Foreign nationals who wish to pursue an advanced degree in the United States obtain an F-1 student visa to do so. After F-1 students obtain their degrees, they may be authorized to participate in post-completion optional practical training (OPT) related to their major field of study for a period of one year. To obtain authorization, a student applies to the designated school official (DSO) at his or her academic institution, who endorses the application, allowing the student to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization.
F-1 students who received degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), and who are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify*, have been able to apply for a 17-month extension of their OPT status.
24-Month Extension Program
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule on March 11, 2016, allowing foreign national students who receive STEM degrees to apply beginning on May 10, 2016, for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. This 24-month extension replaces the current 17-month STEM OPT extension.
To qualify for this extension, the student must:
- Currently be in a valid period of OPT.
- Have earned an advanced degree from an accredited school that is certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
- Work for an employer enrolled in E-Verify who remains in good standing.
Applications for the extension may be submitted up to 90 days before the current OPT employment authorization expires and within 60 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
Students who are currently on a 17-month extension or have a pending application may apply for an additional 7 months so long as they have at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining on the date the extension application was filed. The extension petition must be filed on or before August 8, 2016.