Key Notes:

  • A formal training program is required
  • Trainee must have at least 150 days remaining within 17-month OPT

A foreign national graduate with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree from a U.S. university working under a 17-month optional practical training (OPT) authorization may be eligible for an extra seven months of OPT. The graduate must work for an E‑Verify employer and have at least 150 days left in his or her current OPT period; the extension request must be filed by August 8, 2016; and the employer must create a formal training program for the graduate on the Form I-893, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.

The formal training program is intended to ensure the academic benefit and integrity of the OPT extension. The training plan includes the following requirements:

  • The name, title and contact information of the individual in the employer’s organization who will monitor the student’s performance
  • A description of how the training program directly relates to the student’s STEM degree
  • The tasks and assignments that the student will do and how they relate to the student’s STEM degree
  • The training plan’s specific time frame
  • Specific training goals and objectives and how the student will achieve them
  • The method the employer will use to supervise the student
  • The method the employer will use to assess the student’s progress

The training plan itself is straightforward to complete. More analysis may be required to determine who should complete the form when a third party is involved, such as arrangements under which a STEM graduate is employed by a consulting firm and is providing service at a client site.

This extension came out of the changes to the STEM OPT program announced on March 11, 2016. The changes replaced the old 17-month OPT extension with a 24-month extension for foreign national graduates with STEM degrees. On May 10, 2016, the new regulation allowing the 24-month OPT extension for STEM graduates became effective. STEM graduates can now receive a total of 36 months of OPT: the 12-month standard period plus the 24-month extension.

The extension benefits employers because it increases the period in which a STEM graduate can work without an H-1B visa or other employer-sponsored visa. This extended time is valuable given the high demand for the number of available H-1B visas. Under the current law, 85,000 H-1B visas are available per year. In fiscal year 2016, 233,000 petitions for H-1B visas were submitted, and more than 236,000 petitions were submitted in fiscal year 2017. A lottery system is used to select the petitions to be adjudicated. The OPT extension allows a STEM graduate to enter the H-1B visa lottery again if his or her petition is not selected the first time.