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24-Month STEM OPT Extension for F-1 Students

24-Month STEM OPT Extension for F-1 Students

These materials are provided solely for informational purposes and are not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.

What makes an F-1 student eligible for the 24-Month STEM OPT Work Authorization Extension?

Students in F-1 status who are currently on OPT can extend their work authorization an additional 24-months if they meet certain criteria:

  • Students must complete a course of study in a STEM eligible field:
  • Student must have a STEM degree from an accredited U.S. institution
  • Students must have a job offer to work in a position related to their STEM field of study
  • Students must have a job offer from an employer who is registered in the E-verify
  • Students must have used 90 days or less of their maximum days of unemployment while in OPT.
  • Students should submit a detailed training plan from their employer to the DSO including concrete learning objectives and proper oversight well in advance of the OPT expiration.
  • Students must submit a complete application, including an application for EAD, to the USCIS prior to the expiration of the initial EAD period.

What is required of the E-Verify Employer for the STEM extension training period and what attestations must be made as part of the training plan?

  • Safeguards for U.S. Workers: Employer must agree not to replace any U.S. workers with the foreign student and to provide wages and benefits comparable to other similarly situated U.S. workers employed at the worksite. A student’s practical training opportunity may not result in the termination, laying off, or furloughing of any full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. workers.
  • Report Changes in Employment: Employer and student are obligated to report within 5 business days any material changes to the student’s formal training plan and any changes in the student’s employment status.
    • Material changes include: decreased compensation, change in hours worked, change in worksite address, change in employer’s name, change in student’s position, significant changes or deviations from the student’s formal training plan.
  • The Training Plan should:
    • Explain how the training opportunity is directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree;
    • Identify goals for the STEM practical training opportunity, including specific knowledge, skills and/or techniques that will be imparted to the student, and explain how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer;
    • Describe a performance evaluation process to be utilized in evaluating the OPT STEM student; and
    • Describe methods of oversight and supervision that generally apply to the OPT STEM student.

The Department of Homeland Security’s primary concern is whether the student’s continued learning and the relationship between the work-based learning experience and the student’s studies.

Requirements for Student STEM graduates Seeking the 24 Month Extension

In addition to the eligibility requirements listed above, students must meet certain reporting requirements:

  • Students must confirm biographical, residential and employment information every six months.
  • Students must report to the DSO with an annual self-evaluation of their progress in practical training.
  • Employer and student are obligated to report within 5 business days any material changes to the student’s formal training plan and any changes in the student’s employment status.
    • Material changes include: decreased compensation, change in hours worked, change in worksite address, change in employer’s name, change in student’s position, significant changes or deviations from the student’s formal training plan.

How Should an Employer Prepare for a DHS site visit?

Although DHS site visits of STEM OPT employers are rare, employers should maintain an active file for each F-1 STEM OPT student that includes:

  • Record of student’s current employment status, including current position, hours worked per week, current salary, and any changes in employment status
  • Records of student’s current biographical information (address, full legal name, contact information)
  • Records of employer’s information, including E-Verify number and address
  • Copies of student’s I-20s, current work authorization card, and most recent I-94
  • Copies of student’s formal training plan and documentation of any changes made to the plan
  • Records of student’s progress in achieving the objectives detailed in the plan
  • Records of student’s supervisor and any of supervisor’s feedback on student’s progress and work performance
  • Records of any annual self-evaluations the student has submitted 

DHS may conduct on-site audit visits with 48 hours of prior notice unless triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance, to determine compliance with the regulatory requirements and employer maintenance of training program records.

Does “Cap-Gap” Apply for those in their 24-month STEM EAD period?

Cap-gap provisions extend an F-1 student’s duration of status and any current employment authorization until October 1 if the student is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition filed by a cap-subject employer requesting a change of status with a start date of October 1.

If an F-1 student is the beneficiary of a timely filed petition for a cap-subject H-1B visa with a start date of October 1 the F-1 status and any OPT authorization held on the eligibility date is automatically extended to dates determined by USCIS allowing for receipt or approval of the petition, up to September 30. The cap-gap OPT extension is automatic, and USCIS will not provide the student with a renewed EAD. However, F-1 students in this situation can request an updated Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility from the DSO, annotated for the cap-gap OPT extension, as well as proof that the Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, was filed in a timely manner.


Can a student travel during the cap-gap period?

