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Read this chart to see if you are eligible for a OPT STEM Extension.
Before You Apply
F-1 regulations require you to be in the U.S. in F-1 status at the time you apply for any type of OPT. Your most recent I-94 admission record is among the required documentation.
- The earliest you may submit an application to the ISSO for your OPT STEM Extension I-20 is 90 days before the end date of your initial period of Post-Completion OPT. Please allow up to 10 business days for processing.
- The latest USCIS can receive your OPT STEM Extension application is the date your EAD expires. They do not necessarily issue a receipt notice for the application the day it is received in their mailroom, so don't wait until the last minute.
- You are ineligible for a STEM OPT extension if you exceed 90 days without employment during post-completion OPT.
- You are limited to a total of 150 days without employment during the period encompassing both post-completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension.
For example, if you had 90 days of unemployment during post-completion OPT, that leaves you with a maximum of 60 days allowed without employment during the 24 months of the STEM OPT extension.
If, however, you had accrued 30 days without work during post-completion OPT, you would have up to 120 days during the STEM OPT extension period.
In addition to being enrolled in E-Verify, your STEM OPT employer:
- has to abide by certain terms and conditions for participation
- must provide appropriate training
- must maintain a bona fide employer-employee relationship with you
- has reporting obligations to the ISSO. Learn more at our STEM OPT Reporting section below.
STEM OPT may take place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business as long as all of the training obligations are met.
Learn more about employer responsibilities from USCIS.
Gather Your Documents and Information
These are the documents you will upload when you login to Compass to submit your application for the STEM OPT Extension I-20.
We Will Contact You
Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. If your request is approved, we will email your new digital STEM OPT Extension I-20 for you to print with additional instructions.
Review, Sign and Date Your New I-20
Review your new I-20 for accuracy, including the CIP code next to your Progam Major on page one. Remember that the travel signature on page 2 is valid for six months. Keep all previously issued I-20s as you may need them in the future.
Mail Your STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS
First, complete the I-765 (# 4 on the checklist). Watch this short video and use our sample form as a guide to complete your I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Always download the I-765 from this link for the current version. USCIS will reject applications with older versions of the form. When you’re finished, print and sign it with black ink.
Want a printable version? Download our USCIS STEM OPT Application Checklist.
Send all the required documents!
USCIS can deny your application if you're missing any required documentation. Use the checklist to make sure it is complete, and organize your application materials in the same order (#1 on top).
- Use paper clips, not staples.
- Copies may be black and white, or color
- Make single-sided, rather than double-sided, copies.
Send it on time!
USCIS must receive your application within 60 days after the date the STEM OPT I-20 was issued. The day USCIS receives your application is not necessarily the day that USCIS will issue a receipt for it.
Be sure your address on the I-765 will be valid for four months after mailing
Government mail is not forwarded to another address. If you change your address during the processing time, you can use the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.
Sign all forms in ink
Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, or check.
Make a copy of your entire application for your records
You may need a paper or scanned copy in the future.
UEMS Discount Shipping Option
UEMS (also known as eShip Global) offers discounted rates to ship your OPT application to USCIS by FedEx, UPS, or USPS. Follow eShipGlobal instructions to create your shipping label.
To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS.
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
Receive USCIS Receipt Notice
Normally, you will receive an I-797C Receipt Notice from USCIS in approximately three to four weeks from the date you mail your application, but the USCIS lockbox in Texas has had significant delays in processing and sending receipt notices since November 2020. USCIS changed the address to the Chicago lockbox on 1/8/21 for all kinds of OPT applications, as part of their plan to address the backlog. See our FAQs on OPT/STEM Delays.
Check receipt for accuracy. If you notice an error, contact the ISSO immediately.
If you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS, contact the ISSO immediately.
Continue Employment While Your Application is Pending
If you filed an application on time for a STEM extension, you will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made or for 180 days, whichever comes first. Your employer may refer to section 6.4.2 of the I-9 Handbook for Employers under F-1 STEM OPT Extension.
*If you are changing employers and your application is still pending, please contact ISSO@columbia.edu
If USCIS case status indicates that your EAD card is delivered but you did not receive it, try one of the following methods:
- Use USPS’ Missing Mail and Lost Package Form to locate your envelope.
- Visit your local US Post Office and ask them for detailed scanning information about where and when your package was scanned.
If USPS lost the EAD, attach a letter from the US Postal Service on official letterhead, stating that the USPS is responsible for the lost EAD, including the contact person from the US Post Office, to an email to the ISSO that serves your campus.
After You Receive the STEM EAD Card
Make a copy of your documents. You may need them in the future to document your employment history and compliance with U.S. immigration regulations, or for future immigration or visa applications.
Changing or Adding Employers
It is possible to change employers during the STEM OPT extension, or add a second concurrent employer. The same STEM OPT Extension requirements apply for each employment situation
Related Content and Resources
- STEM OPT Information from DHS
- USCIS STEM OPT Information Page for Students and Employers
- DHS I-983 Instructions
- Form I-983
- Sample Form I-983
- Form I-765
- Sample Form I-765
- Form I-765 Tips Video
- USCIS I-765 Instructions
- Form G-1145
- How to Write a Check
- eShipGlobal Instructions for Shipping Label
- I-9 Handbook for Employers
- Exemption from Social Security tax
- Social Security Information for Employers
- USCIS on Starting Your Own Business