Thursday, March 10, 2016

24-Month Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension Rule for Students Studying STEM:  Ten Key Points

Foreign students in the United States can apply with the help of their international office on campus to work in their field of study after graduation.  They remain in their F-1 student visa status and have a relatively easy means of getting work authorization for twelve months in a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT).  Those who study a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) subject have qualified for an additional 17 months of OPT at their option.  This was a significant benefit to students.  This summer a court case (the "Wash Tech case") threatened to suspend this STEM OPT extension program, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has acted to renew the program instead and even broaden it.

Seven Benefits for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Foreign Students Who Wish to Work in their Field on Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the United States

1.    The STEM OPT Extension final rule will be published in the Federal Register 10 March 2016. 

2.    The new STEM OPT rule will go into effect 10 May 2016, the date that the court in the Wash Tech case allowed an extension for the effectiveness of the old STEM rule.

3.    Whereas the 2008 STEM OPT extension rule allowed an extension of 17 months on top of the non STEM 12 month OPT for F-1 visa students, the new rule allows a 24-month extension (total 3 years of OPT for STEM students).

4.    Students can have a maximum of two STEM OPT extensions in their lifetime (total 6 years on STEM) for two separate STEM degrees.

5.    Students may do an intervening non-STEM degree at a US accredited school and still use a 24-month STEM extension afterward.

6.    The amount of time that a student can be unemployed during OPT remains the same 90 days, but the amount that a STEM OPT extension student can be unemployed has been increased to 60 days, up from 30.  For a total of 150 days.

7.    The new rules confirms in clearer language the “cap gap” rule: Students in OPT can continue their employment authorization and F-1 duration of status to the new fiscal year start on October 1 in any period where they have an H-1B visa petition and change of status application pending or approved that would take effect October 1.

Three Protections for the US Employment Market and the Goals of the STEM OPT Extension Program

1.    STEM OPT employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.   This is unchanged from the 2008 17-month extension rule.

2.    STEM OPT extension work must help the student attain training goals within their field of study.

3.    The STEM student cannot replace a current employee, whether full or part time.