Eligible Students Should Request STEM OPT Extension

Many F-1 students on optional practical training (OPT) are the beneficiaries of H1B petitions filed against the fiscal year 2015 cap. Some of these F-1 students have learned, or will learn shortly, that they are among the lucky ones whose H1B petitions were selected in the lottery. While such individuals may have reason to be excited, they should not let this good news keep them from also requesting STEM OPT extensions, if appropriate.


F-1 students who have completed U.S. degrees in designated science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) disciplines are eligible for extended periods of OPT. In addition to the standard 12-month OPT period following graduation, STEM graduates may request 17 months of additional OPT, for a total of 29 months.

Deadline for Requesting STEM OPT Extension

STEM OPT extension applications must be filed during a student’s 12-month stay in OPT. It is not sufficient to file while s/he is in the 60-day grace period that otherwise automatically follows the expiration of the initial OPT period. Similarly, STEM OPT extensions filed after the OPT expiration date will not be granted simply because the individual has extended OPT authorization under the “cap gap” provisions.

STEM OPT Extension as H1B Backup Plan

Even if one’s H1B petition has been selected in the lottery, there is no guarantee that it will be approved. Also, there is a potential risk that an employer who has offered a job months in advance of the October 1st H1B start date will not be able to honor that offer. Thus, if the initial OPT will expire prior to October 1st, it is best to request the STEM OPT extension. And, even if the OPT is scheduled to expire shortly after October 1st, it is important to be prepared to make a timely STEM OPT request, if needed.

Filing STEM Extension Does Not Conflict with H1B Filing

Many beneficiaries of H1B petitions miss the opportunity to file for STEM OPT extensions because they mistakenly believe such filings would conflict with pending or approved H1B cases. In reality, until an H1B change-of-status request is approved and the October 1st start date is reached, it generally is possible to file an OPT extension request without negatively impacting the H1B case.


There is a complex interplay between F-1 OPT status and H1B cap filings. Since the STEM OPT request is subject to a strict deadline, it is important for eligible individuals to understand their options and the steps they must take to avail themselves of these immigration benefits. Individuals and employers with questions about these matters can obtain guidance by scheduling a consultation with a Murthy Law Firm attorney.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.