STEM Optional Practical Training

STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) is an additional 24 months off-campus work benefit of F-1 visa holders. Students who are on a period of approved post-completion OPT, with a STEM qualifying degree, may apply for this extension.

Please review the following tutorial video, which provides a STEM OPT overview. Students should also review the information below this video, for step-by-step instructions on submitting the STEM OPT application, and reporting and travel on STEM OPT.
 

STEM OPT OVERVIEW

Applied Economics (MS)
Biology (MS/BS)
Biotechnology (MS)
Business Administration (STEM MBA)
Business Analytics (BS)
Chemistry (MS/BS)
Computer Science (MS/BS)
Data Science (MS/BS)
Digital Health Informatics (MS)
Digital Media and Learning (MA)
Digital Tech Teach Learning (MA)
Economics (BS)
Education Technology (MA)
Energy Systems Management (MS)
Engineering (BS)
Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MS)
Environmental Management (MS)
Environmental Science (BS)
Environmental Studies (BA)
Financial Analysis (MS)
Information Systems (MS)
Int’l Development Economics (MS)
Mathematics (BS)
Marketing Intelligence (MS)
Migration Studies (MA)
Physics (BS)

 

 

Students who have completed a STEM eligible program and are currently in a period of Post-Completion OPT can apply for STEM OPT. Students should apply 90 days before their Post-Completion OPT expires. Once the Post-Completion OPT expires, students are no longer eligible to apply for the STEM extension. 

When applying for STEM OPT, students need to have an employer that is E-Verified and a paid position that is over 20 hours per week. All practical training needs to be directly related to the students' STEM degree. Students can be employed by staffing and temporary agencies or consulting firms for STEM OPT if they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Training Plan. The employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.
 

STEM OPT APPLICATION

  1.  Documents that will be submitted to ISSS:
    • Copy of STEM diploma (If you have not received your diploma, contact USF Register office
    • Passport biographical page
    • Most recent I-94 online record
    • Complete Form I-983 
      • SECTIONS 1 & 2
        • Use your most current I-20 to find information that needs to be filled out in section 1
        • Enter your @usfca.edu email address (without the dons) under Student Email Address
        • Any ISSS Advisor can be listed on I-983 Page 1 for Designated School Official. Visit the ISSS website for a list of advisors. Include the ISSS phone number: (415) 422-2654, email: isss@usfca.edu and USF Address: 2130 Fulton St, San Francisco, CA 94117
        • Unless you are applying for STEM OPT using a previous degree (a degree completed before the USF degree your current OPT is based on), you should check “No” for “Based on prior degree” 
        • The Employment Authorization Number is usually the number on your EAD card  - USCIS # (both should be 9 numerical digits)
        • The signature can be an electronic signature produced with a software program or application, a scanned image of an ink signature, or ink signature
      • SECTIONS 3 & 4
        • Must be completed and signed by the employer and every field needs to be completed 
        • The employer name should match the employer's name listed on E-Verify. The name listed here will be the employer name entered in SEVIS and listed on the I-20
        • Start Date of Employment: Actual start date of employment, or the first day of STEM OPT period, whichever is later
        • Employment must be paid and you have to work over 20 hours per week
        • EIN is a 9 digit Employer Identification Number
        • A complete and valid NAICS code is 6 digits
        • The signature can be an electronic signature produced with a software program or application, a scanned image of an ink signature, or ink signature
      • SECTIONS 5 & 6
        • Employer Site address should be the physical location you are performing your work and will be recorded in SEVIS. If you are working remotely, you should list the address of your remote location.
        • Training plan content should focus on how the training will benefit you and is related to your STEM degree. Make sure you answer each item in the training plan completely. It should be detailed and clear. Additional questions should be directed to the employer on how to fill out the training plan.
        • All supervisor information fields must be completed
        • The signatures can be an electronic signature produced with a software program or application, a scanned image of an ink signature, or ink signature
        • The evaluations on the last page are only required after your STEM OPT is approved and are not needed when applying for STEM OPT. (See STEM OPT Reporting section).
    • Copy of previous degree STEM I-20 (if applying based on prior STEM degree)
  2. Other Documents to Prepare:

    • A 2 x 2 inches digital photo of you - View the photo specifications here.

