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F-1 STEM OPT - Optional Practical Training (OPT) in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Major Field

Boston University is able to employ or host persons who have been authorized for an extension of F-1 Optional Practical Training, in certain designated Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) major fields. This unique work authorization is commonly referred to as F-1 STEM OPT.

International students enrolled in a U.S. program of study commonly hold F-1 student immigration status. F-1 student status permits up to 12 months of U.S. work authorization in the student's major field of study under Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. Many students choose to request authorization to use their 12 months of OPT after they complete their academic program.

In addition to the 12-months of standard OPT work authorization, students in certain STEM major fields, may also qualify for a 17-month extension of OPT authorization, provided:

  • Their major field of study is on a list of designated STEM majors as determined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This list, which was last updated on 5/12/2011, includes majors in science, technology, engineering and math, listed by their Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) 2010 code.
  • The employer is registered under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) E-Verify employee verification system.

Although the STEM OPT 17-month extension became available to F-1 students in April of 2008, Boston University only recently became eligible to hire employees with this authorization when the university registered with the federal E-Verify program.

Benefits of F-1 STEM OPT

For many BU employees in F-1 status who qualify for STEM OPT, this new alternative will be significantlu faster, easier, and more flexible than the often costly and time-consuming process of obtaining Boston University immigration sponsorship for a change to J-1, H-1B, or other appropriate immigration category.

As with most immigration matters, however, there is no one-size-fits-all immigration solution to facilitate U.S. work authorization and training. While the F-1 STEM OPT extension may be ideal for some, an alternate immigration strategy might be beneficial to others.

Benefits of F-1 STEM OPT include:

  • Allows for full-time or part-time employment and for easy changes to title, salary or department, job duties
  • Allows flexibility for paid employment or uncompensated training in the person's field of study (provided the activity exceeds 20 hours per week)
  • Employee/trainee can remain in same immigration status to continue U.S. employment/training
  • Employee/trainee retains ability to work for multiple employers or change employers immediately (provided the new/additional employer is also registered under the US DHS as an E-Verify employer)
  • Employee/trainee can end employment/training to begin a new program of study with a simple F-1 transfer (no cost, no change of immigration status)
  • F-1 STEM OPT authorization does not carry a Two-Year-Home Residence Requirement, which is often associated with J-1 scholar sponsorship
  • No costly Premium Processing fees are required as might be associated with expedited H-1B sponsorship

Parties Involved in F-1 STEM OPT

There are several parties involved in supporting F-1 STEM OPT employment/training, including:

  • F-1 OPT Employee/Trainee - An international student who has recently completed an academic program of study in the U.S. under F-1 immigration status and has been recommended by their sponsoring school for employment/training (Optional Practical Training) related to his/her major field of study. The student must have completed a major in a designated STEM field to qualify for the 17-month extension.
  • F-1 Sponsoring School - The school at which the employee/trainee completed his/her academic program. The sponsoring school must (1) recommend the F-1 STEM OPT authorization, and (2) continue to monitor and maintain F-1 immigration sponsorship for the employee/trainee during his/her months of STEM OPT authorization.
  • Employer/Training Site - The institutuion at which the employee/trainee will be employed or conduct uncompensated research. This institution must be registered with DHS under the E-Verify system.
  • USCIS - The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (under U.S. Department of Homeland Security) must authorize the STEM OPT authorization after it has been recommended by the F-1 sponsoring school. It can take several months for the USCIS to authorize the STEM OPT. Once approved, the employee/ trainee will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to reflect his/her employment authorization.

ISSO Review of BU Department Request for F-1 STEM OPT

If a BU host department wishes to extend authorization for a current employee or trainee in F-1 status with a qualifying STEM major, then an F-1 STEM OPT request packet would need to be forwarded to the Scholar Team of the ISSO.

The F-1 STEM OPT packet includes:

  • Form A
  • Academic appointment letter or job offer 
  • Form B
  • Copy of the scholar's recent CV and all current immigration documents

The ISSO advisor will review the scholar's immigration history to make certain a STEM extension is suitable, and will then issue a letter to the person's F-1 sponsoring school to assist them in requesting the 17-month extension of STEM OPT. This letter, which contains the Boston University E-Verify number, is required in order for the BU employee/trainee to apply for an F-1 STEM OPT Extension.

Similar to the initial 12-month OPT authorization, the 17-month STEM OPT extension must be recommended by the F-1 sponsoring school. However, Boston University as the employer/training site assumes responsibility to communicate with the F-1 sponsoring school, including the requirement to report any employment termination within 48 hours. We rely on timely communication from the BU hiring department to meet this reporting requirement.

While the process of applying for F-1 STEM OPT can be much quicker than applying for change to another immigration status, BU host departments should note that if a F-1 STEM OPT extension is not possible in a particular employee's case, then it may be necessary to come up with an alternate immigration sponsorship strategy which may take several months' time.

Boston University host departments can request ISSO review of an F-1 STEM OPT extension request at any time after the F-1 OPT employment has started. It is recommended that an F-1 STEM OPT extension request be submitted to the ISSO no less than 6 months before the expiration of the initial OPT authorization period.


Processing Summary for F-1 STEM OPT

Step 1
Department forwards completed F-1 STEM OPT request forms to ISSO

Step 2
ISSO evaluates case and issues STEM OPT support letter to employee/trainee's sponsoring school, citing Boston University's E-Verify number

Step 3
Based on ISSO recommendation, the F-1 sponsoring school recommends employee/trainee for an extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in a

STEM major field

Step 4
With the assistance of the F-1 sponsoring school, the F-1 OPT employee/trainee submits an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization to the USCIS, along with an application fee


Step 5
USCIS adjudicates the application. If approved, USCIS issues Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to extend the OPT for an
additional 17-months of work/training authorization in the employee/trainee's STEM major field of study


Step 6
Once EAD is received, the employee/trainee returns to ISSO to complete a new I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification (if employed) or to update ISSO records (for uncompensated training)


Click here to view the Processing Checklist and download required Forms


Boston University
December 1, 2011

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office December 1, 2011