STEM OPT Application and Other Resources

Form I-983 Training Plan and Instructions


All eligible F-1 students must receive a STEM OPT Recommendation I-20 from ISSO BEFORE submitting an online OPT STEM Extension application to USCIS.

Optional Practical Training STEM Extension (STEM OPT) is a 24-month extension directly following post-completion OPT. STEM OPT is an opportunity to expand on previous academic training with employer oversight and evaluation. Students who completed a STEM-related major may qualify for the STEM extension, and employment must be related to the STEM major field of study.

STEM OPT Process

  1. Complete the Optional Practical Training STEM Extension (STEM OPT): Checklist in Cystart
    • Complete the STEM OPT Workshop: Modules 1-5
    • Complete Form I-983 Training Plan with employer
    • Submit STEM OPT Extension Recommendation I-20 e-form in Cystart to receive a STEM OPT Extension Recommendation I-20
  2. Receive email from ISSO to pick up STEM OPT Extension Recommendation I-20
  3. Gather STEM OPT application documents
  4. STEM OPT application review by ISSO (recommended)
  5. Submit STEM OPT application online in myUSCIS
  6. Receive receipt notice and complete new I-9 with employer, if necessary
  7. Wait 90 days or longer, time may vary, for adjudication
  8. Receive EAD card in the mail
  9. Complete new I-9 with employer


Eligible for STEM OPT

The following requirements must be met in order to be eligible for STEM OPT:

  • Students who are in valid F-1 status
  • Students who are currently in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT
  • Students whose degree programs are included on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List
  • The major code, or CIP code, on page 1 of Form I-20 must be listed on the STEM Designated Degree Program list
  • Student who has a previous STEM-designated degree earned in past 10 years from a SEVP-certified educational institution

Ineligible for STEM OPT

The following situations make a student ineligible for STEM OPT:

  • Students who majored in programs that are not included on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List
  • Students who have received a STEM extension at a higher educational degree level or have already used two prior periods of STEM OPT
  • Students whose period of post-completion OPT has ended

Eligible Employment

To apply for STEM OPT, student’s employment must meet the following requirements:

  • Employer during the 24-month extension period is enrolled in the E-Verify Program
  • There is a bona fide employer/employee relationship for completion of Form I-983. This means that the employer provides some supervision or oversight of the employee.
  • Must be employed a minimum of 20 hours per week with the STEM employer
  • Position is directly related to STEM major and level of study

Temporary Agencies and Contractual Employment

Please schedule an appointment with an International Student Advisor to discuss the associated risks of applying for a STEM extension based on employment with a temporary agency or contractual employment.

Duration of STEM OPT

Students receive an additional 24 months directly following the end date listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for the current post-completion OPT.

Students are permitted two STEM OPT extensions over their lifetime. STEM OPT must follow a period of post-completion OPT in order to be eligible to apply.

Step 1: Workshop

Students must attend the online OPT STEM Extension workshop in Cystart and complete the quizzes. A score of 100% is required in order to continue with the STEM OPT application process.

Step 2: Cystart Request

Required Documents for Cystart Request

When submitting the OPT STEM Extension request in Cystart, you will need to upload the following documents:

  • Form I-983 Training Plan completed by student and employer
  • If based on previous degree: Diploma, transcripts, and previous I-20
  • If working at ISU during extension: Letter of intent

Form I-983

Form I-983 is a training plan that the student and employer must complete prior to applying for STEM OPT. The completed Form I-983 will be reviewed by an International Student Advisor before issuing the STEM OPT Recommendation I-20. For instructions or to view Form I-983, please visit the Study in the States website.

It can take some employers several weeks to get the I-983 reviewed and approved by their legal team and Human Resources. Students are encouraged to work with their employer well in advance to get the I-983 completed and signed.

