On March 11, 2016, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security published amended F-1 non immigrant student regulations on Optional Practical Training (OPT) for certain students with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education.
The initial OPT period was 12 months but the amended regulation provides a STEM OPT extension of 24 months which will go into effect on May 10, 2016. With this new regulation, there will be new submission requirements for students, schools, and employers.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ruled on a STEM OPT extension of 24 months as opposed to the previous 17 month extension program. If approved, qualifying international students will now be granted authorization to work in the U.S. for up to 3 years to further enhance the students educational experience.
If you’re unsure whether or not your qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the first step would be to confirm that your degree is listed on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List.
What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional practical training (OPT) is temporary permission to work for eligible F-1 students in their field of study. If approved for OPT, the student can get real-world work experience related to their field of study.
According to The Department of Homeland Security, student is eligible for OPT if:
- The student has been a full-time student for one academic year in an SEVP-certified:
- The student is not studying English as a Second Language.
- The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s major area of study.
- The student has not used all of the practical training available at the current level of study.
- The student has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
STEM OPT Extension Requirements:
- Must currently be on post-completion 12-month OPT and working for the E-verified STEM company
- Verified completion of a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List.
- Employment Requirements:
- Can be either paid or unpaid
- Must work at least 20 hours per week (part time employment is acceptable)
- Job should be directly related to field of study and appropriate to degree level obtained
- Employer Requirements:
- Registered with the U.S. Government E-Verify employment verification system
- Agrees to report any termination of employment within 48 hours to Office of International Services.
STEM OPT Extension Plan Overview
You are not negatively affected by the extension if you have applied for a 17 month extension prior to the announcement of the 24 month extension. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will continue to settle 17-month STEM OPT extension applications until May 10, 2016.
According to DHS, If a student submits a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” requesting a 24-month STEM OPT extension before May 10, 2016, then the student’s Form I-765 will be treated as a 17-month extension request and will be settled in accordance with the 17-month STEM OPT regulations.
If you are a non immigrant student and meet the new requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must submit the application between May 10, 2016 – August 8, 2016.
Students with Existing 12-Month STEM OPT:
You have two options:
- You can apply for 17 month extension if it expires before May 10, 2016
- You can wait until on or after May 10, 2016, to apply for 24 month extension
Students with 17-Month STEM OPT Applications Pending on May 10, 2016:
Beginning on May 10, 2016, USCIS will issue Requests for Evidence (RFE) to allow students to effectively make changes to their application to demonstrate eligibility for a 24-month extension without having to pay an additional fee or having to file their I-765 application again.
Upon receiving the RFE, students can submit the following documents to the institutions Office of International Services:
- New 24-month Extension Request Form
- Photocopy of the RFE
- Completed I-983 form
Students with Existing 17-Month STEM OPT EADs on May 10, 2016:
- You must have at least 150 calendar days remaining on EAD to apply for the new extension
- File the Form I-765 along with supporting documents before August 8, 2016 and within 60 days of the date the Designated School Official (DSO) recommends the 24 month STEM OPT
- Fulfill 24-month STEM OPT Extension Requirements (listed above)
F1 students with existing 17-month STEM OPT EADs on May 10, 2016, are not required to transition their extension. Terms and conditions of your current EAD will remain valid unless expired, terminated, or revoked.
After Receiving a STEM OPT Extension:
If you receive a STEM OPT extension, you must:
- Report changes to your DSO within 10 days of approval of any changes to your personal information. You’ll also need to report changes associate with your employment.
- Every six months you must confirm your personal information to the DSO whether they’ve changed or remained the same.
Need More Information?
Contact the lawyers at SGM Immigration Law to get answers to all of your STEM OPT extension questions. The extension process can be confusing and you do not want to make any mistakes on your application that will jeopardize your approval.
Sit down with an immigration attorney to discuss the terms and status of your current OPT. You may or may not be eligible for the STEM OPT extension. If you are not, there are other options that can be discussed. However, if you are, one of our experienced immigration attorneys will assist in filing your petition.