On March 11, 2016, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule pertaining to optional practical training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). This rule permits employers to retain, for a longer period, the talents of individuals currently dependent on an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa. As a transitional measure, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has provided certain students currently holding 17-month employment authorization documents (EADs) under the STEM OPT provision with a limited window in which to apply for the additional 7 months of OPT. This extension of time will permit students who qualify to benefit from the full 24-month STEM OPT period; but in order to do so, the students must apply by the August 8, 2016 deadline. In order to qualify for the additional 7 months, these students:
- must work with their STEM OPT employer to immediately provide the Designated School Official (DSO) with the required training plan on new Form I-983;
- ensure the DSO updates their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record with the necessary recommendation for the additional 7-month extension by Friday, August 5;
- obtain a new Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status from the DSO endorsed to reflect the additional OPT STEM extension by no later than Friday, August 5;
- file Form I-765 Application For Employment Authorization with the USCIS on or before August 8, 2016, and within 60 days of the date that the DSO updates the SEVIS record. The completed I-765, accompanied by the newly endorsed I-20, must be received by the USCIS no later than Monday, August 8 to be considered properly filed.
Students interested in applying must have at least 150 calendar days remaining prior to the expiration of the 17-month STEM OPT EAD at the time Form I-765 is filed for the remaining 7 months. The purpose of this 150-day period is to ensure that the student will have at least 1 year of practical training under the enhancements introduced in the rule, including site visits, reporting requirements, and statement and evaluation of goals and objectives.
As indicated above, foreign students holding the 17-month STEM OPT are reminded that USCIS must receive the completed Form I-765, accompanied by the newly endorsed Form I-20, by Monday, August 8, 2016. This requires students who haven’t yet filed for this benefit to work closely with their schools’ DSOs, attorneys, and employers to ensure that their applications are filed no later than Friday, August 5 by an express or overnight mail service guaranteeing delivery by Monday, August 8.