STEM Extension Eligibility
Generally, eligibility to apply for the STEM OPT Extension is based on your degree, your job and your employer. Additionally, you must currently be on active 12-month post-completion OPT and have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment. F-1 students are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension only once per STEM degree and become eligible for another STEM OPT Extension after completing another qualifying degree at a higher level, with no more than two STEM OPT Extensions possible.
The degree serving as the basis for a STEM OPT Extension application must be in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field that is included on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List. CIP codes are used to standardize majors across institutions and are what students should use to determine if their major appears on the STEM list. You can find the CIP code for your degree in the ‘Program of Study’section on page 1 of your I-20 (XX.XXXX). NC State also maintains a list of CIP codes for all majors here. If your major’s CIP code is not on the STEM list and you do not have a qualifying previous degree (see below), you will not be eligible to apply for the STEM OPT Extension.
Students may apply for the STEM OPT Extension based on either:
- the degree serving as the basis for your current post-completion OPT
- a previously earned degree from an accredited and SEVP-certified U.S. educational institution conferred within the last 10 years
The employment serving as the basis for a STEM OPT Extension application must be directly related to your STEM degree and must be at least 20 hours/week. The following types of employment are permissible on STEM OPT:
- Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must meet STEM OPT Extension eligibility requirements. Moreover, each STEM OPT job must be at least 20 hours per week.
- Paid employment. Unpaid internships and volunteer work are not eligible employment opportunities for the STEM OPT Extension. Similarly, students cannot represent themselves as both employer and employee on the I-983 form, meaning self-employment is also not allowed.
- Bona fide employer-employee relationship. A STEM OPT Extension eligible job must involve a bona fide employer-employee relationship between the student and the employer. The employer that signs Form I-983 must be the same entity that provides the practical training experience to the student. Moreover, a STEM OPT student must be supervised by the employer’s own personnel. Please review the “STEM OPT Employer Requirements and Responsibilities” of this USCIS webpage for more details.
Certain employment arrangements, such as employment through a staffing agency or self-employment, may not be suitable for STEM OPT. Please refer to the DHS clarifications on bona fide employer-employee relationship and employment by start-up businesses posted in the Federal Register.
Any and every employer providing practical training for students on STEM OPT Extension must meet a number of criteria:
- The employer is enrolled in E-verify. E-verify is a system that shares information between the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to verify that a potential employee is eligible to work in the United States. Not every employer is enrolled in E-verify and there is not an official list of E-verify employers. Therefore, students will need to confirm this information with the employer directly. If the employer has questions about the E-verify system, please refer them to the E-Verify website or their human resources professional.
- The employer has an IRS Employment Identification Number (EIN).
- The employer has “sufficient resources and personnel available” to train the STEM OPT student – the employer who signs the I-983 must be the entity that provides the training.
- Employer may not assign its training responsibilities to a non-employer third party (e.g. a client/customer of employer)
- The employer is willing to complete the STEM OPT Training Plan (I-983) with the student, including annual evaluations.
- The employer is willing to update the STEM OPT Training Plan (I-983) with the student and submit to OIS to report any any changes within 10 days.