New STEM OPT Rule Published!
On March 11, 2016, Department of Homeland Security published its final rule governing STEM OPT, which will take effect May 10, 2016. This new rule allows for a qualifying F-1 student with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree, who has already been granted 12 months of practical training, to apply for a 24 month extension.
The final rule will replace the existing 2008 interim final rule and amends the current regulations regarding OPT for F-1 students who have completed a STEM degree. The final rule lengthens the STEM OPT extension from the current 17 month period to 24 months! The final rule also includes the following enhancements and protections:
- “Only students who earned a degree from a school accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP may apply for a STEM OPT extension.
- Participating students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension.
- Participating students can use a previously earned qualifying degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension. The prior degree must not have already formed the basis of a STEM OPT extension and must be from a school that is both accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP at the time of the student’s STEM OPT application. The student’s most recent degree must also be from an accredited and SEVP certified institution.
- Employers participating in STEM OPT must incorporate a formal training program that includes concrete learning objectives with proper oversight.
- Employers and students must report material changes in their training program.
- To guard against adverse effects on U.S. workers, terms and conditions of a student’s training opportunity – such as duties, hours, and compensation – must be on par with U.S. workers in similar positions in the same geographic area of employment. Additionally, the student must not replace a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.
- Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer to qualify.
- Students are permitted a limited period of unemployment during the initial period of post completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension
- All STEM OPT employers must participate in DHS’ E-Verify program.”
Transition Procedures for OPT Applications for Employment Authorization
- STEM OPT Applications for Employment Authorization that are filed prior to, and remain pending on May 10, 2016 – For applications still pending on or after May 10, 2016, USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) to students whose applications for a 17-month extension are still pending. The RFEs will request documentation to establish that the students are eligible for the 24-month OPT extension.
- STEM OPT Applications for Employment Authorization that are filed and approved before May 10, 2016 – For applications filed and approved before May 10, 2016, students will be issued an employment authorization that is valid for 17 months even if you requested a 24-month OPT extension.
- Students with 17-Month STEM OPT Employment Authorization
- If a 17-month OPT extension has been issued and is valid prior to May 10, 2016, it will remain valid until its expiration
- Students with a 17-month STEM extension are eligible to apply for an additional 7-month period of OPT. In order to do so, the F-1 student must:
- Properly file a Form I-765, with USCIS on or after May 10, 2016 and on or before August 8, 2016, and within 60 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for the 24- month OPT extension into the student’s SEVIS record, with applicable fees and supporting documentation, as described in the form instructions;
- Have at least 150 calendar days remaining prior to the end of his or her 17-month OPT extension at the time the Form I-765 is properly filed; and
- Meet all the requirements for the 24-month OPT extension as described in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C), except the requirement that the student must be in a valid period of post-completion OPT authorized under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(3)(i)(B).
- Students on a 17-month OPT extension who apply for and are granted an additional 7- month period of OPT shall be considered to be in a period of 24-month OPT extension. Upon proper filing of the application for the additional 7-month OPT extension, the student, the student’s employer, and the student’s DSO are subject to all requirements of the 24- month OPT extension period, except for the 150-day unemployment limit, which applies to students only upon approval of the additional 7-month OPT extension. Subsequent to any denial of the application for the additional 7-month extension, the student, the student’s employer, and the student’s DSO must abide by all the terms and conditions that were in effect when the 17-month OPT extension was issued throughout the remaining validity period of the 17-month OPT extension.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released a STEM OPT hub page on the “Study in the States” website, to help school officials, students, and employers understand the new DHS final rule on OPT for F-1 students. For more information, please visit: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub