STEM OPT Extension

Updated 2/26/2021

Graduates currently on post-completion OPT may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their work authorization if they have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in an eligible STEM field, as designated by USCIS. The STEM OPT Extension allows graduates the opportunity to gain an additional 24 months of work experience, resulting in up to 36 months of total work eligibility in the United States following graduation from USC.

All STEM OPT Extension applications are adjudicated (i.e. processed and approved) by USCIS. Successful filing of a STEM OPT Extension application will result in issuance of an EAD valid for an additional 24 months following post-completion OPT, during which graduates are able to legally work in the United States in positions directly related to their STEM majors.

Students who are interested in applying for the STEM OPT Extension are required to read the STEM OPT Extension Instructions below.



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STEM OPT Extension Instructions

Click Here for STEM OPT Extension Instructions (PDF)

The STEM OPT Extension Instructions cover eligibility and employment requirements, submission deadlines, reporting requirements*, and other frequently asked questions (FAQs).

*If you are currently on STEM OPT Extension and have received an email from SEVP notifying you of an upcoming due date for your data validation report and/or self-evaluation, please refer to the STEM OPT Extension Instructions linked above and STEM OPT Extension Employment Reporting Requirements. These instructions have step-by-step guidance on how to submit these updates to OIS.

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OPT I-20 Request System

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When to submit:

USCIS accepts STEM OPT Extension applications as early as 90 days prior to the OPT EAD expiration date. Students must mail the Form I-765 and other supporting documents to USCIS within 60 days of the date OIS recommended the STEM OPT Extension in SEVIS. USCIS must receive the STEM OPT Extension application packet before the post-completion OPT EAD expiration date.

Processing time:

Seven (7) business days*

* Students must add OPTSTEM@usc.edu to their email contacts list to ensure they receive all email correspondence regarding their request. Incomplete or incorrect requests will be returned to students for review and correction, and will require resubmission to OIS for processing. The seven business day processing time will restart upon resubmission and students will not be required to pay the STEM OPT Extension Administration Fee again.

How processed I-20s will be sent to students: 

Effective immediately, STEM OPT Extension I-20s will no longer be sent via express mail. Processed STEM OPT Extension I-20s will be signed and distributed electronically by OIS Designated School Officials (DSOs). Students will be notified by email to download and print their signed STEM OPT Extension I-20 from the OPT I-20 Request System. After printing, students must sign the printed I-20 in ink; USCIS does not allow students to sign the I-20 electronically.

SEVP, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Department of State (DoS) have confirmed they accept I-20s electronically signed by DSOs. Please note only DSOs may electronically sign I-20s; students may not electronically sign any documents submitted to USCIS.

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Sample I-983 for USC Graduates

Click Here for Sample I-983 for USC Graduates

In order for OIS to recommend graduates for the STEM OPT Extension and issue an I-20, all students must submit a Form I-983 Training Plan. When completing the I-983 Training Plan, please refer to this sample for guidance. Additional information can be found in the STEM OPT Extension Instructions or on the Study in the States website.

As a reminder, USCIS requires original, scanned, or copied wet signatures for the Form I-983. Electronic (such as Adobe or DocuSign), typed, or other such signatures are not authorized.

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STEM OPT Extension Application Checklist

Click Here for STEM OPT Extension Application Checklist

Once students receive their STEM OPT Extension I-20 from OIS, they can assemble the STEM OPT Extension application packet and mail it to USCIS for processing. Refer to the STEM OPT Extension Application Checklist for a list of required documents for the STEM OPT Extension application.

For guidance on completing the Form I-765 indicated on the checklist, please refer to the Sample STEM OPT Extension I-765.


Sample STEM OPT Extension I-765

Click Here for Sample STEM OPT Extension I-765

On September 29, 2020, a U.S. federal court issued an injunction against the USCIS fee increase that was expected to go into effect on October 2, 2020. Due to this ruling, USCIS will continue to accept STEM OPT Extension applications filed with the 8/25/20 edition of the Form I-765 and $410 fee until further notice.

Please refer to USC’s Sample OPT I-765 when completing the OPT application. Be sure to download the most recent versions of the I-765 and instructions from USCIS. Failure to use the most recent version could result in OPT denial.

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STEM OPT Extension Employment Reporting Requirements

Every six months, immigration regulations require students on STEM OPT Extension to report to OIS the validity of their personal and employment information in the SEVP Portal. Reports must be emailed to OPTSTEM@usc.edu. In email subject line write: [Type of Report]: [Last Name], [First Name] — [SEVIS ID #], and attach required documents in PDF format. Reports are due at the following times:

  • 6-months after the STEM EAD Start Date
  • 12-months after the STEM EAD Start Date
    • Submit STEM OPT Extension Data Validation Report Form, and
    • Submit copy of Form I-983 (all 5 pages) with signed self-evaluation in top section of Page 5, the range of evaluation dates should cover the first 12-months of the STEM EAD period
      • If you changed employers in the first 12-months of the STEM EAD period, the range of evaluation dates must be your current employment start date – 12-months after your STEM EAD start date
  • 18-months after the STEM EAD Start Date
  • The STEM EAD End Date
    • Submit STEM OPT Extension Data Validation Report Form, and
    • Submit copy of Form I-983 (all 5 pages) with signed final self-evaluation in bottom section of Page 5, the range of evaluation dates should cover the last 12-months of the STEM EAD period
      • If you changed employers in the last 12-months of the STEM EAD period, the range of evaluation dates must be your current employment start date – the STEM EAD end date

Immigration regulations also require changes to STEM OPT employment must also be reported to OIS, before or within 10 days of the change. Reports must be emailed to OPTSTEM@usc.edu. In email subject line write: [Type of Report]: [Last Name], [First Name] — [SEVIS ID #], and attach required documents in PDF format. Changes that require reporting include:

Having SEVP Portal Issues?