When to Request STEM OPT I-20

  • Up to 100 days prior to the end date on the post-completion OPT EAD
  • No later than 2 weeks before the end date on the post-completion OPT EAD

Cystart Request

To request a STEM OPT Recommendation I-20, submit the OPT STEM Extension e-form in Cystart under F-1 Student Services.

It can take up to 10 working days once the e-form has been submitted. Once the request is approved, ISSO will send an email to the ISU email address on file notifying the student to pick up their new STEM OPT I-20.

Application Timeline

  • Up to 90 days prior to the end date on the post-completion OPT EAD
  • No later than the end date listed on the EAD

Application Processing Timeline

10 working days:

ISSO Processing

1-2 working days:

Electronic processing of online application

90 calendar days (or longer):

USCIS processing

15 calendar days:

Issuance and mailing of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

5 working days:

Mailing EAD, if student is no longer in Ames

Step 3: STEM OPT Application Review

Application Materials

After receiving a STEM OPT Extension Recommendation I-20 from ISSO, you can apply for STEM OPT by submitting an application online to USCIS. Gather the necessary application documents outlined in the STEM OPT Checklist to prepare your application.

OPT Review

This is an optional but recommended step. If you would like your STEM OPT application reviewed by an ISSO Advisor:

  • Scan all of the documents for your STEM OPT application into PDF files to upload for review. Submit the STEM OPT Application Review e-form in Cystart. Your STEM OPT application will be reviewed within 2 business days.

Preparing the Application

  • Wait for the new STEM OPT I-20 to be sent to you by mail. Once received, sign and date the I-20 in blue ink.
  • Review the final application one last time to ensure the dates are correct, signatures are included, and all documents are signed within 30 days of USCIS receiving the application.
  • Upload scanned copy of your entire application in Cystart, under "OPT Application Upload."
    • Include copies of all documents included in the final application as ISSO would need to reference these if USCIS sends a Request for Evidence (RFE) to follow-up on your OPT application. 

Step 4: Submitting Your Application to USCIS

Submitting an Online Application

Submit your STEM OPT application online through myUSCIS.  You can review tips for filing your STEM OPT application online on the USCIS Tips for Filing Forms Online page.

Pending STEM OPT Application

Continued Employment with Pending STEM OPT Application

If the STEM OPT application is properly and timely filed, students are permitted to continue working for 180 days following the end date on the post-completion OPT EAD. Students will receive a I-797 receipt notice, which can be used to complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form. If the STEM OPT application is denied, students must stop working immediately.

Receipt Notice

Students that submit their STEM OPT application online will receive their receipt notice at the time of filing. All students will receive an I-797 receipt notice mailed to the mailing address listed on the I-765.

Error on receipt Notice

If there is an error on the receipt notice, contact ISSO at

Case Status

Go to USCIS Case Status and enter the receipt number found on the receipt notice. The online case status system will show you if your application is pending, approved, EAD card has been mailed, etc.

Change in Mailing Address

It is advised to put a mailing address on your I-765 where you will be located 100 days after submitting your application to USCIS to avoid complications. If you are not certain where you will be living in 100 days from submitting your application, it is recommended to list ISSO’s address for the mailing address on the Form I-765,

If you move while your STEM OPT application and you need to update the mailing address on Form I-765, you must update your address with USCIS. To update your address with USCIS, submit a change of address request with USCIS. 

Updating your address using the USCIS change of address request is not reliable. It is important to submit the form as soon as you move. Contact an International Student Advisor with any questions regarding this process.

USCIS Processing Time

USCIS has stated that they will try to process STEM OPT applications within 90 days of receiving the application, however it could take longer for the application to be approved.

EAD Mailing Time

USCIS has indicated it can take up to 30 days before your EAD is produced and mailed. Students generally receive the EAD within 10 days after USCIS says it has been delivered.

Renewing Driver’s License and Pending STEM OPT

Each state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has different policies regarding extending licenses while applications are pending. Students should request that the DOT enter their information in the SAVE program. Once entered, students can check their application on the SAVE self-check system. Once the application has cleared, students can return to the DOT to inquire after their driver’s license extension.

