STEM OPT 24-Month Extension

Current USCIS Processing Times for OPT Applications: 
 Click here  to view USCIS's estimated case processing times. Select  Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”.  If you are planning on travel while OPT is pending, please review the risks of travel with pending OPT or STEM OPT.

STEM OPT 24-Month Extension

Eligible students currently on 12-Month OPT may qualify to apply for a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension to receive an additional 2 years of employment authorization directly related to their STEM degree program. To check if a specific UCB major is STEM eligible, review the Berkeley International Office UCB Major/CIP Code List.

Detailed information for students and employers can also be found on the DHS webpage Study in the States OPT STEM Hub.

UC Berkeley Departments hiring F-1 students on STEM OPT Extension should review the Hiring Scholars on F-1 OPT webpage.

STAGE 1: KNOW THE STEM OPT EXTENSION BASICS

The STEM OPT Extension is a 24-month extension of approved F-1 12-Month OPT.  Eligible students may apply for a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension up to 90 days prior to the expiration of their current  OPT EAD.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the STEM OPT Extension OPT:

  • You must be a recipient of a U.S. Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) designated degree program. You can check if your UCB major is STEM eligible using the Berkeley International Office UCB Major/CIP Code List OR see the current STEM Designated Degree list linked here. (You can check the CIP code listed on your I-20.) You can apply based on any previous STEM degree from an SEVP, accredited U.S. institution within the last 10 years.
  • You must be currently authorized for 12-month OPT and have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment.
  • You must be employed for at least 20 hours per week (or have a future job offer) directly related to your STEM field of study from an employer who is registered in the USCIS E-Verify Program.
  • Your employer must have an EIN number.
  • Employment must be paid and "commensurate with the terms and conditions of employment for other similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment”. Volunteer (unpaid) employment is NOT permitted.
  • Your employer is able to fully complete the Form I-983 and abide by all employer obligations, including Dept. of Homeland Security Site visits.
  • You are applying no more than 90 days before your 12-month OPT expires and no later than the expiration of your 12-month OPT EAD*

* For E-filed applications, USCIS uses UTC or Coordinated Universal Time to determine the time/date filed. If you are filing CLOSE to your deadline check the UTC time/date of filing!

Do I need a job to apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

YES! You must be employed or have a future job offer for at least 20 hours per week or more, directly related to your STEM field of study from an employer who is registered in the USCIS E-Verify Program. STEM-eligible employers must have e-Verify & EIN numbers and the student must have a "bona fide employer-employee relationship". To establish a bona fide relationship, the employer may not be the student’s “employer” in name only. Employment must be paid and "commensurate with the terms and conditions of employment for other similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment”. Volunteer (unpaid) employment is NOT permitted.

See the Employment/Unemployment section below regarding what types of employment are allowed.

What visa status will I have while waiting for STEM OPT approval? And while I am working on the STEM OPT?

During your pending STEM OPT application and after the  STEM OPT approval by USCIS, F-1 students will remain in F-1 status under the I-20 sponsorship of UC Berkeley. The STEM OPT Extension  is a benefit of your F-1 status and extends your ability to remain in the United States for the purpose of seeking employment in your STEM field of study. This means that you will continue to use your UC Berkeley STEM OPT I-20 and F-1 documents to travel and you will still need to get fresh travel signatures from BIO (every 6 months). This also means that BIO is still responsible for reporting changes about your status to SEVIS and helping you maintain your F-1 status while you are on OPT.

Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the U.S.?

Yes, you will need a Social Security Number (SSN) for any paid employment in the United States. If you haven’t already received an SSN during your OPT period, you can apply for a replacement SSN as part of your STEM OPT application to USCIS. (Or if you lost your original SSN card, you can apply for a replacement at that time.) You will not receive the SSN card until after your STEM OPT is approved.

STAGE 2: APPLY FOR THE STEM OPT EXTENSION

The application process involves both BIO and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and can take months. STEM OPT applications must be received in a specific time frame and the application can be rather complex. We require all students to carefully review BIO's STEM OPT tutorial for full details on applying for STEM OPT. Once a student is approved for STEM OPT, they will receive a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS.

When to Apply

The STEM OPT application process involves two major parts. First you must apply to BIO for a STEM OPT recommendation on your I-20. Then you must submit a STEM OPT application, including a signed copy of your STEM OPT I-20, to USCIS. Keep in mind that BIO has a 5-business day processing time for the STEM I-20. (You must submit your STEM I-20 request AT LEAST 2 weeks before your current OPT EAD expires).

