STEM OPT regulation took effect on May 10, 2016

May 10, 2016 is the date the new STEM OPT regulation takes effect. The new STEM OPT rule allows F-1 students with degrees in approved STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to extend their Optional Practical Training for an additional 24 months (instead of the current 17-month extension) beyond the initial one-year OPT period.

Students may be eligible for one additional STEM extension if they obtain a second U.S. STEM degree at a higher level. The regulation also imposes several new reporting requirements and other obligations on students, designated school officers and employers, including a formal training plan signed by the employer and student.

Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension

To qualify for the 24-month extension, you must:
• Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT;
• Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when you submit your STEM OPT extension application.
o Previously obtained STEM degrees: If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.
 For example: If you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
o STEM degrees you obtain in the future: If you enroll in a new academic program in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
 For example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
• Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section.
Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Additional information on the new OPT STEM Extension Rule

• F-1 employees currently on the 17-month STEM OPT extension are eligible to apply for the additional seven months (for a total of 24 months) if they have at least 150 days remaining on their STEM extension at the time of filing. These applications can only be submitted between May 10 and Aug. 8, 2016;
• After May 10, USCIS will consider and grant only 24-month STEM extensions. Students who applied for a 17-month STEM extension before May 10 where USCIS does not make a determination by that date will receive a request for evidence to convert to a 24-month STEM extension. The rule does not apply to individuals with a 17-month STEM OPT expiring prior to Oct. 8.
• Students currently on OPT related to a non-STEM degree may apply for their STEM extension based on a previously earned U.S. STEM degree from a qualifying U.S. institution in the last 10 years as long as the training is directly related to the prior STEM degree.
• Employers must sign the training plan and certify the conditions of employment and non-displacement of U.S. workers. Termination of the F-1 employee’s employment must be reported to the designated school officer within five business days.
• Students must submit a self-evaluation signed by their employer every 12 months and reconfirm their participation with their designated school officer every six months. Failure to do so could result in a student having their record terminated by the Department of Homeland Security.
• DHS has authority to conduct site visits at the place of employment.

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Written by Claudine Umuhire Gasana, Esq.

Filed under: Student visas, OPT STEM, Immigration Law, Houston Immigration Lawyer.