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New U.S. Rule Extends Stay for STEM OPT International Students

On March 9, 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released an advance copy of the final rule pertaining to optical practical training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The new rule will allow U.S. employers to retain talented foreign students currently holding F-1 nonimmigrant status for a longer period.

The new regulations would extend the OPT Program for 24 months from an initial number of 17 months.

The New Rule:

  • automatically extends work authorization if students properly file a STEM OPT extension;

  • permits students currently approved for a 17-month extension of work authorization to apply for the balance of the new 24-month extension if they meet certain requirements pertaining to timing of their applications;

  • allows students enrolled in a subsequent STEM degree program at a higher level to become eligible for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension upon completion of the subsequent, higher level program;

  • permits eligibility for the 24-month STEM OPT extension under the new rule to be based on a previously obtained STEM degree (with certain limitations);

  • provides clearer definitions of STEM fields of study within the Department of Education categories;

  • requires students and employers to submit a formal training plan (i.e., learning objectives for the student) and certain employer attestations to protect the U.S. workforce—both of which the student and employer must submit on Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students (to be released by USCIS);

  • adds new reporting requirements for students and their employers, including confirmation of the student’s physical residence and employment status every six months, regular evaluations regarding the student’s progress with the training plan, and immediate notification regarding termination of the student’s employment; and

  • provides for DHS site visits to employer locations in which STEM OPT students are employed. The DHS will generally give advance notice of such visits but may also conduct an unannounced visit if triggered by a complaint or other evidence of violation of the regulations.

In order to qualify for the additional seven (7) months of OPT, STEM students must satisfy the following requirements:

  • The student must meet all requirements for the new 24-month STEM OPT extension, including but not limited to submission of the required training plan to the university on the new Form I-983. The student must also obtain the necessary recommendation for the additional 7-month STEM OPT extension from the university’s Designated School Official (DSO).

  • The student must file Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS on or before August 8th, 2016 and within sixty days of the date that the DSO updated the SEVIS record.

  • The student must have at least one hundred and fifty calendar days remaining prior to the expiration of the 17-month STEM OPT EAD at the time Form I-765 is filed. The purpose of this 150-day period is to ensure that the student will have at least one year of practical training under the enhancements introduced in this rule, including site visits, reporting requirements, and a statement and evaluation of goals and objectives.

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