services  Location: 3300 Edwards Center Two Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m Phone: 556-3301 Price: $7.50 for a set of two.  (2) Medical Photography  Location: Rm. G44 HPB (Health Professsions Bldg) Hours: 1:30 – 4:30 MWF by Appointment Phone: 558-6111 Price: $12.05 set of 2 prints.
  5. Completed I-765 Form. USCIS has amended form I-765 to add, among other things, a revised question #16 and a new question #17. Question #16 asks for the code that reflects the type of OPT you are requesting. You should put (c)(3)(C) as the code. Question #17 asks students to identify the degree you have received. You will need to attach a copy of your transcript showing degree completion and the field of study. It will also ask you to provide the name of your employer as listed in E-Verify and their E-Verify company ID number or, if the employer is using a Designated Agent to perform the E-Verify queries, a valid E-Verify Client Company I.D. number. You will need to get this information from your employer.
  6. Standard business-sized envelope holding required photos and check to DHS. Do not seal the envelope!
  7. A copy of your current Optional Practical Training card (and copies of all other EAD’s or denial notices you have been issued).
  8. Name and address of the employer and the name and email address of supervisor. Please put these on a separate sheet of paper.

UC International Services will process your request and return the OPT application to you for mailing to the USCIS within 5 business days.