    • Filing Fee - Online: $410.00 filing fee will be submitted online. 

    • Previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - Prepare a digital copy of the front and back of any previous EAD.

  3. Digital storage information

    • Please prepare copies of your documents in a digital format and store them electronically. Use these guidelines when preparing your documents (See “Preparing your Documents" for digital file requirements)

      • Photos: JPG, JPEG, PNG

      • Docs: JPG, JPEG, PDF, TIF, TIFF

      • Clear and readable

      • No encrypted or password protected files

      • Documents in a foreign language must have English translation with translator’s certification for each original document

      • Document Name: Must only use English letters, numbers, spaces, periods, hyphens, underscores, or parentheses.  No special characters or foreign characters in the document name.

      • Max: 6MB per file

Once you have gathered your STEM OPT documents, you can submit a request for ISSS to recommend you for STEM OPT and make you a new STEM OPT I-20.

  • Submit through MyISSS: Read the instructions and upload the required documents.
    • To access the STEM OPT Extension request form, after clicking the request icon, click on your current OPT employment when the Select Employment box pops up.
  • Required documents to be uploaded:
    • Copy of STEM diploma 
    • Complete Form I-983
    • Passport Biographical Page
    • Most recent I-94 record
  • Students who are applying for STEM OPT based on a prior STEM degree will need to upload these additional documents:
    • Copy of previous STEM diploma (The previous institution has to be a SEVP certified school and accredited by a DoE approved agency)
    • Copy of previous degree STEM I-20 (if applicable)
  • Complete Learning Content, Signature Documents, Assessments

When you receive your USF I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation, review the STEM OPT information on the second page. Then print in color, date, and sign it in black ink. Scan the signed version of the I-20 and save it with your other documents. Your STEM OPT application needs to be submitted to USCIS within 60 days of the I-20 issuance date (the date next to the ISSS staff member's signature on page 1). USCIS has to receive your STEM OPT application before your current twelve-month OPT end date.

  1. Log into your USCIS account: https://myaccount.uscis.gov/
    • This is the same account that you used to submit your OPT application to USCIS. Typically students use their USF email address (without the “dons”) for their USCIS account. 
    • Select: myUSCIS (see image).
    • Select Account Type: “I am an applicant, petitioner, or requestor” and click submit to enter your account and start your I-765 application.
    • Before completing your I-765 application, make sure your personal information, especially your current mailing address, is up-to-date in your USCIS account.
  2. Complete I-765
    • Review the online I-765 content in this PowerPoint. 
    • Upload other required documents *
      • For STEM Extension
        • 2 x 2 photo of you
        • Form I-94
        • Employment Authorization Document and/or government issued ID
        • Form I-20 (with STEM OPT recommendation)
        • College Degree (eDiploma)
        • Note: Institutional Accreditation is ONLY needed if you are applying for STEM OPT based on a prior degree. A prior degree means it is not the same degree that your current Post-Completion OPT is for.
        • *See the "Prepare Your OPT Application Materials" section for information on the USCIS digital file requirements
  3. Paying and Submitting your Application to USCIS:
    • When you pay your fee, your application will be submitted and cannot be reversed/cancelled/withdrawn. This will be your STEM OPT filing date.
    • Click Pay and submit.  You will be redirected to Pay.gov to make your filing fee payment ($410).

Mailing your STEM OPT instead of using the USCIS Online account
Based on the success of the USCIS online STEM OPT submission, ISSS is now instructing students to use this option. If you decide to mail in your application, please prepare all documents and use the correct USCIS address to mail your application to USCIS. The mail-in application requires you to submit a $410.00 check or money order payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, original photos, hardcopies of all the other supporting materials, and the original  I-765 signed with black ink.
 

