The total period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) is 36 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students with a degree in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) They are then employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.
OPT is generally initially issued for 12 months which can be extended by another 24 months, for a total of 36 months for eligible candidates. This gives U.S. businesses two or three chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process.
The new employment authorization period begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.
Students who are granted a 24-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 36-month OPT period.
A 24-month OPT extension is available for the following STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree holders:
- Actuarial Science. CIP Code 52.1304.
- Computer Science Applications:
- CIP Codes 11.xxxx (except Data Entry/Microcomputer Applications, which are CIP Codes 11.06xx)
- Engineering. CIP Codes 14.xxxx.
- Engineering Technologies. CIP Codes 15.xxxx.
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences. CIP Codes 26.xxxx.
- Mathematics and Statistics. CIP Codes 27.xxxx.
- Military Technologies. CIP Codes 29.xxxx.
- Physical Sciences. CIP Codes 40.xxxx.
- Science Technologies. CIP Codes 41.xxxx.
- Medical Scientist (MS, PhD). CIP Code 51.1401
All CIP codes ending in xx99, which are “catch-all” categories usually designated by “Other” in the CIP lists, are specifically excluded from the above codes and therefore are not eligible for the 24-month extension.
A full list of CIP Codes is available online at Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP 2000). The STEM Designated Degree Program List is based on the “Classification of Instructional Programs” developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
ICE also maintains the full list and description of the programs that are eligible for STEM OPT extension.
In order to be eligible for an OPT extension, an F-1 non-immigrant student must meet the following requirements:
- The student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion standard OPT.
- The student must be working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
- The student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field in science, engineering, technology, or mathematics (STEM). It must be included in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List from a college or university certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Student and Exchanged Visitors (SEVIS) Program (from a SEVIS-certified college or university).
- The student must be working for, or have accepted employment with, an employer in the USCIS’ E-Verify program.
- The student must properly maintain an F-1 non-immigrant status.
- Since a 24-month extension is available only once, the student must not have previously received a 24-month extension after earning a STEM degree.
- The DSO (Designated Student Official) at the university
- must recommend the 24-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying the student’s eligibility.
- must certify that the student’s degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- must ensure that the student is aware of his or her responsibilities for maintaining their status while on OPT.
- The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the DSO or through “any other means or process identified by the DHS”. An employer must consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of five consecutive business days (without the employer’s consent).
Extension applications should be filed at least 90 days before the current post-completion OPT expires.
For an extension, Form I-765 must be filed along with the accompanying documents mentioned in that web page. They must also be sent along with the appropriate fees.
Students who timely file an application for the 24-month OPT extension are able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 (OPT extension application) or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
The student must report to his/her DSO by email within 10 days of any change of:
- Legal name
- Residential and mailing address
- E-mail address
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Job title or position
- Supervisor name and contact information
- Employment start date
- Employment end date
- Interruption of an employment
Even if there have been no changes in the above information, the student must also send a report by email to their DSO every six months confirming the information listed above. Such a validation report must be made once every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when the student’s F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the 24-month OPT extension ends, whichever is first. The validation is a confirmation that the above information is current and accurate. The report is due to the DSO within 10 business days of each reporting date.
The requirement to report continues if the student’s 24-month STEM extension is extended further by the automatic cap-gap extension.
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