Before contacting OIS, please review the Study in the States: SEVP Portal Help website for answers to common questions or issues, including how to unlock your SEVP Portal account or reset your password.

If you need the initial SEVP Portal account creation email to be resent, need to change your SEVP Portal email address, or have any other SEVP Portal issue not addressed on the Study in the States website, submit an SEVP Portal Account Issue request to OIS. Please allow up to four (4) business days for processing. You will receive an email from OIS@usc.edu when your request is complete or if additional information is needed.

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USCIS Extends Flexibilities to Certain Applicants Filing Form I-765 for OPT

Excerpt of USCIS announcement published on February 26, 2021. Full announcement available on the USCIS website.

14-month OPT Period Flexibilities

F-1 students may participate in up to 12 months of post-completion OPT, which must be completed within 14 months from the end of their program. Due to the delays at the lockbox, some applicants may only be eligible for a shortened period of OPT within that 14-month period. To allow F-1 students to complete the full period of requested OPT (up to 12 months), USCIS will allow the 14-month period to commence from the date of approval of the Form I-765 for applications for post-completion OPT.

Beginning today, USCIS will approve applications for post-completion OPT with validity dates reflecting the same amount of time originally recommended by the designated school official (DSO) from their school on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.

F-1 students requesting post-completion OPT who receive an approval of Form I-765 for less than the full amount of OPT time requested (not to exceed 12 months) due to the requirement that the OPT be completed within 14 months of the program end date may request a correction of the EAD due to USCIS error. USCIS will issue a corrected EAD with a new end date, as requested, to cover the full amount of OPT time recommended in the original application.

Refiling Following Rejection

Applicants for OPT must file the Form I-765 during certain timeframes. However, we recognize that due to the lockbox delays, some applicants who timely filed Form I-765 for OPT and whose applications were later rejected are unable to timely refile within the required application timeframes.

USCIS will accept a refiled Form I-765 for OPT and STEM OPT as filed on the original filing date if:

  • The original, timely filed application was received on or after Oct. 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021, inclusive; and
  • USCIS subsequently rejected it.

Refiled applications must be received by May 31, 2021, for USCIS to treat the application as though filed on the original received date.

Applicants refiling a Form I-765 for OPT or STEM OPT do not need to obtain a new Form I-20 with an updated OPT recommendation from the DSO, as long as they originally submitted an application for post-completion OPT within 30 days of the DSO’s recommendation or an application for STEM OPT within 60 days of the DSO’s recommendation as required by the regulations.

Applicants refiling an application should include a copy of the rejection notice to facilitate review of the case.

Missing or Deficient Signatures

Applications with missing or deficient signatures are generally rejected at the lockbox. This policy remains unchanged. However, if the lockbox accepts a Form I-765 application for OPT or STEM OPT with a missing or deficient signature, USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence rather than deny the application, to give the applicant the opportunity to respond and provide the necessary signature or correct the deficiency. We encourage applicants filing Form I-765 to review the form instructions on our website to ensure their application is complete before filing it.

USCIS Receipt Notice Delays

USCIS has confirmed they are experiencing significant delays in issuing Receipt Notices. At this time, receipt notices are being issued approximately 4-6 weeks after the applications are delivered (i.e., received at the lockbox).

Per USCIS, the receipt issuance delays will not affect the receipt date. Therefore, we need to rely on your tracking information to assume your application is received and pending. If your shipment tracking information shows that your application was delivered to the USCIS lockbox within 60 days of your STEM OPT Extension I-20 issuance date, no further action is required at this time.

OIS will not issue a new I-20 at this time because we do not want to duplicate or cancel any applications that have been received (i.e., delivered) to USCIS as this can cause a number of additional issues with you STEM OPT Extension application, including denial.

Your Receipt Notice will reflect two dates – the date it was delivered (i.e., received at the lockbox) and the date USCIS issued (i.e., printed) the Receipt Notice. When you receive your Receipt Notice, please make note of the received date to confirm your application was received no more than 60 days after your STEM OPT Extension I-20 issuance date.

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OIS Advising and Contact Information

Do you have any questions after reviewing the above information? OIS can provide assistance via email or an advising session.

Email: Contact OPTSTEM@usc.edu – include student name, SEVIS ID, and a description of question or concern.

OIS Live: OIS Advisors are available for one-on-one consultation Mondays through Fridays via Zoom. Refer to the OIS Live schedule for advising hours and Zoom meeting link. No appointment necessary.

OIS Group Advising and Webinars: OIS offers group advising sessions covering topics such as STEM OPT Extension via Zoom.  Refer to the OIS eCalendar  for upcoming sessions.

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