F-1 STEM OPT Extension

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Update: Judge Blocks USCIS Fee Increases

On September 29, 2020, a federal judge blocked the implementation of USCIS fee increases that were to take effect on October 2, 2020. Current fees remain in place until further legal action on this case.

Eligibility

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 receipt your OPT STEM Extension application is the date your EAD expires. They do not necessarily issue a receipt notice the application the day it is received in their mailroom, so don't wait until the last minute.
Stem dates OPT
  1. You are ineligible for a STEM OPT extension if you exceed 90 days without employment during post-completion OPT.
     
  2. You are limited to a total of 150 days without employment during the period encompassing both post-completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension.

Example

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.  

90_60_unemployment

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.

30_120_unemployment

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.

Application Process

Step 1.

Pay the STEM OPT Administration Fee

Pay the $440 STEM OPT Administration Fee. You remain in F-1 status under Columbia’s sponsorship with an active SEVIS record during your authorized period of 24 months of a STEM OPT extension.

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Step 2.

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.

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Step 3.

Log In to Compass with Your UNI and Password to Submit Your Application

Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

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Step 4.

We Will Contact You

Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. We will notify you by email when your new I-20 with STEM OPT extension recommendation is ready to be shipped.

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Step 5.

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.

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Step 6.

Mail Your STEM OPT Extension Application to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

After you receive the STEM OPT I-20 from us (Step 5), compile these documents to send to USCIS (Step 6).

** Be very careful that your application is complete before you mail it! USCIS can deny your application if it's missing any required documentation without sending you an RFE (Request for Evidence) Read more.

Want a printable version? Download our USCIS Application Checklist.

Send all the required documents!

Use the checklist to make sure you send everything you need as instructed.

Send it on time! 

USCIS must receipt 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. If your application receipt date is later than the 60-day limit, they will deny your STEM OPT extension application, without returning or refunding your $410 fee.

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 with dark blue or black ink

Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, credit card authorization 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.

Use the USCIS address that corresponds to the state on your U.S. mailing address listed on the I-765 OPT application. To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the correct USCIS Lockbox facilities.

Dallas Lockbox States

If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, send your application to the Dallas lockbox:

USCIS
Attn: NFB AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Phoenix Lockbox States

If you list your mailing address on the I-765 as being in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, send your application to the Phoenix lockbox:

USCIS
Attn: NFB AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

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Step 7.

Receive USCIS Receipt Notice

You will receive an I-797C Receipt Notice from USCIS in approximately three to four weeks from the date you mail your application. 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.

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Step 8.

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

 

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Step 9.

Receive Your STEM OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

The OPT STEM Extension start date on your EAD card will be the date after your OPT EAD expires. Contact us if you receive any other notice, such as a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.

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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.

STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

You and your employer have specific STEM OPT reporting obligations throughout your STEM OPT training period. For details, see our webpage on how to comply with STEM OPT Reporting Requirements

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

Traveling on OPT

Traveling on OPT STEM Extension? Visit our Travel page for more information.