Overview of the New STEM Optional Practical Training Rule
In a move sure to be welcomed by international students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (“STEM”) obtained from a U.S. institution of higher education, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) is now accepting applications for a new 24-month optional practical training (“OPT”) extension that replaces the 17-month STEP OPT extension previously available to STEM students. The new 24-month STEM OPT program became effective May 10, 2016.
OPT is a form of temporary employment available to F-1 students that directly relates to a student’s major area of study in the United States. A student can generally apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level. In 2008, the DHS first introduced an extension of OPT for STEM graduates, allowing those students to apply for an additional 17-months of OPT.
As part of a response to President Obama’s November 2014 executive action that called for an initiative to strengthen and extend on-the-job training for STEM graduates of U.S. universities, the DHS published a final rule on March 11, 2016, that allows F-1 students with STEM degrees to qualify for the 24-month extension if they meet the following criteria:
- Have been granted OPT or currently are in a valid period of OPT;
- Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from an institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVIS”);
- Work for an employer who complies with the employer responsibilities, described below; and
- Timely submit the application for employment authorization.
Employers who want to provide a practical training to a STEM student must be enrolled in E-Verify (a system that allows businesses to determine employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S.); implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience; report material changes in the STEM student’s employment to the designated school official (“DSO”) within 5 business days; and attest that the employer has enough resources and trained personnel available to appropriately train the student, that the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker, and that working for the employer will help the student attain his or her training objectives. Employers are also subject to visits by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to verify whether the employer is meeting the STEM OPT program requirements.
F-1 students who are currently in their 17-month period of OPT may apply to add the additional 7-month extension if they have at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining at the time of application. The application must be filed by August 8, 2016.
Those F-1 students currently participating in a 12-month period of OPT based on a non-STEM degree who have previously obtained STEM degrees, such as a master’s student in business who previously obtained a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, may be eligible for this new extension if the student has not already received OPT based on the prior degree. Further, students who participate in a 24-month OPT and later obtain another qualifying STEM degree at a higher level may be eligible for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
If you have any questions about the new rules and procedures implementing the 24-month OPT extension for STEM students, or any other immigration matters affecting you or your business, please contact MWR Legal today for a free consultation with an experienced immigration attorney.
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