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Immigration Law Blog

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New STEM OPT Regulations in Effect as of May 10, 2016

Effective May 10, 2016, new regulations impacting foreign national students studying at U.S. colleges and universities on F-1 visas will come into effect. Under the previous regulations, all F-1 students were eligible for a 12-month period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) following the completion of their degree program which allowed them to gain job experience in an area directly related to their field of study. Students whose degrees were in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) fields were eligible for an additional 17-month extension of their OPT following their initial 12-month OPT period.

The new regulations will increase the OPT extension period available to students with degrees in STEM fields from 17-months to 24-months (the 12-month initial OPT period for all students will remain the same). Students who are interested in taking advantage of this new provision should become familiar with the requirements for doing so prior to May 10, 2016 as many students will need to take immediate action in order to avoid missing important deadlines set by the regulations.

Requirements for Applying for a STEM OPT 24-Month Extension

Degree Requirements
In order to qualify for a STEM OPT 24-Month extension, a student must have earned a degree from a school accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP. The qualifying STEM degree must be on DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time the student submits their application for the STEM OPT extension. Participating students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension and in certain cases students can use a previously earned qualifying degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension.
Employer Requirements

In order to receive a STEM OPT 24-month extension, a student must be hired by an employer who is enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify Program. However, a student’s post-completion OPT employer does not need to be the same as the student’s STEM OPT extension employer.

Transition Plan
DHS has designed a Transition Plan for students in one of two situations: (1) students who have STEM OPT extension applications pending on May 10, 2016; or (2) who possess valid STEM OPT extension EAD cards on May 10, 2016. Students who fall into these categories will need to ensure that they pay special attention to the deadlines that apply to their respective Transition Plans. Those impacted by a Transition Plan should also review guidance issued through U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) Broadcast System for workarounds related to the implementation of the new 24-month STEM OPT program on the SEVIS system.

New Reporting Requirements and Compliance Measures
The new regulations have instituted additional reporting requirements for both employers and students including: submission of a formal training plan; completion of an annual self-evaluation; and reporting of any material changes to the student’s employment or the training plan.

In addition, DHS is now authorized to perform site visits to any employer location that trains STEM OPT students to ensure that students receive structured and guided work-based learning experiences and reduce the potential for abuses of the system.

Questions
Students or employers with questions about the new STEM OPT regulations can contact DHS or see https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub for more information.


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