Important new US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations allow F-1 foreign student visa holders with degrees from American universities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to extend optional practical training (OPT) for 24 months beyond the 12-month period generally available to F-1 students on OPT. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT previously available. The new rule is effective May 10, 2016.

Requirements

To qualify:

  1. The employer must be enrolled in the voluntary e-verify program (see USCIS website)
  2. The student must have completed a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a STEM field
  3. The job offered must directly relate to the student’s STEM degree

Transition rules

Pending STEM OPT extension applications adjudicated prior to May 10, 2016, will only be valid for 17 months. Beginning on May 10, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue Requests for Further Evidence asking students with pending STEM OPT extension applications whether they wish to amend their application from 17 to 24 months—perhaps one of the few times when lengthy government processing times will benefit students.

The new rule gives students with pending applications the option to withdraw now and file a new application with a 24-month request, but with the important reminder that a student can only file for a STEM OPT extension if post-completion OPT has not expired prior to government receipt of a new STEM OPT application.

Also, students who already have received a 17-month STEM EAD will be able to file for a 7-month extension between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016, so long as 150 days still exist before the expiration of their 17-month STEM EAD and they file within 60 days of the date their Designated School Official (DSO) enters the recommendation for the 24-month STEM OPT extension into the student’s SEVIS record and other requirements are met, and they meet all other requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Background

An August 2015 blog post offers background about F-1 OPT, STEM OPT extensions and the litigation that called into question the validity of the old 17-month rule.

We also addressed this issue in October 2015, when DHS first published the proposed rule to address the litigation.

The new rule was expressly written to resolve the defects found in the administrative procedures used to pass the old rule. In addition to reviving the STEM OPT extension in compliance with required rulemaking procedures, DHS took the opportunity make the validity period even longer. This is certainly not the result desired by those who challenged the original rule in an attempt to limit executive authority to grant US employment authorization to foreign nationals.

Further information

The complete text of the DHS notice of the new rule is available at the Federal Register’s website. Furthermore, DHS has opened a website that contains more information on the new STEM rule.