Murthy Alert: Erroneous STEM OPT Denials Due to Alleged CIP Code Mismatch

The Murthy Law Firm has received multiple reports that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been erroneously denying STEM optional practical training (OPT) applications filed by F-1 students, alleging that the applicant’s degree was not in a STEM designated field. This MurthyDotCom NewsBrief explains how the USCIS determines what qualifies as a STEM field of study and the USCIS error underlying recent denials.

Background on STEM Designated Fields of Study

A foreign student in F-1 status who is engaged in an initial 12-month OPT may apply for a 24-month extension (STEM OPT) based on having earned a qualifying degree in a designated STEM field of study. To determine whether a student’s degree qualifies for the STEM OPT extension, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List, which references the classification of instructional programs (CIP) codes for each STEM designated degree program.

The CIP was developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as a taxonomic scheme that classifies all academic fields of study for various reporting and tracking purposes. Colleges and universities assign CIP codes to their programs and fields of study based on the curriculum requirements of each academic program of study.

Recent Erroneous STEM OPT Denials

The USCIS recently has issued erroneous denials or requests for evidence (RFE) for students filing the application for employment authorization (form I-765), requesting employment authorization for STEM OPT extensions. The denials and RFEs allege that a student’s field of study does not appear on the DHS STEM designated degree program list, even though the student has a qualifying STEM degree. The erroneous denials and RFEs are mostly issued when a particular institution’s degree program title is not identical to the name assigned to a CIP code’s corresponding field of study on the DHS list. However, the USCIS appears to ignore the curriculum requirements used by each college or university in assigning a corresponding CIP code. Since identifying this recent trend, the Murthy Law Firm has successfully challenged and reversed the denials for numerous clients who have sought the firm’s assistance.


Although a denial may be in error, it can significantly impact an individual’s life and ability to remain in the U.S. MurthyDotCom will continue to closely track this matter and post updates, if there are new developments.


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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.