  • You can apply for STEM OPT extension up to 90 days before the expiration of your OPT EAD card.
  • USCIS must receive your application before the expiration date of your OPT EAD card. Check your OPT EAD card for the expiration date.*
  • USCIS must also receive your application within 60 days of when BIO recommends your I-20 for STEM OPT extension.
  • You must be physically present in the United States at the time USCIS receives your STEM OPT application. More details are available in the STEM OPT tutorial.

* For E-filed applications, USCIS uses UTC or Coordinated Universal Time to determine the time/date filed. If you are filing CLOSE to your deadline check the UTC time/date of filing!

Generally, BIO recommends applying for STEM OPT as early as possible. Applying early increases your chances of being able to reapply if your application is rejected or denied.

How to Apply

Step 1. Check if your UCB major is STEM eligible using the Berkeley International Office UCB Major/CIP Code List OR see the current STEM Designated Degree list linked here. (You can check the CIP code listed on your I-20.)

Step 2. Review the STEM OPT tutorial for a complete overview of the process. for detailed instructions on both the BIO application process and submission to USCIS. Pay careful attention to the tutorial as it contains specific information as to how to complete the I-983. It is required that you view the tutorial prior to applying. Failure to fully review the tutorial may result in application errors and cause OPT denials or violations of F-1 status.

Step 3. Log in to the Student SEVIS Update (SSU) system to submit your STEM application to BIO. (Follow all steps carefully as most processing delays are due to failure to update all new required fields in SSU.) You must:

  • Update all current & previous OPT employment
  • Update your current address/email/phone
  • Upload a copy of your OPT EAD
  • Click the "Apply for STEM OPT Extension" link at the bottom of the SSU Hub homepage to start your application. You will be asked to identify your STEM employer, provide additional information and upload a copy of Form I-983 Training Plan.

Step 4. Submit your $550 Post-Completion Services Fee to BIO.Credit/Debit Card: Make your payment in your SSU Hub by clicking the "Submit STEM OPT Post-Completion Fee Payment" link at the bottom of the SSU Hub homepage.

Step 5. BIO will issue you a new STEM OPT I-20 with a 24-Month Extension recommendation. You will provide your delivery method for the I-20 in your SSU Hub form (email recommended!) Your new I-20 will be ready within 5 business days. Upon receipt of your I-20, please review it closely for accuracy.

Step 6. Submit a 24-Month STEM Extension request to USCIS. (Detailed instructions available in the STEM OPT tutorial)

How do I choose my  STEM OPT start date?

You don’t need to choose a start date! Your STEM OPT will be issued with a start date effective the day after your original 12-Month OPT EAD expires. As long as you have submitted a timely filed STEM application to USCIS, you can continue working for up to 180 days after the expiration of your original OPT EAD while you wait for the STEM EAD approval.

Processing Time

BIO I-20 Processing

Processing time for an OPT STEM I-20 from Berkeley International Office is 5 business days. Expedites are not available.

USCIS Processing

Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)

USCIS almost always denies F-1 student expedite requests for OPT. You can find USCIS expedite criteria here. USCIS may consider expediting if the request meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person, if expedite is not due to applicant’s failure: (1) to file the benefit request in a reasonable time frame; or (2) to respond to any RFE in a timely manner;
  • Urgent humanitarian reasons;
  • Compelling U.S. Government interests (such as urgent cases for the Department of Defense or DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
  • Clear USCIS error.

NOTE: 1) Severe financial loss to a company means the company would be at risk of failing. 2) The need to obtain employment authorization, standing alone, without evidence of other compelling factors, does not warrant expedited treatment.

What if I made a mistake when filing for STEM OPT with USCIS?

See the OPT STEM tutorial for common STEM denial reasons. Contact BIO as soon as possible regarding the error, and we will see what options are available to you.

What if I applied for STEM OPT  and I lost my job, or I am changing employers while the I-765 is pending?

If this is your situation, please contact BIO to speak to an international student adviser as soon as possible so that we can advise you on next steps.

Additional STEM OPT Extension Documents

In some special STEM OPT Extension cases, you may need to submit additional documentation to USCIS with your STEM application. Review below to see if you will require additional documentation.