During the cap-gap period, a student can travel and re-enter the United States provided that:

  • The student has a valid F-1 visa at the time of re-entry;
  • The student has a Form I-20 that reflects the cap-gap benefit and that has been properly endorsed with the DSO’s travel signature; AND
  • The H-1B petition filed on behalf of the student has been approved before the student travels (i.e., under longstanding INS/DHS policy, an applicant who departs the United States while a change of status application is pending and before it is approved is deemed to have abandoned the change of status application; in such a case, the student’s cap-gap benefit likewise would end).

DHS clarifies that an F-1 student generally may travel abroad and seek readmission to the United States in F-1 status during a cap-gap period if:

  • The student’s H-1B petition and request for change of status has been approved;
  • The student seeks readmission before his or her H-1B employment begins (normally at the beginning of the fiscal year, i.e. October 1); AND
  • The student is otherwise admissible.

However, as with any other instance in which an individual seeks admission to the United States, admissibility is determined at the time the individual applies for admission at a port of entry.

Travel is not allowed while H-1B petition is pending and before approval

DHS also notes that “if an F-1 student travels abroad before his or her H-1B change-of-status petition has been approved, USCIS will deem the petition abandoned. Consequently, such a student no longer would be authorized for F-1 status during the cap-gap period based on the H-1B change-of-status petition and thus would be unable to rely on the cap-gap provision’s extension of duration of status for purposes of seeking readmission as an F-1 student.”

Obtaining a Second STEM OPT Extension

Is it possible for students to obtain a second STEM extension?   

Yes. Students are allowed two lifetime 24-month STEM extensions. Students can qualify for a second extension after completion of a second STEM designated degree from an accredited U.S. institution at a different educational level (ex. completing a Master’s degree after a Bachelor’s degree) or by having completed a previous STEM designated degree from an accredited U.S. institution at a different educational level. 

How can a student receive a second STEM extension based on a previously earned STEM degree?

The 24-month rule permits students to use a previously obtained STEM degree from an accredited U.S. educational institution as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension, even if it did not serve as the basis for the student’s standard 12-month post-completion OPT, under the following conditions:

  • The prior degree was conferred no more than 10 years before the DSO recommends a STEM OPT extension in SEVIS based on that degree;
  • The prior degree was conferred by a U.S. educational institution that is accredited and SEVP-certified at the time the student’s DSO recommends the student for the 24-month OPT extension;
  • The prior degree is in a degree program category included on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time of the DSO recommendation;
  • The practical training opportunity that is the basis for the 24-month STEM OPT extension relates directly to the prior degree; AND
  • The prior degree was actually conferred (i.e., a student who uses a prior degree cannot take advantage of the "all but thesis or dissertation" exception).

Transferring, Termination of Employment, and Changes in Immigration Status

Can students transfer employers while in the 24-month STEM EAD Period?

Yes. Students can transfer employers, but the new employer must complete a new training plan and comply with all other requirements of the rule. The student must submit a new form I-983 and have a new I-20 issued.  The student does not need to submit a new application for work authorization (form I-765). 

What do employers need to do to ensure compliance when a student changes to H-1B or another lawful immigration status?

Employers should notify the student’s DSO that the student has obtained a different lawful immigration status and no longer needs to comply with the F-1 STEM OPT regulations within 5 business days of the change.  

What do employers need to do to ensure compliance when a student’s employment is terminated?

Employers must notify the relevant DSO no later than five business days after the termination of a student’s employment, if that termination was before the end of the student’s authorized OPT period.

What do employers need to do to ensure compliance with the new rule when a student’s STEM OPT work authorization expires?

The student must stop working at the end of his or her period of work authorization unless the student has an automatic extension of work authorization until October 1 under cap-gap or has changed to another non-immigrant visa status that allows for employment authorization. Students have a grace period of 60 non-work-authorized days to prepare for their departure from the U.S. 

Unemployment and Volunteer Work

How many days of unemployment may the student in 24-month STEM extension accrue?

The final rule retains the 90-day maximum period of unemployment during the initial period of post-completion OPT, but allows an additional 60 days (for a total of 150 days) for students who obtain a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Does the new rule allow volunteer work to count as OPT employment?

No. Volunteer or other unpaid positions cannot support the OPT STEM extension. The employer must make attestation stating that the F-1 student will receive compensation commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.


(updated 12/2022)

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