Optional Practical Training (OPT) 24 Month

Table of Contents

What Do I Need to Know Before I Apply for the OPT Extension?

Who is Eligible for an OPT Extension?

The extension is available only to F-1 students currently authorized for and actively participating in the initial period of 12-month OPT who meet very specific criteria.  These will be explained in further detail on this website:

  • Student must be currently participating in 12-month OPT based on a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Degree must be in a specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) areas. 
  • Degree must have been earned from a U.S. institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Completed extension application must be received by USCIS before the current 12-month OPT expires.
  • Must be working for an employer participating in E-Verify.
  • Student cannot have been authorized for more than one STEM extension previously.
  • Student has accrued fewer than 90 days of unemployment time during the current period of OPT.

How Do I Know if My Degree Program Qualifies?

The Department of Homeland Security publishes a "STEM Designated Program Degree" list found here.  These six-digit codes are called CIP (Classification of Instructional Program) codes, and reflect the only majors eligible for a STEM extension.

Every major at the University of Iowa has a CIP code assigned.  You can view the CIP code for your degree program by looking at the first page of your I-20, halfway down the form.  It will list the name of your area (this is the name associated with the CIP code, and does not necessarily match the University of Iowa name for that program), such as "52.1304 Actuarial Science."  If your CIP code is on the list, then you are eligible to apply for the extension.  If it is not there, you are not eligible and there is nothing ISSS or the University of Iowa can do to assist you.

If you happen to have a third major that does not appear on the I-20 (it can only print two) then please consult an ISSS advisor and we can tell you what the CIP code for that additional major is.  Remember that certificates, minors, and non-degree study are not eligible for OPT.

What About a Degree I Already Earned?

The new rule does permit eligibility for degrees previously earned.  

  • For example, this could mean that a student completes regular 12-month OPT based on a degree in Art that they just earned.  The Art degree is not eligible for a STEM extension, but the student also has a previous degree in Actuarial Science, which IS eligible.  As long as the work being done during the STEM extension employment is directly related to Actuarial Science, then the student may be able to apply for the STEM extension based on that prior Actuarial Science degree instead of the recent Art degree.

This is a new provision that was never included in OPT before, so can be a little complex.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • The prior degree must have been conferred within the 10 years preceding the date the DSO recommends the OPT STEM extension.
  • You must specify in the OPT STEM application that you are basing the application on a previously earned degree.
  • The degree must have been earned from an accredited and SEVIS-approved U.S. school.  Degrees earned outside the U.S., including from U.S. satellite campuses in other countries, cannot be accepted.  ISSS will verify accreditation status as part of the OPT STEM application process.
  • The degree must be bachelor's level or higher.
  • The major CIP code must be on the current STEM Designated Degree Program list mentioned above.  It may be necessary for ISSS to communicate with your previous school in order to get the CIP code for that program.

What Types of Employment Are Not Permitted?

  • Self-employment and sole proprietorship
  • Volunteer/unpaid positions
  • Brief employment with multiple employers, such as occurs through contracting (it may be acceptable to work for up to two employers at the same time, providing both meet the OPT STEM extension criteria and an I-983 is filed for each)
  • Working for temp or placement agencies or consulting firms
  • In order to qualify for OPT STEM extension, the student must be a “bona fide” and direct employee of the employer who completes the I-983

When Should I Apply for the OPT Extension?

You may apply for your OPT extension up to 90 days before your current OPT ends.  You cannot apply once your 12-month OPT expires or during the 60-day grace period.  Your complete OPT extension application must be received by USCIS before the expiration of your initial 12 months of OPT.

How Many Times Can I Get a STEM Extension?

Twice if your second application is based on earning a new degree at a higher level.  You must first do a full year of 12-month OPT, then apply for the STEM extension.  

  • For example, a student may earn a bachelor's degree and do 12 months of OPT, then do 24 months of STEM OPT.  That student may then go back to school and do a master's degree, do another 12 months of OPT, and then do a second period of STEM OPT.  That student is then no longer eligible for any more STEM OPT, even if they go on to do a PhD later (they COULD do 12 more months of regular 12-month OPT after the PhD, but no more STEM).

You cannot do the 24-month STEM extensions back to back (in consecutive periods of time).  

