Can I Get a STEM Extension of My Optional Practical Training Permit to Work in a Lab?

Question:

I'm an F-1 student who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. I’m working in a lab, and would like to keep working here as long as possible. Am I eligible for a STEM extension?

Answer:

The answer is most likely yes. As it sounds like you have already heard, F-1 students who have graduated from a STEM-designated degree program and who accept positions in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics can receive an extra 24 months of work permission as Optional Practical Training (OPT), allowing them a total of 36 months of OPT work authorization.

The rules for the 24-month extension are slightly different. To be eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension, you must:

  • be currently participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT
  • have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when you submit your extension application to USCIS
  • pursue your STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
  • select a STEM OPT employer that provides you with formal training and learning objectives, and
  • work at least 20 hours per week per employer.

 Each major in the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) is given a unique CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) code. Your major and its CIP code can be found on your I-20 at the top left hand corner of page three.

In order to determine whether your employer is registered in the E-verify system, you will need to contact its human resources department directly. If your employer is already registered in the E-verify system, ask for its E-verify number and the exact name under which the company is listed in the system.

If your employer is not currently registered in E-verify, registration is free and easy. However, joining will commit your employer to a list of serious obligations and duties. The decision to join E-verify must not be taken lightly and should be made by your employer.

If you are currently approved for the initial 12 months of OPT, have not received a STEM extension before, majored in a topic whose CIP code appears on the STEM major list, and will be working for an employer that is registered in E-verify, you can contact your Designated School Official (DSO) for help with the STEM extension application.

The STEM extension can be granted only twice in a lifetime. If you have aspirations of continuing on to the next education level (Master’s or Ph.D.), then you will need to decide whether you want to apply for the second 24-month STEM extension after your Master’s or Ph.D.

 

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