Look up your case status online
When you apply for STEM OPT to USCIS a paper receipt notice (Form I-797) will be mailed to the address you identified on the I-765 in a few weeks.  You can check your case status online using the receipt number listed on your Form I-797. After submitting your STEM OPT application online, you will also receive a receipt notice message immediately.  You can track your case by checking the Case Status tab in your MyUSCIS account.  

Update your address if you move 
You need to update your physical address through your SEVP account within 10 days of your move. You can find how to access your SEVP account by visiting the “Reporting your OPT employment” section below. 

Am I allowed to continue to work if my STEM OPT is still pending, after my current twelve months OPT ends? 
Yes. While the 24-month STEM OPT extension application is pending, the student’s initial post-completion OPT employment authorization is automatically extended for 180 days, or until the date the application is adjudicated, whichever comes earlier.

Can I travel after my current twelve-month OPT ends, before I receive my STEM OPT EAD card?
ISSS doesn't recommend students to travel before they receive their STEM OPT EAD card. 
 

STEM OPT EMPLOYMENT REPORTING

Students have an additional 60 days of unemployment when they apply for STEM OPT, plus any remaining days of unemployment from their Post-Completion OPT. The maximum number of days of unemployment during the entire three-year period of Post-Completion OPT and STEM OPT is 150 days. During your STEM OPT, your employer needs to be E-Verified, your position needs to be paid and full-time (over 20 hours per week). All employment needs to be in your field of study.

IMPORTANT: SEVP may terminate your SEVIS record if you have not reported your employment through ISSS during STEM OPT or have exceeded the maximum days of unemployment. 
 

When ISSS recommends your STEM OPT in SEVIS you will no longer be able to edit your employer information. However, you should still:

  • Log into the SEVP Portal and review the information for accuracy.
  • View and update your personal address where you are currently living.
  • View your employer information to make sure it is correct. You can only view it, you cannot edit it when you are on STEM OPT. To update your employer, follow the steps below.

Follow these tips for accessing the SEVP Portal account and setting or resetting your password. What you see in the SEVP Portal is what is there. You don’t need to verify that it was reported once you update the SEVP Portal and see your correct information.

  • Look in your USF email account for the SEVP Portal email from do-not-reply.sevp@ice.dhs.gov.
  • Be sure to enter your SEVIS ID exactly as it is written on your Form I-20: ie. N00XXXXXXXX.
  • Some students have reported issues with password creation, so we’ve been instructed to have students use a password that contains a string of special character/number/letter like this: @2b@2b@2b@2b.
  • Use the SEVP Portal password reset option if you forget your password or get locked out.
  • Be sure to double-check the email address you are using to log in. You need to use your USF email account but DO NOT include the “dons”. For example, do not use “xxx21@dons.usfca.edu”, and instead, use “xxx21@usfca.edu”.
  • After creating your initial account be sure to bookmark the link so you can access it easily in the future.

On STEM OPT you will need to report your employment every 6 months from the start of your STEM OPT EAD card.  Students should submit their STEM OPT report to ISSS:

  • No earlier than 30 days before the 6, 12, 18, 24 months due date, and
  • No later than 10 days after the 6, 12, 18, 24 months due date

ISSS will not be able to report the employment participation after 30 days from the due date. If students fail to submit the request to ISSS on time, ISSS will not be able to make any updates in their SEVIS record. A "Past Due" warning will be listed in students’ SEVP portal if they miss reporting their employment.

Please report your STEM OPT Employment on MyISSS and report the required information:

  • 6 Month Employment Report – report your address and employer information 6 months from your STEM OPT start date.
  • 12 Month Employment Report – report your address and employer information 12 months from your STEM OPT start date. Attach your STEM 12 Month Evaluation from the I-983. (See page 5 of the ICE Form I-983, Evaluation on Student Progress). All pages of the I-983 need to be submitted with the evaluation.
  • 18 Month Employment Report – report your address and employer information 18 months from your STEM OPT start date.
  • 24 Month Employment Report – report your address and employer information 24 months from your STEM OPT start date. Attach your STEM 24 Month Evaluation from the I-983. (See page 5 of the ICE Form I-983,  Final Evaluation on Student Progress). All pages of the I-983 need to be submitted with the evaluation.

When you have a change in your employment you will need to complete the following employment reports within ten days of the change. Please report your STEM OPT Employment on MyISSS and report the required information:

  • New Employer Report: Report a new employer and attach a new ICE Form I-983 training plan completed with the new employer. (See I-983 instructions in the STEM OPT application section.)
  • Change in Employment Report: You and your employer need to complete, sign and date, a new I-983 and report an employment update if there is a material change in your employment. This may include a change of the employer’s EIN, a reduction in pay or hours, or a change in the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.
  • End of Employment Report: Report when you stop working with an employer and attach a final evaluation with this report. (See page 5 of the ICE Form I-983,  Final Evaluation on Student Progress).

TRAVEL WHILE YOU ARE ON STEM OPT

While your STEM OPT is pending, we advise you to only travel before your current 12 month OPT EAD card end date and carry a STEM OPT application receipt along with other documents that you would travel with while you are on Post Completion OPT.

Once your STEM OPT is approved, you will need the following documents for travel:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • STEM OPT EAD card
  • STEM OPT I-20 with travel signature endorsement singed in the past six months on the second page
  • Employer letter (for employer letter content, please see below) 

When traveling on OPT or STEM OPT it is required to have a letter from your employer to show that you are utilizing your OPT benefit and are not accruing excess days of unemployment. This letter will differ depending on your work situation, but it should include as much of the following as possible:

  • Be on company letterhead with company name and address
  • Contain a brief description of job duties (related to the field of study)
  • State the dates of employment or at least a start date
  • Verify the number of hours you are working
  • If you are traveling, the letter should confirm that you will continue your employment when you return
  • Letter should be signed by a supervisor

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Please submit a STEM OPT Employment Update request through MyISSS, upload your I-983 completed by the new employer and add a note in the Comments section to say that your STEM OPT is pending. Once the submission is complete and ISSS processes your new I-20, you will need to sign the electronic I-20 and email the I-20 back to your ISSS advisor, along with your STEM OPT extension receipt from USCIS. ISSS can notify the government about your STEM employment changes once we have the signed I-20 and the USCIS receipt.
 

From the SEVP guidance, students are required to submit an updated I-983 if there is a material change to their employment. Below is a list of material changes that are listed on the government website. Please review and discuss with your employer to decide if you need to submit an updated I-983. If you need to submit the updated I-983, you can submit it through MyISSS

Material changes or deviations from the original Form I-983 may include, but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer’s EIN.
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked.
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity.
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or student’s learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983.
  • Changes to the employer’s or employee’s physical working address

If you have ended your STEM OPT you should complete a STEM OPT End of Employment report (upload final evaluation on the I-983). If you have changed to H1B then you will need to also submit a Visa Category Update request (upload proof that you are in H1B status). Please submit these two separate requests to ISSS on the same day. If your I-94 shows that you are now in H1B status, ISSS will make sure that your STEM OPT and F1 SEVIS record is properly ended for this reason.
 

It is important to make a copy of your EAD card for your records. If you have lost the card then you will still have a copy. You can apply for a replacement EAD card through the USCIS online process. You will complete the I-765 and indicate that you are replacing a card. First request an I-20 reprint from ISSS that shows your STEM OPT is approved. You will need to provide copies of your supporting documents: OPT I-20 with STEM OPT approval, OPT approval notice, EAD card copy if available, and pay the filing fee again.

If you previously provided your employer with your EAD card, you can continue to work while you are waiting for your new EAD card. If you need to show your current employer or a new employer that you are eligible to work in the US, you can show your I-765 receipt notice for the EAD replacement. The receipt notice can be used as proof of temporary work authorization for 90 days and you would then provide your card to your employer when it arrives.