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OPT STEM Extension

list of eligible programs and how to apply for OPT STEM
Eligibility

If you are in your 12 month period of post-graduation OPT, you may apply for an extension of the OPT for an additional 24 months (for a total of 36 months) provided that you meet all the following criteria:

  • Verified completion of a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, completed either at William & Mary, or at another U.S. institution that is accredited and SEVP-certified. The CIP code which determines degree eligibility is on page 1 of the I-20, next to the major.
Eligible William & Mary and VIMS Programs

The following programs at W&M and VIMS qualify for the OPT STEM:

  • Applied Science
  • Biology
  • MBA, these specializations only:
    • Business Analytics
    • Supply Chain Management
    • Finance (as of Fall 2021)
  • MAcc, Master of Accounting (as of Fall 2021)
  • M.S. in Business Analytics*
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Science – COR
  • Geology
  • Marine Science
  • Mathematics**
  • Neuroscience
  • Physics

*  Undergraduate Business programs do not qualify for OPT STEM.
**  The Computational & Applied Mathematics & Statistics major as part of the Interdisciplinary Program does not qualify for OPT STEM.

Note: If you have a question about your program's eligibility, contact ISSP.

Additional Eligibility Information
  • OPT STEM is based on program or major. Minors and concentrations may not be used.
  • To be eligible for OPT STEM, you must currently be in your 12-month post-graduation period of OPT, working for a U.S. employer in a paid job or training opportunity directly related to your major area of study (as listed on your I-20). Self-employment does not qualify. Unpaid opportunities and volunteering do not qualify.
  • Your employer must be registered with the E-Verify employment verification system.
  • You have a lifetime limit of two 24-month OPT extensions (one per eligible STEM degree).
  • You and your direct supervisor must complete a I-983 training plan, and submit it to the Reves Center, and must submit an updated I-983 to the Reves Center any time there are employment changes. See Form I-983 Overview from Study in the States for instructions on how to complete the form.
  • Your employer must agree to report your termination or departure to the Reves Center, and to follow other requirements listed within the training plan.
  • You can apply up to 90 days before your current OPT expires, but your application must reach USCIS before your OPT expires.
OPT STEM and Previous Degrees

If you previously completed an eligible STEM degree, and are currently on post-completion OPT, you can apply for a STEM extension if you meet all of the criteria listed above. Your work while on your STEM extension must be related to your STEM degree, even if you did post-completion OPT for a non-STEM degree. To be eligible, your degree must have been conferred within 10 years preceding the date the Reves Center issues your STEM extension I-20.

Applying for OPT STEM

You can apply for an OPT STEM up to 90 days before your current OPT expires, but your application must reach Immigration before your OPT ends. We recommend that you submit your application at least 2 weeks before your EAD expires. Some companies may prefer that you apply and have your STEM Extension approved before your OPT expires, so you may want to apply even earlier, as OPT processing times are sometimes 3 months or more.

Step 1: Complete the Optional Practical Training Application e-form:

  • Access the form via iStart.
  • Log into iStart with your W&M ID and password (click on blue login button). IT can help if you forgot your password.
  • Expand the F-1 Practical Training menu on the left.
  • Click on Optional Practical Training Application. Fill out required fields and submit your request.

Step 2: Schedule an appointment to review your application materials. This appointment should take place 90 days or less before your OPT ends.

Step 3:The Reves Center will scan and mail the OPT STEM I-20 to you, which you must sign (on page 1).

Step 4: You will mail a copy of the OPT STEM I-20, new I-765 form, application fee ($410), photos, official transcript from your STEM degree from W&M or another school, and all required supporting documentation. Your application must arrive at USCIS within 60 days from the date of the I-20 issuance, and before your EAD card expires.

Please refer to the OPT Application Packet for a list of required documents and instructions on how to complete the forms. You do not need to mail the I-983 training plan, but the Reves Center must have a copy before issuing your OPT STEM I-20. See Form I-983 Overview from Study in the States for instructions on how to complete the form.

If you file the application for the 24-month OPT STEM before your current OPT expires, you will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first. But, some employers are cautious, and may want your OPT STEM to be approved before you continue employment.

Reporting Requirements

While you are on OPT, the Reves Center will help to keep your SEVIS record updated. You must confirm your legal name, address, employer name and address, and your employment status every 6 months during your STEM period. You must also notify SEVP of any address changes and of any new employment or termination of employment within 10 days.

  • For employment and address updates, log into iStart using your WM Userid and Password. Click on F-1 Practical Training in the menu on the left-hand side. Then, click on Optional Practical Training STEM Updates and Evaluations and complete the form.
    • If you prefer, you can do address updates directly through the SEVP Portal. SEVP typically emails Portal login information once your OPT is approved, but if you have not received it or have difficulty accessing it, please contact an ISSP staff.
  • You must notify the Reves Center any time there is a "material change" in your I-983 training plan. Any time you have a new employer, you must complete a new training plan.
  • You must complete two self-evaluations during your OPT STEM, signed by you, your direct supervisor, and submitted to the Reves Center.
    • Evaluation 1: Complete during your first 12 months of OPT STEM.
    • Evaluation 2: Complete at the end of your OPT STEM.
Unemployment Limit

While on OPT STEM, you are limited to 150 days of unemployment. This total includes the previous 90 days that you were permitted during your initial post-completion OPT. Unlike your initial post-completion OPT, your work must be paid to count as employment. Unpaid internships or volunteering does not qualify for OPT STEM employment.

International Travel

You should wait till your OPT STEM Extension request is approved and have received your new Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before traveling abroad. Please see our section on Traveling Abroad While on OPT for additional information.

STEM Resources

If you would like to learn more about the STEM rule, resources from SEVP and the USCIS (both are part of the U.S. government), and NAFSA (a professional organization) may be helpful. We are also happy to talk with you.

Information for Employers
  • No employer sponsorship is needed to hire an international student on Optional Practical Training STEM Extension (OPT STEM). However, employers must be highly involved in training and are responsible for completing the I-983 Training Plan, and multiple follow-up progress reports.
  • The employer’s responsibilities for a student’s STEM OPT include:
    • E-Verify: The STEM OPT employer must be registered in the E-Verify program.
    • I-983 Training Plan: The student’s direct supervisor must review and sign-off on the I-983 training plan. See Form I-983 Overview from Study in the States for instructions on how to complete the form. The direct supervisor must also review and sign-off on a new I-983 training plan if there are any material changes to the student’s job (e.g. supervisor name, compensation).
    • Student Self-Evaluations: The student must complete two self-evaluations during their OPT STEM – one during the first 12 months of the OPT STEM and one at the end of the OPT STEM. The student’s direct supervisor must review and sign-off on these self-evaluations, as needed.
    • Termination of Employment: The employer must report to the Reves Center when the student’s employment is terminated before the end of the authorized OPT extension period.
    • DHS Site Visits: The STEM OPT rule allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to visit employers who have hired STEM OPT students to confirm that the student is adhering to the training plan on record. In most cases, DHS will provide notice to the employer at least 48 hours in advance of any site visit. For more information please refer to Study in The States.