  • For example, you cannot do one period of 24-month OPT and then immediately apply for the second period of 24-month OPT.  You must go back to school and receive a new degree at a higher level, and do another period of 12-month OPT before you are eligible to again apply for a STEM extension.

For students who use a previously earned degree for the OPT STEM extension, you cannot "double dip" by basing another STEM extension on the same degree twice.  

  • For example, if you do one period of OPT STEM based on a prior degree, then go back to school and earn a higher degree and do another year of OPT, you cannot base the second STEM application on that same previous degree.  

Information Your Employer Will Need to Know

We strongly suggest you share this link with your employer so that they can fully prepare for their role in your OPT STEM extension process and how to fill out their portions of the form I-983:  http://international.uiowa.edu/isss/current/employment/opt/optional-practical-training-employer-faq .  If you will be working for the University of Iowa, it also includes specific information on how to list the UI information on the I-983.  If your employer still has questions or concerns, you may ask them to contact ISSS at isss@uiowa.edu .

What Responsibilities Will My Employer Have?

The new 24-month rule carries new obligations for employers, including:

  • Working with you to complete the Form I-983/Training Plan
  • Ensuring that you are paid a proper wage commensurate with U.S. workers who hold the same or similar positions
  • Have the appropriate resources and knowledgeable/experienced staff who can provide the needed supervision and guidance to follow the Training Plan
  • Ensure your hiring under OPT STEM is not displacing any U.S. workers
  • Communicate significant changes to your job description or training plan, or early termination of your work within 5 days to ISSS
  • Participate in two annual reviews of your performance and how well you are following the goals and objectives of the Training Plan
  • Participate in E-Verify

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is a free and simple to use Web-based system that electronically verifies the employment eligibility of newly hired employees.  E-Verify is a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees the program.

E-Verify works by allowing participating employers to electronically compare employee information taken from the Form I-9 (the paper-based employee eligibility verification form used for all new hires) against more than 425 million records in SSA's database and more than 60 million records in DHS immigration databases. Results are returned in seconds.

How Can My Employer Sign Up?

Your employer should go to https://www.uscis.gov/e-verify(link is external)

An employer's participation in E-Verify is voluntary and is currently free to employers.  To participate, an employer must register online and accept the electronic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the responsibilities of SSA, DHS, and the employer.

Can I Still Get an Extension if My Employer Does Not Sign Up for E-Verify?

No.  USCIS will not approve any extension applications where the employer is not participating in E-Verify.

Note to University of Iowa employees:  Please seek E-Verify information from your department’s Human Resources representative. ISSS cannot provide this number.

How Do I Apply for the OPT Extension? How Do I Fill Out the I-765?

  • Complete form I-765 (go to https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 and click on the link for "Form I-765 PDF"). 
    • Section 3:  You may choose to enter your own address OR the ISSS office address.
      • If you choose to use the ISSS mailing address:  Be aware that ISSS cannot guarantee receipt of your document.  Even if you request Priority Mail tracking, it is tracked only as far as the Iowa City Post Office.  ISSS has no control over mail that is not delivered to our office, and your safest choice will be to use your own mailing address.
      • If you choose to use your own mailing address:  Remember that it is your responsibility to update USCIS should you move to a new address before your OPT is approved.  The EAD card will not be forwarded and instead would be returned to USCIS, causing considerable delay for you and ISSS cannot impact this. https://egov.uscis.gov/coa/displayCOAForm.do
      • If you do choose to use the ISSS address, fill in the fields as follows:
        • Street Number or Name:  Enter "c/o ISSS Advisor"
        • Apt. Number:  Enter "1111 UCC"
        • Town or City:  Enter "Iowa City" and IA for state
        • Zip Code:  Enter "52242"
    • Section 9a:  Check “Yes” if you have already been issued a Social Security Number or “No” if you have never received one
      • Section 9b:  If you answered “Yes” above, enter the Social Security Number here
      • Section 10:  If you do not have a Social Security Number and wish to receive one through the mail, check “Yes” for both items 10 and 11 and also fill in items 12-13. Note:  You do have the option to decline receiving a Social Security Number through this method, and can still go in person to a local Social Security office once you have received your OPT authorization.  At this point in time ISSS cannot tell which method may be best, but USCIS indicates if you request your Social Security Number by checking “Yes” on this I-765 you should receive it in the mail about two weeks after your OPT is approved.
    • Section 14:  Alien Registration or I-94:  Enter your I-94 number, which can be found at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
    • Section 15:  Check "Yes" ONLY if you have ever been on OPT before, otherwise check "No"
    • Section 16 and 17:  Enter the last date and location you entered the US, as found in your online I-94 record
    • Section 18 and 19:  These should be F-1; if it is not, consult an ISSS advisor
    • Section 20:  Enter the following code:  C 3 C
    • Section 21:  Enter the degree you received, your employer's name as it appears in E-Verify, and their employer E-Verify number (you need to obtain this from your employer)
    • Section 22 and 23:  Leave these fields blank 
  • Complete form I-983 in collaboration with your employer.
  • Log in to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password.  Go to "F-1 Practical Training" and complete the e-form request "Optional Practical Training (OPT) 24 Month Request"
  • ISSS will receive your e-form request and create an updated I-20 to reflect your extension request.  We will mail two copies of the I-20 to you at the address you provide in the e-form request unless you have indicated you would prefer to pick up the document in person.  We will also return the copy of the I-765 with any indications for corrections or edits that you need to make on your original form as well as the form I-938.  Allow at least two weeks for the creation and mailing of the extension I-20.  Once you receive the I-20 and complete any required revisions to the I-765 form, mail your application to USCIS following the instructions below. 

