Department of Homeland Security Announces 24-Month Extension of OPT for F1 Students with STEM Degrees

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has amended the regulations regarding Optional Practical Training (OPT) for certain F-1 students who earned a degree in Science, Technology Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) from a U.S. college or university. The amended rule allows F-1 Students currently on OPT who possess a degree in a STEM field to extend their period of OPT for an additional 24 months. The 24 month STEM-OPT extension will be available for applications filed on or after May 10, 2016.

Under the regulations, foreign nationals in F-1 student status graduating from a U.S. institution of higher education are able to request 12 months of post-degree OPT during which they are authorized to for employment and training with certain U.S. employers. The OPT program for F-1 graduates allows international students to gain valuable and practical experience that supplements the knowledge gained through their academic studies.

Under the prior STEM-OPT extension rules, F-1 students with a STEM degree were able to request an extension of OPT for a period only 17 months. The new rule increases the available period of time for OPT-STEM extension from 17 to 24 months. Thus, F-1 students graduating with a degree in a STEM field may receive OPT for up to 36 months after receiving their STEM degree from a U.S. institution.

In order to qualify for the 24-month STEM-OPT Extension, the F-1 student and their employer must submit a formal Training Plan (Form I-983) that articulates the STEM-OPT student’s learning objectives and affirm the employer’s commitment to assisting the student meet those objectives. The Training Plan must be completed by the employee and the employer and submitted to the International Student Office at his or her university in order to be approved for the STEM-OPT extension. The Employer must also be enrolled in and remain in good standing with the E-Verify electronic eligibility verification program in order to qualify as a STEM-OPT employer.

Once the University has reviewed the Training Plan and approved the extension of STEM-OPT, in order to begin or continue employment with the STEM-OPT Employer, the student must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

For more information on F-1 OPT and the STEM- OPT Extension, please contact Kolko & Associates, P.C.

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