New experiences are crucial in expanding your mind and learning new things. They can help you think outside the box and broaden your horizons. Travel is considered a great way to help an individual grow as you can come to know different cultures, perspectives, and other learnings. With new technologies that help spur on globalization, crosscultural language and communication skills as well as international experiences are important in helping people stay competitive in today’s world. Studying abroad is one such way young academics can invest in themselves through study and more world views. It allows them to leave their comfort zones and expose themselves to varying kinds of education, culture, environments, and language.
The United States understands the importance of new experiences as well as the wealth of culture and world-class education the country has to offer. Because of this, the USCIS extended the optional practical training (OPT) period to 24 months to graduate students within the STEM fields. Individuals who go into graduate school in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are highly sought after on a global scale due to their much-needed practical knowledge. On May 11, 2016, the USCIS rolled out the OPT STEM Extension for students in those fields.
Eligibility For Applying for an OPT Extension
The 24-month OPT STEM Extension rule gives STEM graduates a 24 month extension in order to attain necessary work experience in the premises of United States. Earlier, this extension was 17 months after which the international students would need to leave the States. Certain eligibility parameters are laid out by the USCIS.
Only students who qualify under the below requirements will be granted the OPT Extension:
- Are already granted with an OPT and are currently in a valid OPT Period.
- Must have attained a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree from prestigious institutions approved by U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency. The institution must also be verified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) at the time of application submission.
- Have previously acquired a STEM Degree. Important note: F-1 Students who are currently in their period of OPT based on completion of a non-stem degree can use a STEM degree earlier acquired from institutions approved by U.S. institution of higher education to proceed with application of OPT STEM Extension. This extension will be purely based on the previous degree obtained by the candidate.
- Future STEM Degrees: If any student applies for another STEM degree in the future and obtains the degree from verified institutions, he or she may be eligible for another OPT STEM Extension based on their new degree.
- Must complete and fill the form I-983.
- Must be on a 12 month OPT Extension and working for an e-verified company.
How To Apply For OPT STEM Extension
Applying for the OPT STEM Extension is extremely simple and straightforward. Students need follow specific requirements while filing the application for OPT extension.
- Every student who wishes to get the extension must file the Form I-765 with
- The right application fee as mentioned in the form
- Name of the employer with whom the student wishes to work for, as written in the e-verify
- Valid verification number of employer’s e-verify must be provided.
- Form I-20 along with the eligibility certificate filed for Nonimmigrant Student Status attested by the DSO within time duration of around 60 days.
- Students must provide a copy of their STEM degree for verification purposes.
In any instance where the student has filed the application for OPT STEM Extension within the stipulated time but their OPT Period finishes while the application is still on pending status, the USCIS Staff will offer an extension during the pending period. They will extend your employment validation for about 180 days. However, the employment validation period ceases as soon as the authorization gets completed.
OPT STEM Extension Granted
Once the student is granted OPT STEM Extension, there are certain responsibilities that he or she must adhere to. These include the reporting as well as unemployment aspects while the student is on OPT Extension period.
Responsibilities Related To Reporting
Once the student receives the approval for OPT STEM Extension, there are certain documentation work that he or she must take care of. Failure to do so might lead to removal from the extension immediately
The students are required to inform and report changes regarding the following to their designated school officials (DSOs) within 10 days of the change implementation. These include changes in:
- The student’s legal name
- The student’s address of residence
- The student’s Email and other contact details
- Employer’s name as mentioned in the e-verify
- Employer’s office as well as residential address
Another rule that every OPT Extension granted student must abide by is that they must pay regular visits to their DSOs. These visits are necessary to confirm the above the details and their accuracy. Visits within a duration of six months are advisable even if any of the above mentioned details haven’t changed.
Employment Guidelines for OPT Extension
USCIS laid down guidelines regarding the number of days an OPT STEM Extension student can remain unemployed. These aspects are crucial and the students are required to adhere by these guidelines at any cost.
- If the extension granted to student is for Initial post-completion OPT only, he or she can remain unemployed up to a total of 90 days.
- If the student is granted a 24-month extension, he or she can remain unemployed for additional 60 days. That means, a total of 150 days leave can be taken by the student.
STEM Eligible Employment Guidelines
Before the students start working with an employer, they must check if the job is eligible for OPT Extension at all. Every job that the student applies for on OPT STEM basis must fulfill the following set of criterion.
- The employer that the student chooses to work with must be E-Verified
- Employer promises to offer practical knowledge, formal training, and a properly planned working environment for the student.
- The student must work for at least 20 hours per week
- No student is allowed to be self-employed during the OPT Extension period
- Students must be paid for their work
- The students must not volunteer or pursue a volunteering job
- The student must not be employed through a hiring firm which puts in labor for hire such as a recruitment agency
- The employer signing the form I-983 must be the same as the one who provides practical training and utility to the student