Mailing your Application to USCIS

Send the following documentation to USCIS to apply for OPT extension, arranged in the order listed below:

  • Application Fee -  $410.  Personal checks or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to "United States Department of Homeland Security."  Personal checks are preferable to money orders, because they can more easily be traced in case of problems.
  • Two identical "natural color" passport photos – These are U.S.-style passport photos and must have been taken within the last 30 days. Passport photos taken in your home country will not be acceptable. Lightly print your name and your SEVIS number on the back of each photograph with a pencil to prevent problems should your photographs become separated from your I-765 application.  Local businesses that typically take passport photographs include drugstores, copy centers, and the post office. The ISSS does not encourage you to attempt to take these photos yourself. .
  • Form I-765  (See the instructions above.)
  • Form I-983/Training Plan - You fill out sections 1 and 2; your employer fills out sections 3, 4, 5, and 6.  (The other sections will be filled out later as part of your annual evaluation process.)
  • Copy of new OPT extension I-20 that you will receive from an ISSS adviser.
  • Official transcript or degree verification –  must indicate the degree level and title of major/degree programs upon which your OPT STEM application is based. Transcripts can be requested through MyUI or by contacting the Registrar's Office.  If you are basing your application on a degree earned at another U.S. school, you will have to contact that school to obtain a copy of your transcript.
  • A printout of your most recent Form I-94 - obtained online here
  • A copy of your passport photo/information page showing the passport expiration date AND your most recent U.S. visa
  • A copy of all previous EAD cards.
  • Optional: Complete the Form G-1145 E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance if you wish to take advantage of receiving email and/or text messages when your application has been received by USCIS. This means that you will not need to wait until the official receipt notice is mailed to the ISSS before you can know that the application has been officially received by the government.  NOTE:  USCIS will continue to mail the receipt notices to the ISSS.  Completion and submission of this form for email and/or text message notification is an option for you and not a required form, but if you include this form, please put it as the FIRST PAGE of your application.

Where to Mail:

You will mail your OPT application to either the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox or the USCIS Dallas Lockbox - it all depends on the mailing address that you use on the I-765.  Go to this website to see which address you should use.  Ask an ISSS advisor if you are uncertain.

Your OPT extension application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the creation of your I-20 reflecting your OPT extension request.  In the event that there is a delay in the processing of your application, ISSS may not be able to help you if you do not have a photocopy of your application and proof that you mailed your application in a timely manner.

If you change your mind and do not mail your OPT application, you must notify ISSS.

What Happens After I Mail My OPT 24 Month Application?

