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17- Month STEM Extension-OPT

Definition

F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify, and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization related to such a degree, may apply for a 17-month extension of such authorization. This extension of the OPT period for STEM degree holders gives U.S. employers two chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process, as the extension is long enough to allow for H-1B petitions to be filed in two successive fiscal years.

F-1 students may obtain additional information about STEM OPT extensions on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program website at www.ice.gov/sevis .

17-Month Extension Available Once

The special 17-month extension of OPT is only available to each student one time. A student who is approved for a 17-month OPT extension can never apply for it again. Please note that this rule is different from the application rules for the “standard” 12-month OPT, under which students could be approved for multiple OPT periods for each higher degree earned in the U.S. (i.e. bachelor's, then master's, then doctoral).

Eligibility

In order the student to be eligible to apply for this benefit must have a bachelor’s, masters, or doctorate degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. If a student earned a degree in a field that appears on the U.S. government's official list of STEM fields, he/she may be eligible for the 17-month OPT extension. This list sets forth eligible courses of study according to Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes developed by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In order to verify that your degree is on this list, look at the code listed under “Primary Major” on your Page 3 of your I-20 form, and then look for that code in the CIP code column of the Department of Homeland Security “STEM Designated Degree Programs List”.
The STEM Designated Degree Program List includes the following courses of study:

  • Computer Science Application
  • Actuarial Science
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Science Technologies
  • Biological and Biomedical Science
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Medical Scientist

For more information you can check at: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm 

  • Also, the student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree. Thus, for example, a student with an undergraduate degree in a designated STEM field, but currently in OPT based on a subsequent MBA degree, would not be eligible for an OPT extension.
  • Students must apply for the special 17-month OPT extension prior to the expiration of the first 12 months of “regular” OPT. USCIS will not accept I-765 applications for STEM extensions any earlier than 90 days before the current EAD expiration date. 
  • The student’s employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program.

E-Verify Program

The E-Verify program is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA; is the best means available for employers to determine employment eligibility of newly-hired employees and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. E-Verify electronically compares information contained on the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 with records contained in SSA and DHS databases to help employers verify identity and employment eligibility of newly-hired employees. E-Verify is a free, easy-to-use web-based system available to employers and is currently voluntary in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For more information visit: www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

Application Process

  • Attend an OPT Workshop. The workshop provides detailed information regarding a number of topics, such as completing the application, employment reporting requirements and travel issues.
  • Schedule an appointment with an advisor and submit the following documents:
  • USCIS Form I-765 in blue ink (Obtain from ISSS office, ISSS website and/or at www.uscis.gov) Form I-765 is being amended to require the student to indicate the degree and provide the employer’s E-Verify #. (Section #17)
  • A check or money order for $380.00 made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  (DO NOT WRITE ON THE BACK OF THE CHECK!)  Your name and address must be on the check. 
  • Two passport style photographs taken within the last 30 days. Each photo must be cut to 2x2 inches with white background with your name and I-94 # printed lightly on the back in pencil/pen.
  • Copies of:
    • Visa (photo pg)
    • Passport (photo pg), (renewal extension if is expired)
    • I-94 card (front and back sides)
    • Copy of the STEM degree or original transcripts
    • Copy of previous EAD card (s) and corresponding I-20s or H1b I-94 approval notice (s) if you had a previous USCIS work authorization (CPT or on-campus employment not applicable)
  • Employment Offer letter including their E-verify#
  • A signed letter from the STEM employer, on a letterhead with:
    • Company’s name & E-verify#
    • Mailing address (that you will physically work at)
    • Hiring Date
    • Position title (related to your field of your studies)
  • Brief Letter from you supporting the importance of your STEM request to your personal career goals.
  • If you wish to receive an E-notification that your application was received by USCIS you can print and complete form G-1145 and include it with your OPT packet http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/g-1145.pdf
  • Once your packet is assembled you will be issued a new I-20 and you will be directed to mail the packet to USCIS via FedEx or UPS certified mailing service; address and envelop will be provided to you (USCIS, 2501 S. State Highway, 121 Business, Suite#400, Attn.AOS, Lewisville, TX. 75067).

Note: The ISSS office can make copies of your documents for you!

Starting and Ending Dates

The start date of the 17-month OPT extension will be automatically set to the day after the expiration of the current 12-month OPT authorization. The end date will be 17 months later. (It is not possible to request smaller increments).

While the application is pending

If the application for the 17-month OPT extension is successfully received prior to the expiration of the first OPT period, students may continue employment until the application is processed or until 180 days have passed, whichever is sooner.

After approval-Reporting Requirement

  • The student must report to ISSS within 10 days of the six-month reporting date the following information:
    • Legal name;
    • Residential or mailing address;
    • E-mail address;
    • Employer name;
    • Employer address;
    • Loss of employment
  • The student must send this report every six months even if there have been no changes.  
  • Email your STEM report at your ISSS advisor that helped you file for the extension or email at intlprog@drexel.edu timely!
  • The requirement to report continues if the student’s 17-month STEM extension is extended further by the automatic cap-gap extension

Types of Employment Allowed during an OPT STEM extension

A student authorized for a 17-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP.
For students who are on a STEM extension, this employment may include:

  • Work for one or more employer. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. Students on a STEM extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm. Students on a STEM extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.

Travel During STEM OPT

Travel outside the U.S. during OPT can be risky. Please consult with an ISSS advisor if you plan to travel during OPT. To re-enter the U.S. during OPT you will need the following original documents:

  • Valid passport (make sure it is valid at least 6 months into the future at time of re-entry)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • I-20 endorsed for OPT with a travel signature less than 6 months old
  • Unexpired EAD card
  • Confirmation of employment letter from your U.S. employer

Ending Your STEM OPT

Your F-1 status remains valid until 60 days after the expiration of your EAD card. During this 60-day grace period, you are no longer authorized to work, however you may legally stay in the U.S. If you depart the U.S. during the 60-day grace period, you are no longer eligible to re-enter under your previous F-1 visa status.

  • If you plan to start a new degree program at another college or university, please make sure to contact the ISSS regarding the transfer of your SEVIS record. Transfers must be done before the end of the 60-day grace period.
  • If you plan to change your visa status, we recommend you begin this process before your OPT is expired.
  • If you plan to return home after the end of your OPT, please make sure that you depart the U.S. before the end of your 60-day grace period.