USCIS announces 36 months OPT and other changes for STEM students and their employers

The Department of Homeland Security has published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their 12 months post-completion OPT instead of  the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available eligible students. Students may begin applying for a 24-month STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016.

The employers who want to provide a practical training opportunity to a STEM OPT student during his or her extension must:

  • Be enrolled in E-Verifyand remain in good standing.
  • Report material changes to the STEM OPT student’s employment to the DSO within 5 business days.
  • Implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience.
  • Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation.
  • Complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. In this form,  the employer must attest that:
  • They have enough resources and trained personnel available to appropriately train the student;
  • The student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker; and
  • Working for the employer will help the student attain his or her training objectives.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may visit employer’s worksite(s) to verify whether they are meeting the STEM OPT program requirements, including whether they are maintaining the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences for the STEM OPT student.

The law allows OPT students to be unemployed during their OPT period for upto 90 days, and during the 24 months extension upto an additional 60 days (Upto a total of 150 days during the 3 years OPT).

The rule permits an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree to use a prior eligible STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension, as long as both degrees were received from currently accredited educational institutions.

If a STEM student currently has a 17-month STEM OPT extension, such individual may apply to add 7 months to your STEM OPT period on or after May 10, 2016 as long as the individual has at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining.

The rule also includes a number of requirements intended to help DHS track STEM OPT students and further enhance the integrity of the STEM OPT extension. Most prominent among these are reporting requirements, which the rule imposes primarily upon students and designated school officials (DSOs). The rule includes four main  reporting requirements, as follows.

  1. The rule imposes a six-month validation requirement, under which a STEM OPT student and his or her school must work together to confirm the validity of certain biographical, residential, and employment information concerning the student, including the student’s legal name, the student’s address, the employer’s name and address, and current employment status.
  2. The rule imposes an annual self-evaluation requirement, under which the student must report to the DSO on his or her progress with the practical training. The student’s employer must sign the self-evaluation prior to its submission to the DSO.
  3. The rule requires that the student and employer report changes in employment status, including the student’s termination or departure from the employer.
  4. Both the student and the employer are obligated to report to the DSO material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan.
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