Lette Berhe

Lette Berhe

OPT Extension for STEM Degrees: How to Stay in the U.S.

Many international students who decide to go to the U.S. only think about getting their degree. But why stop there? Once you are in the U.S., programs such as OPT (Optional Practical Training) allow you to work before or after graduation. Not only does this give you professional experience, but it also gives you the opportunity to explore job opportunities available in the U.S. And as a STEM student, you have even better options.
Many international students who decide to go to the U.S. only think about getting their degree. But why stop there? Once you are in the U.S., programs such as OPT (Optional Practical Training) allow you to work before or after graduation. Not only does this give you professional experience, but it also gives you the opportunity to explore job opportunities available in the U.S. And as a STEM student, you have even better options.
 
What Is OPT? 
 
OPT is a government funded program that gives F-1 visa students the opportunity to work part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (20+ hours) for a total of 12 months. Most international students decide to take advantage of OPT after they finish their degree (post-completion OPT) and stay in the U.S. for an extra year.
 
For a full description of what OPT is and how it works, take a look at our post on OPT vs. CPT.
 
Am I Studying a STEM Degree? 
 
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. So, a degree in STEM would have to fall under one of these four categories. The actual list of STEM degrees approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), however, is long and includes many majors.
 
Common STEM degrees are:
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer science
 
But there are many majors that are also STEM degrees that are often forgotten about:
  • Psychology
  • Nutrition sciences
  • Business statistics
 
You can check the official list of STEM degrees, but it would also be a good idea to meet with your academic advisor to see if you would qualify as a STEM student.
 
What Is OPT for STEM Majors? 
 
Now that you know what OPT and STEM stand for, what does it mean together?
 
All international students are eligible to apply for OPT, which means you have the possibility of working in the U.S. for up to 12 months. But if you are studying a STEM major, you can apply to extend your OPT for another 24 months.
 
This means with the STEM extension you could be working in the U.S. for a total of 36 months (three years) after graduating.
 
When Can I Apply for the OPT STEM extension?
 

You must apply before you finish your original OPT program. You can apply as early as 90 days before your current OPT authorization expires.
 
What are the OPT STEM Extension Requirements? 
 
To receive the 24-month extension, you must:


  • be an F-1 student .
  • currently be working under post-completion OPT.
  • have a degree in an eligible STEM major.
  • have a job offer from an eligible employer (must be enrolled in USCIS’s E-Verify program).
  • complete a lesson plan (form I-983) with your future employer.
  • ask your designated school official (DSO) to submit an OPT recommendation.
  • commit to working a minimum of 20 hours a week.
  • complete form I-765.
 
OPT STEM Extension Application Checklist 


  1. Submit form I-765 with
    1. the application fee
    2. your employer’s E-Verify name
    3. your employer’s E-Verify company (or client) identification number

  2. Submit most recent I-20 (within 60 days of the recommendation date from your DSO)

  3. A copy of your STEM degree
 
If you are interested in spending more time in the U.S. and gaining valuable work experience, take advantage of this great program. It is also best to meet with your academic advisor if you have any doubts, but you can also find more information on the DHS’s official website.
 

Haven’t applied to study it the U.S. yet? Sign up now for a free consultation to see how we can help you find international student scholarships. 

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