International students who have studied STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects for their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees from U.S. universities and who are completing their 12-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs are now eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
Effective May 10, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), implemented a new rule replacing the 17-month STEM OPT extension that was previously available to STEM students with a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
In order to qualify for the new STEM OPT extension, students must work with their employers to develop a formalized Training Plan (Form I-983), which is submitted to the student’s Designated School Official (DSO) for approval and reviewed every six months by the student and DSO.
The Training Plan includes a number of important employer attestations. Specifically, the employer confirms that STEM OPT students will not replace any US worker whether full- or part-time, temporary or permanent and that the compensation given to the STEM OPT students is commensurate with what the employer pays similarly situated workers. Students must be given at least 20 hours of work per week with the employer and cannot work on a volunteer basis. Finally, the employers must agree to on-site visits by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure compliance with the Training Plan.
In addition to the completing the Training Plan and agreeing to the required attestations, employers must be enrolled in E-Verify to hire a STEM OPT student.
STEM OPT students can apply for their 24-month extensions no sooner than 120 days prior to the current OPT end date and no later than the day their current Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires. If their extension applications are received by USCIS by their current EAD end date, USCIs will allow the students to remain in the U.S. and continue employment for 180 days or until a decision was made on their applications.
STEM OPT students currently working pursuant to the 17-Month STEM OPT extension are eligible for a seven-month extension if they had at least 150 days of employment authorization available to them when the new regulations took effect on May 10, 2016. If so, they must file for their seven-month extension within 60 days of the DSO’s recommendation no later than August 8, 2016 with proof that they qualify for the extension, namely they submitted to the DSO an acceptable Training Plan and have been recommended for the extension.
For students with pending 17-month STEM OPT extensions, USCIS will issue Requests for Evidence, asking for an endorsed I-20, showing the DSO recommends the full 24 month extension.
If you have any questions or concerns about the new regulations, please do not hesitate to contact us.
For a complete copy of the STEM OPT EXTENSION rule, please see: