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OPT 24-month STEM extension

Certain science, technology, engineering and math degree holders on OPT are eligible to extend their 12-month work authorization by 24 months, for a total of 36 months. You are allowed a maximum of two STEM extensions over the course of your academic career. In order to participate twice, you must earn the second degree at a higher education level. You must also be on OPT when you submit your STEM extension application to USCIS.

To find out whether you qualify for a 24-month STEM extension, look for the numeric code for your degree program on the first page of your I-20.

Eligibility

  • Must be on post-completion OPT.
  • Application may be submitted up to 90 days prior to current OPT end date.
  • USCIS must receive application prior to current OPT end date.
  • Application must be submitted within 60 days of your international student adviser making the STEM extension recommendation in SEVIS.
  • Job must be related to your STEM-eligible major.
  • Employment must be paid.
  • Your employer must be enrolled in E-verify.
  • You and your employer must complete and sign the I-983 training plan.

Employment requirements

  • Must be paid.
  • Each employment opportunity must be a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • Must be related to your STEM-eligible major.
  • No more than 150 days of accrued unemployment time during entire 36 month OPT period.
  • Report all employment/unemployment changes to the International Center through myStatus within 10 days of any changes.

Application process

Step 1: Prepare documents

Gather the necessary documents, which can be uploaded electronically through myStatus or submitted in hard copy to the International Center:

  • Completed Form I-983 (example)
  • Completed Form I-765
  • Completed Form G-1145
  • Letter from employer confirming employment related to STEM degree, name and title of supervisor, and contact information for the employer
  • Copy of diploma
  • Copy of current OPT I-20
  • Copy of I-94
  • Copy of passport biographical page
  • Copy of visa
  • Copy of EAD card
  • Documentation of complete employment history while on OPT (for example, copies of previous job offer letters)

Step 2: Submit application to the International Center

After gathering the necessary documents, submit an online OPT STEM request and upload your documents or bring them to the International Center (do not staple). You will also provide the following as part of your request:

  • $150 OPT STEM processing fee — payable by cash (exact change only), check or money order (payable to "MU International Center")

Do not submit your U.S. Department of Homeland Security check or photos to the International Center.

After you submit your application and pay the OPT STEM processing fee to the International Center, an international student adviser will process your application within five business days. When your documents have been signed, you will receive an email that they are ready for you to pick up at the International Center front desk. If you are no longer living in Columbia, shipping instructions will be provided to you. 

Step 3: Mail application to USCIS

Once you have received your documents back from the International Center, you should gather all necessary items and submit your entire application to USCIS in the pre-paid envelope provided by the International Center.

Step 4: Monitor your EAD progress

Approximately two weeks after you mail your OPT application, you will receive a receipt from USCIS confirming that they have received your documents. The receipt will have a receipt number (the YSC number) that you may use to check the status of your application through the USCIS Case Status Online system.

Step 5: Receive your EAD card

USCIS will make a decision on your application within 120 days. If approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document in the mail. As long as your STEM application has been received by USCIS and is pending, you can continue working up to 180 days beyond your initial OPT end date. 

STEM extension based on previously earned degree

You may be eligible for a STEM extension based on a previously earned degree if you meet the following criteria:

  • Your degree must be earned from a currently-accredited SEVP-certified school. You are responsible for providing documentation that the school is accredited.
  • You must currently be on OPT for your most recently awarded degree (current degree does not need to be STEM eligible).
  • The prior degree must be at the bachelor's level or higher and have been conferred within 10 years from the date you submit your application to USCIS.
  • The prior degree must be on the current STEM designated degree programs list at the time of application.
  • The employment must be related to the previously earned STEM degree.