General Information

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday March 11 published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field and effectively replaces the 17‑month STEM OPT extension.

This rule means the 17-month STEM OPT regulations remain in effect through May 9, 2016. The 2016 STEM OPT 24-month extension final rule is effective beginning May 10, 2016.

Details of Ruling

Specifically, the final rule allows such F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to certain STEM students. The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. As with the prior 17-month STEM OPT extension, the rule authorizes STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify.  The rule also includes the “Cap-Gap” relief first introduced in a 2008 DHS regulation for any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status.

OVERVIEW OF STEM OPT EXTENSION

NEW ADDITIONS

Form I-983 (Training Plan for STEM OPT Students)

Employer Requirements/Obligations

Student Reporting Requirements

Employer Reporting Requirements

Unemployment

Procedures for STEM Extension

Please note: You must allow for at least 10 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed.

Students graduating with degrees in ‘STEM’ fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual. Students are eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM extension 120 days before expiration of the regular 12 month OPT. NOTE: Students cannot apply for the STEM Extension during the grace period (after the end date of the regular 12 month OPT). Students who wish to apply for a 24-month STEM extension should provide ISSS with the following:

Checklist of items to submit to ISSS and to mail to USCIS after new I-20 issued for STEM extension:

  1. A typed, completed, & signed  I-765 (original)
  2. A fully completed and signed Form I-983 (All fields on the form must be completed - use "N/A" as appropriate.) For instructions on completing this form, please navigate here - Completing the Form I-983
  3. A completed OPT STEM Extension Application (original)
  4. Employer Verification (original)
  5. Two Passport-size photographs with your name written in pencil on the back
  6. Check for $410.00 payable to the Department of Homeland Security
  7. Copies of all your STEM related I-20s
  8. A colored copy of your valid EAD (OPT) card (front and back)
  9. Colored copies of bio data page of your passport and visa page
  10. Print out of your electronic  I-94 (or front and back of old paper version))
  11. Letter size copy of earned Diploma from a STEM Designated degree

ISSS will process your request and mail you the application package which you will send to the Regional USCIS Center in your residential location responsible for adjudicating your extension request. USCIS will approve your application and send you a new EAD card with the pertinent dates. You may continue working during the period while you are waiting for USCIS’ decision on your OPT extension.