New STEM OPT Extension Program Rules Take Effect May 10, 2016

New STEM OPT Extension Program Rules Take Effect May 10, 2016

Overview

On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The new STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field and effectively replaces the 17‑month STEM OPT extension.

The 17-month STEM OPT regulations remain in effect through May 9, 2016. The 2016 STEM OPT 24-month extension final rule is effective beginning May 10, 2016.

 

OPT STEM Extension Applications Submitted Before May 10, 2016

  • Any STEM Extension application that is approved before May 10, 2016 will be processed based on the current 17-month STEM extension regulations. Some students with an approved STEM extension may qualify for an additional 7-month extension (see below). These students will need to file another I-765 and pay the application fee again.
  • Any STEM Extension application that is pending on May 10, 2016 will be processed based on the new 24-month STEM extension regulations. Student with a pending STEM extension application will receive an RFE (Request for Evidence) from USCIS. They must provide OISS with a Form I-983 Formal Training Plan completed by the student and the employer. The DSO will then create a new I-20, which the student must send to USCIS. These students do not need to re-file or pay an application fee again.

Students Currently on 17-Month OPT STEM Extension

  • Students who are currently on a 17-Month OPT STEM Extension may apply for an additional 7 month extension only if their EAD card has at least 150 calendar days of authorization left from the time the new rule goes into effect on May 10, 2016. This means that if a student's current 17-month OPT extension expires before October 7, 2016, then they are not eligible to apply for an additional 7 months.

Additional Required Information for 24-Month Extension

  • Employers are now required to report employment beginning/end dates for employees on a STEM extension. Students must continue reporting employment as well.
  • Students must still report their OPT participation every 6 months.
  • Additionally, students must provide annual progress reports for the I-983 training plan. The progress reports must be signed by the employer and provided to the DSO.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will make random site visits to employers.

Study in the States launched the STEM OPT Hub in coordination with this new rule to help school officials, F-1 students and interested employers understand the new regulation. On the STEM OPT Hub, stakeholders can find information regarding:

Additionally, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will host a live webinar for stakeholders on Thursday, April 14, 2016 from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. ET that will discuss the new rule. This webinar is free and open to the public. SEVP encourages both F-1 students and school officials to participate.

 

OISS Processing

Please be aware that at this time, OISS does not have an application process in place for students to apply for the 24 month OPT STEM extension or for those who qualify, the additional 7 month extension.  The earliest a student on OPT may apply will be on May 10, 2016.  OISS will provide additional information on the application process and requirements in late April, 2016.  Please be sure to check the OISS webpage and watch for email notifications.

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