Know the Law: Applying for a STEM Extension

Ramey D. Sylvester
Director, Corporate Department
Published: Union Leader
September 24, 2018

Q: I have a student visa and I am working in Optional Practical Training (OPT) after receiving my master’s degree. I would like to apply for a STEM extension, but my master’s degree is not a STEM degree. I think my bachelor’s degree in economics is a STEM degree, but my undergraduate school is saying that that my degree’s Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) Code is not on the STEM Program List. Is there anything I can do?

A: If your undergraduate institution is willing to do so, it may be able to change the CIP Code associated with your economics degree to one on the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) list and then you may be eligible to apply for a STEM extension.

An F-1 student in a valid period of OPT may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of his or her OPT if the student received a degree in a STEM field. The STEM extension can be based on an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree as long as the OPT employment directly relates to the degree. For purposes of determining what degree is “STEM eligible,” students will reference the STEM Designated Degree Program list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

If the CIP code and the field of study in the Program List corresponds to the student’s degree, as listed on his or her I-20, the degree is STEM eligible.

In your case, it sounds like your undergraduate degree in economics may be in a STEM field of study, but the corresponding CIP code appearing on your I-20 is not on the STEM list. Schools assign and change CIP codes based on state requirements and internal procedures that vary by school. However, most schools are fairly transparent about the process of requesting CIP code changes.

Reach out to your undergraduate institution and determine its CIP code assignment process. Petition your undergraduate institution to change the CIP code associated with your degree to a CIP code appearing on the STEM list. Make the case to your undergraduate institution that it is in its benefit to have recognized STEM programs as an added benefit for its students.

If successful, make sure to get documentation showing the field of study and the corresponding STEM CIP code. Provide this to the designated school officer who issued the I-20 for your OPT and ask them to recommend you for a STEM extension. If they agree, they will provide you with an updated I-20 with a STEM extension recommendation. You will use this to apply for the STEM extension.