The final rule adds employer obligations to the STEM OPT program.

The US Department of Homeland Security has released an advance version of its long-anticipated final rule that expands employment authorization for foreign students with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees. The rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on March 11 and take effect on May 10, 2016, will allow such students to extend their period of optional practical training (OPT) by an extra 24 months, for a total of 36 months of OPT employment authorization. Previously, students in STEM fields were allowed a total of 29 months of OPT. Foreign students with degrees in non-STEM fields will continue to be limited to 12 months of OPT.

The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring that employers implement formal training plans, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and US workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. The rule also allows US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct site visits to employers of STEM OPT holders to ensure that the rule’s requirements are being complied with.

Previous 17-month STEM OPT employment authorizations issued before May 10 will remain valid until their expirations. Starting May 10, STEM students will have a chance to apply for an additional seven months of OPT.