Processing Information:

About 3-4 weeks after you mail your application, USCIS will issue the I-797 Notice of Action acknowledging receipt of your application, which will be sent to ISSS.  We will email you  when it arrives.  Remember to keep this letter, since it will contain a special number beginning with the letters “LIN...” that refers to your specific application.  If you do not receive the Notice of Action after 4-5 weeks, please notify ISSS.

You may use the LIN number to check the status of your application online at https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do .  Please note that the website will not give detailed information or an estimate of when your OPT may be approved, it will just tell you if it is received or pending, or approved.  Also understand that once it is approved, it can take around 10 days to arrive at ISSS.

Decision on Your Application:

The average processing time for OPT is currently 3-4 months; it could happen faster or could take longer in individual cases, so apply well in advance.  If your application is approved and you used the ISSS address, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card will be mailed to ISSS and we will notify you by email that it has arrived.  In the very unlikely event that your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial.  Likewise, if USCIS wants you to send additional or supporting documentation before they will proceed with your application, they will send a Request for Evidence letter to either your home address or ISSS and we will notify you by email.

Can I Change Employers Once I Apply for an Extension?

Yes, as long as the new employer is enrolled in E-Verify and the new work relates to the degree on which your OPT STEM application is based.  You must notify ISSS when this occurs and file a new I-983/Training Plan filled out with your new employer.  Changing employers without notifying ISSS may result in termination of your status.

What Kind of Job Can I Take?

OPT employment must be related to the degree area of study on which your OPT STEM application was based.  

Can I Keep Working While Waiting for My OPT Extension Decision?

Students who file an application for the 24-month OPT extension in a timely manner (we recommend 90 days) before their existing OPT expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until a final decision is made on the I-765 OR for 180 days, whichever comes first.

Travel and OPT Extensions

What if I want to travel outside the U.S. and my OPT card has expired and my OPT extension request is still pending?

If your OPT employment authorization has expired and your STEM extension request is still pending, SEVP issued updated guidance in May 2016 that you are still eligible to travel outside the U.S.  You will still need to take your expired EAD card and also obtain a new travel signature from an ISSS advisor before you leave, a letter from your employer indicating you are still employed there, and proof of your OPT STEM extension application.

What if I need to travel outside the U.S. after my OPT is approved?

In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have a travel signature on your I-20 signed by an ISSS advisor within the last six months, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport and your EAD card. You should also carry a letter from your employer confirming you are or will be employed there under Optional Practical Training. 

Reporting Information to ISSS While on Extended OPT

While on OPT you are still legally required to report certain information to ISSS.  Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event.  To report, use our OPT Report e-form.

  • Changes in name or residential/mailing address
  • Report your employer name, address, and supervisor’s email within 10 days of any changes or new employment
  • Report changes to another immigration status
  • If you will leave your OPT employment before your OPT end date
  • Notify ISSS if your email address changes

Validation Reports to ISSS Every 6 Months

Every six months, starting from the date your extension begins (i.e. the day after your current 12-month OPT ends) you are required by federal law to “check in” with ISSS.  These check-ins will be done via iHawk through the submission of the OPT Report e-form, at which time you will provide your legal name, current residential address, current email, your employer’s name, employer’s address, and whether or not you are still currently employed there.   You will be sent an automated reminder to the e-mail address which you have provided ISSS.

The six-month check-ins are in addition to reporting within 10 days any changes that occur, as detailed in the previous section.  The six-month check-in must be done even if there are no changes to your situation.

Please be aware that Homeland Security indicates students on extended OPT who fail to submit information within the 6-month check-in period will be viewed as violating status and F-1 status will be terminated. It is your responsibility to remember to do so at the proper time every 6 months.

Annual Evaluations

You and your employer are required to submit an annual performance evaluation each year.  The last two pages of form I-983 will be used for this and should be submitted to ISSS; email reminders will be sent to the email address you have provided.  Again, failure to submit these evaluations may result in termination of your legal status.

Unemployment and OPT

During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.  A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP.  Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial 12-month post-completion OPT authorization.  Students granted a 24-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM extension period.  If all or part of the 90 days are unused after the 12-month OPT, they may be used during the 24-month extension period as well (therefore a total of up to 150 days may be possible during the 24-month period).  If you are unemployed for more than the permitted lengths of time you must consider your OPT to be immediately and automatically canceled and your F-1 status ended.