See also: F-1 Optional Practical Training (Standard, non-STEM)


This information is for certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree holders who are about to finish their regular 12 months of OPT and wish to request additional 17 months of OPT, for a total of 29 months.

  • Eligibility Requirements
    • You must have successfully completed a bachelor's, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Programs list, as specified on your current I-20.
      *The list was updated on 5/21/2012 with additional eligible majors.  Additions are in bold.
    • You must be currently participating in a 12-month period of OPT, working for a US employer in a job directly related to your STEM major area of study.
    • You must have a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system at the time of application for the 17-month OPT extension.  It is your responsibility to ensure your employer is registered with E-Verify.
    • You must have not previously received a 17-month OPT extension after earning a STEM degree.
    • The Designated School Official (DSO) at International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) must recommend the 17-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying your eligibility, certifying that your degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, and ensuring that you are aware of your responsibilities for maintaining status while on OPT.
    • If you timely file a non-frivolous application for the 17-month OPT extension, you will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
  • How to Apply for STEM OPT?
  • Step One

    1. The STEM Extension Request electronic request form is available in iPenn. After you log in with your Pennkey, you will find "STEM OPT Extension Request " under Student Services in the left menu.
    2. As part of your iPenn eform submission, scan and upload the following:
      • Photocopy of pages 1 and 3 of all previous and current I-20(s)
      • Photocopy of passport (photocopy of photo page, renewal page if original has expired, and pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections etc.)
      • Photocopy of your I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94)
        Refer to the automated I-94 process at http://global.upenn.edu/isss/travel
      • Photocopy of current OPT/EAD card if you have not already provided one to ISSS
    3. Upon verifying your eligibility and determining that your degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program list, an ISSS advisor will prepare an I-20 recommending STEM OPT extension on Page 3.

    If you have any questions about STEM OPT extension or the application process, please meet with an ISSS advisor during advising hours.



    Step Two

    Based on your eform request, you may come to ISSS to pick up your new STEM OPT I-20 in  3-5 business days or, it will be mailed to you as requested.   During the peak / high-volume period, processing may take longer.





    Step Three

    Mail the following items to the USCIS Service Center which has jurisdiction over the address listed on Form I-765:

    • Completed Form I-765 including your employer’s E-Verify information (NOTE: consult ISSS prior to e-filing I-765 via the USCIS website as the processes differ.)
      • For post-completion OPT, enter “c 3 C” under Item 16
      • I-94 number can be found on the I-94 printout (if entered by air/sea) or paper I-94 card (if entered via land)
      • Type or print legibly as USCIS uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology
      • Be sure to check off the purpose (“I am applying for:”) of the form
      • Sign in blue ink
      • Signature should be within the box
    • I-765 Application Fee, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
      • must be drawn at a financial institution that is physically located in the U.S.
    • Photocopy of the qualifying STEM degree transcripts or diploma (if it states the major)
    • Photocopy of pages 1 and 3 of all previous and current I-20(s), including a photocopy of the new OPT I-20
    • Photocopy of current I-94 (if you have a paper I-94 card, include both front and back)
    • Photocopy of the visa used for last entry into the U.S. (except for citizens of Canada and Bermuda)
    • Photocopy of passport (photocopy of photo page, renewal page if original has expired, and pages showing amendments such as name changes, corrections etc.)
    • Two US passport-style photos, taken recently (Photograph instructions are found on the Form I-765 instructions under Required Documentation.  Also, lightly print your name on the back of each photo with a pencil.)
    • Photocopy of any previously issued employment authorization documents (EAD cards)


    IMPORTANT:      

    • Please consult ISSS prior to e-fling I-765 via the USCIS website.
    • Check all documents for completeness and accuracy.  
    • Be sure to sign Forms I-20 and I-765.
    • Make a complete copy of your application for your records. ISSS does not maintain copies of OPT applications.

    The USCIS “Dallas Lockbox” filing location is applicable to the following states and territories:
    Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia. If the state you put on form I-765 in item 3 is not in this list, refer to the mailing instructions for F-1 OPT applications in the I-765 Instructions.

    U.S. Postal Service deliveries:
    USCIS
    P.O. Box 660867
    Dallas, TX 75266

    Express mail and courier deliveries:
    USCIS
    Attn: AOS
    2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
    Suite 400
    Lewisville, TX 75067

    People filing at the lockbox can sign up to receive an email and/or text message confirming that the application was accepted by adding Form G-1145 as the first page of the OPT application. 

    We recommend that you mail your application by express mail such as Federal Express or UPS, or by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, so you will have a record of its delivery.

  • When to Apply?
    • A qualifying STEM degree holder may file the OPT application up to 120 days before the current OPT end date.  
    • However, the OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT I-20.  
    • Processing times for OPT applications can be found on the USCIS website.
    • In general, an OPT application will take three months to be approved.
    • However, a student’s work authorization is extended for up to 180 days while the STEM extension application is pending.
  • Employer's Responsibility
  • The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of a STEM OPT employee to ISSS at the University of Pennsylvania via email with the subject line, “STEM OPT Employer Update” or through any other means or process identified by DHS if the termination or departure is prior to the end of the authorized period of OPT.  Such reporting must be made within 48 hours of the event.  An employer shall consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left the employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the consent of the employer, whichever occurs earlier.

