New 24-Month STEM OPT Rule in effect as of May 10, 2016

17:20 10 May in News Updates

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented a new rule extending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

What are the main benefits of the new 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.
  • Expands the majors eligible for a STEM OPT extension.
  • Allows for two lifetime STEM OPT periods.
  • Allows for a STEM OPT extension based on a prior degree as long as the degree is related to the position.
  • Increases the unemployment limit from 30 to 60 days during the STEM OPT period.

What additional requirements will the rule impose?

  • Requires that students and their employers provide the school with a formal Training Plan attesting that:
  • The employer is enrolled in E-Verify and in good standing;
  • The employer has a valid FEIN;
  • The employer has sufficient resources and trained personnel to provide appropriate training
  • The student will not displace a U.S. worker
  • The terms and conditions of the training will be consistent with those offered to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers in terms of duties, hours, and compensation.
  • Imposes reporting requirements on the student and the employer.
  • Imposes restrictions on certain types of employment arrangements, including multiple employers, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship.
  • Provides DHS discretion to conduct employer on-site reviews at worksites to verify adherence to the Training Plan.

What if a student applied for a STEM OPT extension with USCIS before May 10, 2016?

  • Applications approved before May 10th will be issued for 17 months and the program will be governed by the old rule.
  • Applications pending with USCIS on or after May 10th will be governed under the new rule.  USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) seeking confirmation that the student and the employer meet the requirements of the new rule.  Such confirmation will be provided on Form I-20, which is issued to the student by the school.

Can a student with an already approved 17-month OPT extension obtain an additional 7 months of OPT?

  • Yes, as long as the following requirements are met:
  • The student obtains a new I-20 form from the school confirming that the student and the employer meet the requirements of the new rule;
  • The student has at least 150 days of approved STEM OPT time left on the day that USCIS receives extension application;
  • The student files the extension request with USCIS within 60 days of the issuance of the Form I-20 and prior to August 8, 2016.

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