Friday, March 11, 2016

Newsflash – STEM OPT Extension

On Friday, March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule extending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from a duration of 17 months to 24 months.  The rule will go into effect on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 and will amend the current regulations at 8 C.F.R. parts 214 and 274a, regarding OPT for F-1 nonimmigrant students who have completed a STEM degree.  The final rule will, additionally, contain 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. 
For further information, please see the related U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) alert here

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