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Your Ultimate "To-Do" List for STEM OPT Extension

January 20, 2021
Techfetch OPT Team
Est. Reading Time : 4 minutes
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There are a million students around the globe who aspire to pursue their higher education and careers in the USA. This globally-shared dream does not come cheap. Nor does it come easy for those who aren't aware of the complexities of the processes.

One such procedure is the STEM OPT Extension- a tremendously intricate and far-flung process for international students. There's a plethora of rules, regulations, requirements, processing time, et al. before you can successfully get work authorization. Read further into our blog to arm yourself with the complex STEM OPT Extension processing details.

F-1 Visa: The Golden Ticket for International Students in the USA

One of the first things you do to study in the US is to apply for an F-1 visa, which permits you to work and study in the US after or during your course. Under the Optional Practical Training or OPT, the US government allows all F-1 visa holders to study and work simultaneously.

If you are a foreign student, you shouldn't miss out on a golden opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. Especially not if your course is related to Science, Mathematics, Technology, and Engineering fields. Why? If you are a STEM student, you are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension. In other words, you are eligible for an extended work period after completing OPT! Yes, you heard that right, and we can hear you scream "Yayy!". What are the requirements that make you eligible for STEM OPT Extension?

STEM OPT Extension: Eligibility Criteria & Crucial Requirements

STEM OPT Extension is what the name implies: It is an extended period that allows STEM students to purse a job or their education in the US for the following 2 years, post-completion of their course and the OPT.

So can all students who have completed OPT apply for STEM extension? No, they cannot. As mentioned earlier, STEM Extension is exclusively reserved for students whose education is directly related to the STEM field. Some of the subjects included under STEM Extension are:

  • Mathematics
  • Engineering
  • Physical Science
  • Life Sciences
  • Actuarial Sciences
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Military Technologies
  • Computer Science Applications

Here's an important point to note: STEM Extension is open only for STEM students who have completed their academic courses and the regular OPT.

So, what are the other qualification criteria for STEM Extension? According to the rules set by the United States government, you should:

  • Have a job after post-completion OPT
  • Hold a bachelor's, master's, or a Ph.D. from an institution accredited to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  • Work for a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer during the time of your OPT Extension application.

What if you already possess a STEM degree? You can use it to obtain your extension if you obtained the post-completion OPT with a degree not related to STEM fields. However, you must ensure that both degrees are from accredited SEVP institutions. In this scenario, you will only be eligible if you haven't made use of the former STEM extension. Your training will also solely be based on your last STEM degree.

Application requirements for STEM OPT Extension:

  • Form I-765, along with proper application fee
  • E-verify card mentioning employer's name
  • Employer's E-Verified Company Identification Number
  • Client Company Identification Number
  • Photocopy of the STEM-based degree certificate
  • Form I-20
  • Eligibility certificate as evidence of your status as a non-immigrant student

STEM Extension: Processing Details & Student Responsibilities

Once you've successfully applied for STEM OPT extension, you must present it 90 days ahead the end of the post-completion OPT. The Designated School Office (DSO) will enter your submission into the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) in less than sixty days. The processing time for STEM OPT Extension commences on the date of your receipt and lasts upto 90 days.

If your application is clean, error-free, and ticks all the eligibility criteria, you will receive your STEM OPT Extension. Halt! Don't start celebrating yet. Your responsibilities don't end here. Upon receiving your extension, you must report to your DSO within ten days with the following details:

  • Full legal name
  • Email id
  • Employer's address and name
  • Mailing or residential address

Even if these details don't change, you must report them once in six months. The starting date of your STEM extension will be your post-completion OPT end date. Since your DSO cannot change these days, always ensure you apply 90 days before the post-completion OPT period ends.

What if you are denied STEM extension? Does that signal the end of your dream to pursue your studies or a career in the US? Not at all. If you're denied an extension, you can reapply to your school for a fresh academic course. You can also reapply to make changes to your visa if you wish to be employed in the US.

What happens if you are unemployed when you obtain your STEM Extension? Do not fret! The Department of Homeland and Security (DHS) entitles you to 60 extra days without employment throughout the 2-year STEM OPT extension. These 60 days are added to the 90 unemployed days during the post-completion OPT period. Therefore, you get a total of one hundred and fifty days without employment.

STEM OPT Employer's Requirements & Cap-Gap Extension

Even if you are an international student with a valid F-1 visa, you can qualify for STEM Extension on the condition that your employer fulfils the following criteria:

  • Signs Form I-983 as an attestation
  • Signs the Training Plan for the F-1 students
  • Ensure they are the same entity that provides the practical training
  • Ensure the company is E-Verify compliant
  • Have the resources to execute the proposed training plan

Whether you choose to work with a large or small establishment, ensure that your employer fulfils all the regulatory requirements.

And while you are gaining awareness about STEM Extension, let's not forget the Cap-Gap Extension. The Cap-Gap extension is applicable for students who have:

  • Filed an H1-B petition
  • Applied for a visa status change

As per the rules of the Cap-Gap Extension, students who fulfill the above criteria can extend their F-1 status' timeline. The extension also includes your ongoing employment authorization until the start of the new financial year.

Winding Up

So, there you have all the nitty-gritty of STEM OPT Extension. However, if you are still unsure how to go about this process, TechFetch OPT is always available to lend a helping hand. Reach out to us, give us your details, and leave the rest to our team of professionals. We shall ensure you sail smoothly through the process and obtain STEM Extension without breaking a sweat. What are you waiting for? Let's get going today!

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