Withdrawing STEM OPT Application

Contact ISSO immediately at to start the withdrawal process. Students will not receive a refund of the application fee.


Unemployment on STEM OPT

Students receive an additional 60 days of unemployment for STEM OPT. This is in addition to the 90 days given for post-completion OPT. Students on STEM OPT have a total period of 150 days of unemployment.

Exceeding Unemployment Days

Students who exceed the 150 days of unemployment are out of status and must leave the U.S. Students should keep sufficient records of unemployment and consult an International Student Advisor to discuss options prior to exceeding the 150 days of unemployment. 

Changing Employers During STEM OPT

Students may change employers during STEM OPT, but the new employer must meet all STEM OPT eligibility requirements:

  • Employer is enrolled in E-Verify
  • Employment is at least 20 hours per week and directly related to degree
  • Employer must be willing to complete Form I-983 with student, which must be submitted to ISSO within 10 days of starting employment

Classes During STEM OPT

STEM OPT is automatically terminated when a student begins study at another educational level or if a student transfers to another institution. Contact to discuss whether your future enrollment plans will impact your STEM OPT authorization. 

Travel and STEM OPT

F-1 students may travel outside of the U.S. while on STEM OPT. However, there are some associated risks with travel on STEM OPT. Students must carry additional documentation and may experience heightened scrutiny at the border. ISSO recommends students carry the following documents while travelling:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • I-20 with travel signature
    • Travel signatures are valid for 6 months while on OPT
  • I-797 receipt notice (if pending)
  • EAD card (if approved)
  • Verification of employment: letter documenting employment with company, tax documents, pay stubs, etc.

More information on travel outside of the U.S. can be found on ICE’s Re-entry for F-1 Non-immigrants Travelling Outside the United States for Five Months or Fewer webpage.

Reporting Requirements

Students on STEM OPT are required to report STEM OPT participation to ISSO every six months and within 10 days of a material change. Read in more detail on Study in the State's Reporting Requirements guide or refer to the deadlines outlined below:

  • Change of Address – Report through SEVP Portal:
    • Update address in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of change
  • Form I-983 Updates – Report through OPT Reporting e-form in Cystart:
    • Any change to Employer Identification Number (EIN)
    • Any significant change in compensation not tied to number of hours worked
    • Any significant change in hours worked per week
    • Any changes to student role, goals and objectives, employer oversight, or measures and assessment provided on previous I-983
    • Any other material change to Form I-983 that renders employer attestation inaccurate, or renders the information inaccurate on the Form I-983 regarding the nature, purpose, oversight, or assessment of the student’s practical training opportunity
  • Form I-983 Evaluations – Report through OPT Reporting e-form in Cystart:
    • “Evaluation on Student Progress” – After 12 months in STEM OPT authorized period
    • “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” – Completion of STEM OPT period or end of employment, whichever comes first
  • Change of Employer – Report through OPT Reporting e-form in Cystart
    • Complete “Final Evaluation on Student Progress” for previous employer within 10 days of last day of employment
    • Complete Form I-983 (complete pages 1 – 4) for new employer

Reporting Process:

Address changes must be reported in the SEVP Portal. All employment changes must be reported by completing the OPT Reporting request in Cystart.

SEVP Portal

After a student’s OPT application has been approved, SEVP will send an email on accessing the SEVP Portal. Using this email, students can access the SEVP Portal. If you cannot access the SEVP Portal or you are locked out of the SEVP Portal, email ISSO at An ISSO Advisor can assist you. Read more about the SEVP Portal at Study in the States website.

Disclaimer: This Frequently Asked Questions is intended for general information and guidance. As this information can quickly become outdated or may not apply to your situation, please consult with an International Student Advisor in the International Students and Scholars Office regarding your individual questions.