Concurrent H-1B & STEM Applications

Filing an H-1B and a STEM applications concurrently can sometimes cause complications in your SEVIS record. You should only apply for an OPT STEM Extension before your OPT EAD expires, even if you have received a H1-B Cap Gap Extension of your I-20 until Sept 30. (If your company has applied for an H1B on your behalf via consular processing, you will not be eligible for a cap gap, so you will not need either of letters.) If you are planning to file for an H-1B and STEM at the same time, BIO recommends including one of the following letters with your STEM Extension application to USCIS:

  • STEM/Cap-Gap Letter: Include this letter if a Cap-Gap Extension appears on your STEM OPT I-20 on page 2. Example: 
  • STEM/H1B Letter: Include this letter if NO Cap-Gap Extension currently appears on your I-20, but your employer has already filed a USCIS change of status H-1B for you AND your OPT expires before 9/30. (Does NOT apply to consular processing H1-Bs.)

CIP Code/Major Name Mismatch

STAGE 3: AFTER APPLYING FOR THE STEM OPT EXTENSION

After you apply for STEM OPT, you will wait for USCIS approval. During your STEM OPT period, you will have new F-1 rules regarding employment and unemployment, reporting  personal and employment information to BIO and SEVIS, as well as options when you come to the end of your F-1 24-month Month STEM OPT period.

Waiting for Your OPT STEM EAD Card

It can take months for USCIS to process your OPT application and it is not possible to expedite the process. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times to see the current timelines. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)

Checking your STEM OPT application status

If you E-FILE, you will be able to track your Case Status via your online USCIS account.

Note that your application will most likely stay in received status for the entirety of the processing time until it is approved. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)

What to Expect

The first week: E-FILE: You should receive your receipt notice online through your USCIS account. If there are any errors in the receipt notice in your name, address, or application type, contact a BIO adviser.

Within 30-45 days: You will also receive an I-797c receipt notice at your mailing address confirming the date of receipt and your receipt number. Keep this notice safe as it is your official proof that your OPT application was submitted. You may need it for travel or other purposes.

Around 1-3 months: You should receive an I-797 Notice of Approval letter and EAD card at your mailing address. (If E-FILING you will also receive the notice in your USCIS account.) These can come separately or at the same time. Check your EAD card to make sure all information is correct and upload it to BIO's SSU Hub. Be sure to update your employer with your new EAD card! If there are any errors on the EAD, contact a BIO adviser. Check USCIS’s current OPT and STEM OPT processing times. Select Form: “I-765”Form Category: “Based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]” Service Center: “Potomac Service Center”. (Over the years, BIO has observed processing times ranging from 1-5 months, with most processed within 90 days.)

2 Weeks after receiving EAD card: if you requested a new Social Security card, you should receive your Social Security Card in the mail.

Making changes to your I-765 STEM OPT application after submission to USCIS

Generally, after your STEM OPT application is submitted to USCIS, you cannot change any of the information except for your mailing address. Click here for information about making changes to your STEM OPT Extension application, including withdrawing your application.

Can I work while waiting for my STEM OPT EAD?

As long as you have submitted a timely filed STEM application to USCIS, you can continue working for up to 180 days after the expiration of your original OPT EAD while you wait for the STEM EAD approval. You may need to provide your employer with a copy of your I-765 receipt notice as evidence that the application is still pending. If your employer has questions, you can direct them to the USCIS I-9 page for “Foreign Academic Students”.

What if my STEM OPT EAD is still  pending more than 180 days after my 12 Month OPT EAD expires?

You would need to stop working immediately. Contact BIO if you are nearing your limit, and we can try to contact USCIS about your case.

Travel while STEM OPT is pending

Travel during the STEM OPT application process is allowed, but not always recommended as it poses certain risks.  See our OPT Travel page for information on these risks as well as to learn about other requirements for travel while STEM OPT is pending.

Problems with my STEM OPT Application

There are several types of problems that may occur during your OPT application:

  • Delayed processing
  • Not receiving your I-797c Receipt Notice
  • Not receiving your EAD/EAD (lost in the mail)
  • Request for Evidence, Denial, or Rejection (CONTACT BIO ADVISOR BEFORE RESPONDING TO USCIS!)
  • Lost EAD or Incorrect EAD

See Issues with OPT Application for further information and instructions. Please contact your BIO Advisor if you are experiencing issues.

Employment & Unemployment on OPT

During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment. There are limits to what jobs count as employment and to the number of days you may remain unemployed.

When can I start working?

As long as you have submitted a timely filed STEM application to USCIS, you can continue working for up to 180 days after the expiration of your original OPT EAD while you wait for the STEM EAD approval.

What kind of jobs can qualify for the STEM OPT Extension?

