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Breaking News: STEM OPT Update

23:04 11 March in News Updates
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Breaking News:  STEM OPT Update

  1. Has DHS issued a new STEM OPT regulation in time to prevent the program from terminating on May 10, 2016?

Yes.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a preview copy of the Final Rule extending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  The Final Rule will be published March 11, 2016.

  1. When does the Rule go into effect?

The Final Rule will go into effect Tuesday, May 10, 2016

  1. I currently have STEM OPT work authorization.  How does this Rule impact my current OPT?

A 17-month STEM OPT Employment Authorization Document issued before May 10, 2016 will remain valid until it expires. 

Beginning on May 10, 2016 eligible students may apply for an additional seven months of STEM OPT. 

  1. How long is a STEM OPT extension valid?

The Final Rule increases the available time for a STEM OPT extension from the current 17 months to 24 months.  This is in addition to the 12 months of regular post-completion OPT, bringing the total period of OPT available to some students to 36 months.

  1. Which degrees qualify for a STEM OPT extension?

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.

  1. Can I obtain more than one STEM OPT extension if I had one STEM OPT already, but receive another degree in a STEM field?

Yes.  Participating students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension.

Note that 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.

  1. Are there other requirements to obtain STEM OPT?

Yes:

NEW Training Program Requirement:  Employers participating in STEM OPT must incorporate a formal training program that includes concrete learning objectives with proper oversight.  Note that after STEM OPT issuance, employers and students must still report material changes in their training program.

NEW Prevailing Wage Requirement:  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.  However, students are permitted a limited period of unemployment during the initial period of post-completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension.

As with the existing STEM OPT Program, all STEM OPT employers must participate in DHS’ E-Verify program.

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