  • Reporting Requirements While on STEM OPT
  • STEM degree holders on the 17-month OPT extension are required to report to ISSS within 10 days of any change of:

    • legal name
    • residential or mailing address
    • employer name
    • employer address
    • change or loss of employment

    Students are also required to make a validation report to ISSS every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the 17-month OPT extension ends, whichever is first. The validation is a confirmation that the student's name and address, employer name and address, and/or loss of employment are current and accurate. This six-month validation report is due to ISSS within 10 business days of each reporting date.  

    Please report all changes and validation reports by completing the OPT STEM Reporting eform available in iPenn.

  • Duration of OPT Employment Authorization
    • Employment authorization is normally granted to begin on the date requested or the date the employment authorization is adjudicated, whichever is later, and is authorized until the end date requested.
    • If you timely file a non-frivolous application for the 17-month OPT extension, you will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
  • Important Reminders
    • If you later decide not to mail your OPT application (Form I-765 plus supporting documentation) to USCIS for any reason, you must notify an ISSS advisor immediately so that we may timely cancel your OPT recommendation in SEVIS.  Failure to inform an ISSS advisor that you are not applying for OPT can cause problems in the future.
    • Please meet with an ISSS advisor if you have not received an I-797 Receipt Notice with a case number from USCIS within 2-6 weeks from the date that your OPT application was received at USCIS.  Please bring a copy of delivery confirmation.
    • Please email (isss@pobox.upenn.edu) or fax (215-573-9587) a copy of your OPT card to ISSS immediately upon receipt.
    • While OPT is pending, we strongly advise you against changing the address listed on Form 1-765 as USClS has not been able to process change of address notifications properly.  Changing your address while OPT is still pending may result in your being required to file a new OPT application with a new fee if your documents are lost. We suggest that you use the address of someone who can receive mail on your behalf – remember to put “c/o”, followed by the person’s name and address, on Line 3 of Form I-765. The US Postal Service will not forward USCIS mail.
    • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), please consult an ISSS advisor immediately.
    • Your OPT will be automatically terminated when you begin study at another educational level or transfer to another school.
    • If you find any errors by USCIS on your OPT EAD card, please inform ISSS immediately.
    • Immediately inform ISSS of any immigration status change.
  • Travel on OPT
  • It is prudent to consult an ISSS advisor prior to leaving the US as immigration regulations can change at any time.  Currently the following are required to return to the US:

    • A valid passport
    • A valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport (except Canadian and Bermudian citizens)
    • Your OPT I-20 endorsed for reentry by an ISSS advisor within the last six months
    • Your valid EAD for OPT
    • Evidence of employment such as a job offer or employment verification letter

    If you do not have all of these documents listed above or plan to leave the US while your OPT application is pending with USCIS, you should consult an ISSS advisor before traveling abroad.  It is recommended that you remain in the U.S. while OPT is pending at USCIS to respond to any additional requests from USCIS.  For more information, see: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel/faq_f2.htm.

    Please note: Your EAD will have a notation “not valid for reentry to US.” This is printed on all EAD cards issued for OPT and simply means that the card alone is not sufficient for reentry to the US.

  • H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
  • Duration of F-1 status and work authorization will be extended for a student on OPT (or STEM OPT) who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed, non-frivolous H-1B petition requesting a change of nonimmigrant status with an employment start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September). The extension of duration of status and work authorization will automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

    To request an updated I-20 for cap-gap extension, please provide the following evidence to ISSS via email at (isss@pobox.upenn.edu) with subject "Cap-Gap Extension I-20 Request":

    • Copy of current I-94 card, front and back
    • Copy of STEM OPT EAD card
    • Employer's name and full address including a zip code

    In addition:

    • For a receipted H-1B petition: A copy of the Form I-797 Receipt Notice and a letter from your employer stating that:
      • the cap-subject H-1B petition was filed with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing
      • the H-1B petition was filed with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September)
    • For an approved H-1B petition: A copy of the Form I-797 Approval Notice
    • For a wait-listed H-1B petition: A copy of the wait list letter from USCIS to the employer and a letter from your employer stating that:
      • the cap-subject H-1B petition was filed with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing
      • the H-1B petition was filed with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October thru September)
    • For a properly-filed H-1B petition:
      • A letter from the employer stating that you are the beneficiary listed on a properly filed e cap-subject H-1B petition (with a request for change of status rather than for consular processing; and with a requested start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year) and proof of delivery to a USCIS showing the date of receipt.

    Things to Consider:

    • This benefit is not availabe to the H-1B petition filed by a cap-exempt employer.
    • Students on cap-gap extensions must also continue to report all changes of name and address, employer name/address, and any change or loss of employment.
    • Also, remember to make a validation report to ISSS every six months (for details, read the Reporting Requirements While on STEM OPT section above. 
    • During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.  STEM degree holders granted a 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month OPT period.
    • Students on cap-gap extension should not travel outside the U.S. since your OPT EAD has expired.

New USCIS Development:

The OPT application must also be received by the USCIS within 30 days of the date on which ISSS issues an OPT I-20.  If filed with USCIS after 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date, your application will be denied.