  • STEM-eligible employers must have e-Verify & EIN numbers and the student must have a "bona fide employer-employee relationship". To establish a bona fide relationship, the employer may not be the student’s “employer” in name only.
  • You must be employed or have a future job offer directly related to your STEM field of study
  • The job must be at least 20 or more hours per week
  • Volunteer/Unpaid positions and self employment are NOT allowed by the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension.
  • Cannabis Industry- be aware that use and sale of cannabis is illegal at the federal level, although it may be legal in some U.S. states. To avoid possible deportation or inadmissibility from the US, students should avoid positions related to federally illegal substances.

According to USCIS Guidance:

  • Under no circumstances would another F-1 student on OPT or a STEM OPT Extension be qualified to train another F-1 student on a STEM OPT Extension.
  • The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that provides the practical training experience to the student.
  • The employer has sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the STEM opportunity at the location(s) specified in the Form I-983.
  • The “personnel” who provide/supervise the training experience may be either employees of the employer, or contractors who the employer has directly retained to provide services to the employer; they may not be employees or contractors of the employer’s clients or customers.
  • DHS will review on a case-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.

Can I be employed by a Temp or Staffing Agency, or via a 3rd Party Worksite under the STEM OPT Extension?

  • Staffing and temporary agencies may employ students 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.
  • A STEM OPT employer may not assign, or otherwise delegate, its training responsibilities to a non-employer third party (e.g., a client/customer of the employer, employees of the client/customer, or contractors of the client/customer).
  • According to guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program If a student uses a temporary or staffing agency to place them in a training opportunity, the agency cannot complete and sign the Form I-983, "Training Plan for STEM OPT Students" unless:
    • The staffing/placement agency is an E-verified employer of the student,
    • The staffing/placement agency provides and oversees the training.

What are my unemployment limits during STEM OPT?

  • During 12-month OPT you have a maximum of 90 days of unemployment over the 12 month period. During the STEM period you are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment.
  • After your STEM OPT Extension approval, the total allowed unemployment days extends to a maximum of 150 days of unemployment during the entire OPT/STEM period, beginning from the start of your original 12-month OPT EAD card.
  • This is NOT just 150 days at the beginning of OPT or STEM. You are only allowed 150 total days over the entire 3 years.

How do I know if my job is related to my degree?

Federal regulations require that all employment that you engage in while on STEM OPT be directly related to your STEM major. As part of your STEM OPT authorization process, you’ll need to complete an I-983 Training plan for any new employer and explain the direct relation to your STEM major.

If the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship. BIO won't be able to advise you on specifically which jobs do/do not qualify as we are not experts in your field of study. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic adviser, the Career Center, or others in your field.

What documentation/records should I keep about my employment?

It is recommended that students maintain evidence for each job: the position held, duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. Students must always report employment to BIO online through our Student SEVIS Update (SSU) form. See OPT Reporting Requirements.

Can I change employers? Can I have multiple employers?

It’s possible to change employers during the STEM period, or have multiple employers. You need to request authorization on your STEM I-20 in advance of beginning any new position. Each and every job during the STEM period must meet all STEM requirements:

Federal law requires that you must update your employer information in BIO's online Student SEVIS Update (SSU) within 10 days of the change. See OPT Reporting Requirements for step-by-step instructions on how to add the new employer to your STEM I-20.

Rules and Reporting Requirements on STEM OPT Extension

While on OPT, students must follow certain rules and regulations to maintain their proper F-1 status in the U.S.

Rules to follow while on STEM OPT

During the period of OPT authorization, a student should be working or actively seeking employment.

The top 5 rules to remember while on STEM OPT are:

  1. All employment must be STEM eligible and authorized on your I-20
  2. You must report all employment and address changes to BIO within 10 days of any change (see Reporting Requirements).
  3. You must submit validation or Evaluation reports every 6 months via the BIO SSU Hub, a total of 4 validations in total over 24-month OPT STEM Extension time. (See Reporting Requirements).
    • 2 6-Month Validation Reports (at 6 and 18 months)
    • 2 Annual or Final Evaluation reports (at 12 and 24 months)
  4. You are limited to 150 days of unemployment from the start of your 12-month OPT EAD until the end of your STEM OPT EAD.
  5. The travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 is valid only 6 months while on STEM. OPT.

Reporting Requirements

STEM OPT has very specific reporting requirements. You submit all updates online via the BIO SSU Hub.

