STEM OPT Eligibility

Below is information about the basic eligibility requirements for STEM OPT.

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Your Qualifications

To apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must:

  • Have obtained a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree from an accredited U.S. educational institution.
  • Have obtained a degree in a field on the Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • Have a job or job offer that is directly related to your STEM degree.
  • Be currently authorized for post-completion OPT.
  • Have accumulated no more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial 12-month period of OPT. You are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment while on STEM OPT (equalling up to a total of 150 days while on OPT or STEM OPT) . If you fail to report employment to ISSS, this time may be counted as unemployment.

Employment Qualifications

Your employment must meet the following requirements:

  • Employment must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • Employment must be paid.
  • You may have multiple employers, but you must complete a new I-983 for each employer.

You must keep written documentation of all employment for your records.

Employer Qualifications

Some of the requirements for your employer are different for STEM OPT than OPT.

  • Your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • You cannot be employed through a contractual relationship, self-employment, an agency, or consulting firm may not be allowed for the 24-Month STEM OPT (review the information below regarding arrangements with staff/temporary agencies).

Your employer will be required to attest:

  • The company has sufficient resources and personnel available to provide appropriate training.
  • The company is not replacing a U.S. worker (full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent).
  • This employment opportunity will help you in reaching your training goals.

If you have multiple employers, each employer must fulfill the STEM OPT requirements for employment.

Limitations on Working with Staffing/Temporary Agencies

If you are in a STEM degree and are considering applying for the 24 month STEM extension, your employer must be the same entity that signs the Form I-983 and where you report for work.

In April 2018, USCIS clarified STEM OPT employer responsibilities and who can employ students on STEM OPT: F-1 Students can only qualify for the STEM OPT extension if their employer signs the Training Plan (Form I-983). USCIS's new information states, "The employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same entity that provides the practical training experience to the student." A genuine employer-employee relationship must exist.

This means that the employer that signs the Form I-983 cannot be an agency that "assigns or contracts out the student to work for one of their customers or clients (emphasis added)...the student's [STEM] practical training experience must be provided by the employer's own trained or supervisory personnel at the employer's own place of business or worksite(s)."

Further, the employee’s training experience must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business or worksite(s); the training cannot occur online, by telephone or email, or by periodic visits by the employee to the employer’s place of business.

USCIS emphasizes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, “has the authority to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the employer is meeting [STEM OPT] program requirements.”

If you have questions about your employment options, please talk to an F-1 adviser by calling 612-626-7100, emailing [email protected], or making an appointment.

Please note: This new interpretation is in regard to the 24-month STEM OPT extension. It does not currently apply to 12-month OPT.

Last updated: November 1, 2021