OPT Extension for STEM Degree Students
All F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) for work related to their field of study. OPT can now be extended to 36 months for those who have completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD degree in certain science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields, and whose employers are enrolled in the e-Verify employment verification program.
The extension is based on the student's major, which is listed on the I-20, and is available one time per eligible student. The extension application may be filed up to 90 days prior to the expiration of post-completion OPT. It must be filed before the initial 12 months of post-completion OPT has ended.
The 24 month extension period was chosen for a reason. STEM degree holders are highly desirable to U.S. companies who need the best talent to maintain their competitiveness. 24 months is long enough to give U.S. employers two chances to recruit these individuals as nonimmigrant workers in H-1B status through the annual H-1B filing process.
All fields of post-secondary study have been assigned a Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code by the National Center for Education Statistics. The Department of Homeland Security has designated certain individual CIP codes within STEM-related CIP “families” (groups of related fields) as eligible for the 24 month STEM extension. The families containing eligible CIP codes are:
- Agriculture, Agriculture Operations & Related Science CIP Family 01.xxxx
- Natural Resources & Conservation CIP Family 03.xxxx
- Communication, Journalism & Related Programs CIP Family 09.xxxx
- Communications Technologies/Technicians & Support Services CIP Family 10.xxxx
- Computer, Information Sciences & Support Services CIP Family 11.xxxx
- Education CIP Family 13.xxxx
- Engineering CIP Family 14.xxxx
- Engineering Technologies & Engineering-Related Fields CIP Family 15.xxxx
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences CIP Family 26.xxxx
- Mathematics and Statistics CIP Family 27.xxxx
- Military Technologies & Applied Science CIP Family 29.xxxx
- Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies CIP Family 30.xxxx
- Physical Sciences CIP Family 40.xxxx
- Science Technologies/Technicians CIP Family 41.xxxx
- Psychology CIP Family 42.xxxx
- Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting & Related Protective Services CIP Family 43.xxxx
- Social Sciences CIP Family 45.xxxx
- Health Professions & Related Programs CIP Family Code 51.xxxx
- Business Management, Marketing, & Related Support Services CIP Family Code 52.xxxx
Not all codes are eligible in each family. For a detailed list of CIP codes that are eligible for the 24 month STEM exception, please visit http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm.
How can I find the CIP code for my field of study?
The CIP code is listed on a student's I-20 form. It can be found at the top of the third page next to the words "Primary Major".
Maintaining Continuous Employment
An individual who has properly filed for a STEM OPT extension prior to the expiration of the initial 12 months of post-completion OPT may continue working for up to 180 days while USCIS adjudicates the application. The application can be made up to 90 days before the end of the first year of OPT.
If you become unemployed while on OPT, you may remain in the U.S. for an aggregate of 90 days during the initial 12-month OPT period. However, those who are granted a 24 month STEM extension are granted an additional 60 days of allowable unemployment time. In either case, you are expected to leave the U.S. before accumulating more than the maximum allowable unemployment time.