Department of Homeland Security has issued a final rule, effective May 10, 2016, allowing foreign students with science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees to extend their optional practical training or "OPT" period by an additional two years, on top of the one year already allowed for graduates in all fields.
This extension is up from the 29 months given under the current regulations. As with the prior STEM OPT rule, extensions are allowed only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify (the USCIS electronic I-9 employment verification program). The rule also increases oversight of the STEM OPT program by implementing new integrity measures including:
- Requiring individualized training plans developed by the employer and the student;
- Requiring the student to regularly report to the university's designated school official;
- Requiring the employer to attest that the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker;
- Requiring an employer to offer the same terms, conditions, hours and compensation to the STEM OPT student as similarly situated U.S. workers;
- Allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools; and
- Authorizing site visits by ICE to verify training plans, compensation and non-displacement attestations employers are required to sign.
The new STEM OPT rule allows U.S. employers to benefit from the knowledge and skills foreign graduates gain at U.S. colleges and universities while giving foreign students the opportunity to stay in the United States after graduation to apply what they learned in their studies and receive practical training.