  • You must report any changes to your employment, address, and/or name within 10 days.
  • You must report Material Changes to your I-983 to BIO within 10 days.
  • You must complete a validation report every 6 months. During your 12 and 24 Month validation, you are required to submit an Evaluation of Student Progress (Page 5 of the I-983)
  • You must complete a Final Evaluation (page 5 of the I-983) if you end an employer

See STEM Reporting Requirements for instructions on how to submit updates, validations, and evaluations.

Taking classes while on STEM OPT

Time spent going to school should only be an incidental part of your stay in the United States. You must be maintaining the primary purpose of STEM OPT. Beginning a full-time or degree-seeking program of study while on OPT is not allowed.

If you decide to go back to school full-time, you will need to transfer your SEVIS Record and I-20 to the new school. If returning to UC Berkeley, you'll need to obtain a new I-20 to reflect your new degree. See Going back to school in the United States below.

Paying & Reporting Taxes

While on STEM OPT, you are subject to all applicable federal, state, and local taxes and must file a tax report. See more information at Taxes in the U.S.

Health Insurance

Students who complete a program of study are no longer eligible to purchase a Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Health insurance is highly recommended due to the high cost of health care in the United States.

The Tang Center has information about insurance plans that can be purchased after graduation. BIO is aware of the following providers that have F-1 OPT health insurance options. BIO does not endorse any particular plans, and students should research and compare plans to determine if the coverage is sufficient for their needs.

Travel on STEM OPT

Please see our OPT Travel page for more information regarding what you need to know about travel while on pending or approved  STEM OPT.

Extensions of STEM OPT

In some cases, students may apply to extend their STEM OPT.

H-1B Visa and Cap Gap Extensions

A Cap-Gap Extension extends an eligible F-1 student's status between the end of F-1 status while on STEM OPT and start of H-1B status. This allows the student to remain in the United States during the "gap."

Options After OPT/Ending OPT

You are allowed a 60-day grace period following your OPT expiration date to leave the United States, change your visa status, or transfer your F-1 record to a new school or program. In some cases, you may want to pursue these options before the end of your OPT. If you remain in the United States past the end of your 60-day grace period without transferring to a new school or program or having applied for a timely filed Change of Status, this is a violation of your F-1 status and could lead to current or future consequences to your US visa record.

Leaving the United States

If your plan is to depart the United States after your STEM OPT, you must do so within your 60-day grace period. You must stop working by the end date on your STEM EAD card.

If you are leaving the United States before the end date on your EAD, you must report this to Berkeley International Office so we can update your SEVIS record. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions.

Changing visa status

During STEM OPT: If you are approved for a change of visa status during your OPT, you must report this to Berkeley International Office so we can update your SEVIS record. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions

After OPT: If you have a pending or approved change of status when or after your OPT ends, check with the immigration legal counsel working on your change of status application to determine what options are available to you and if you may remain in the United States past the end of your 60-day grace period without a negative impact to your immigration status

H-1B: If you have a pending or approved change of status to H-1B, you may be eligible for a Cap-Gap Extension I-20. Please consult with the immigration legal counsel working on your case.

Going back to school in the United States

During STEM OPT: Beginning a full-time program of study while on STEM OPT is not allowed. If you wish to start a new program while on STEM OPT, the remainder of the STEM OPT must be forfeited before beginning classes with the new program. If you are beginning a program of study at another U.S. school, you must request a Transfer Out of your F-1 SEVIS record to another school. If you are beginning a new program of study at UC Berkeley, you must request a Change of Level I-20. See Reporting the Early Completion of your OPT for step-by-step instructions

After STEM OPT: If you are planning to go back to school after your STEM OPT, you will need to request a Transfer Out of your F-1 SEVIS record to another school or request a Change of Level I-20 if returning to UC Berkeley. This must be done before the end of the 60-day grace period following the STEM OPT end date.

  • Students should keep in mind the following points when deciding on when to request a Transfer Out of their SEVIS record:
  • The SEVIS transfer release date can be within the STEM OPT period dates listed on the EAD or up to 60 days after the expiration date on the EAD.
  • Students may request a release date in the future and continue working on STEM OPT until that date as long as the EAD has not expired and the new program of study has not yet begun.
  • After the SEVIS transfer release date has passed, students may not continue working on STEM OPT, even if the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has not expired. The release date, in effect, cancels the EAD.
  • Classes at the new school must begin within 5 months of the transfer release date or the end date on the EAD, whichever is earlier. If the time period between the OPT end date and the start date of classes at the new school will be more than five months, please meet with a BIO adviser to discuss your options.

If interested in joining a program that does not have the authorization to admit F-1 students and thus cannot issue an I-20, students should discuss their options with the International Student Adviser at that school.