New Rule Extends Employment Period for International STEM Students
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its final rule extending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) period for students on a F-1 visa studying in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The new rule, which took effect on May 10, 2016, extends the STEM OPT period to 24 months. Under the previous rule, students were allowed a 17-month extension of the initial 12-month OPT period.
What is the OPT Program? International students studying in the U.S. with a valid F-1 visa can obtain work authorization in order to work at a job that is directly related to their field of study after graduation. The work authorization, called F-1 Optional Practical Training, allows graduates to work in the U.S. for a period of 12 months after applying for and being issued an Employment Authorization Document from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In 2008, DHS, seeking to extend the OPT period for certain students who studied in STEM fields, implemented a new rule that allowed F-1 STEM degree students to extend their 12-month OPT period for an additional 17 months if they met certain requirements. The total OPT period for F-1 STEM students under the 2008 rule was 29 months.
This rule was invalidated by a federal court in the District of Columbia after a lawsuit was filed shortly after the rule was implemented. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated the rule on the basis that DHS failed to follow proper notice and comment requirements under the Administrative Procedures Act. The court, however, stayed its decision to February 2016. DHS revised the rule and released the updated regulation in October 2015, prior to the court order going into effect.
New STEM OPT Rule. DHS released its final rule in March 2016. Under the new program, F-1 STEM degree students will be eligible for 12 months of the initial OPT period plus an additional 24-month extension, for a total of 36 months OPT.
Not every STEM degree qualifies for the new OPT extension. F-1 STEM degree students must earn a degree in one of the eligible degree fields listed on the STEM Designated Program List. This list includes the following broad degree categories: engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, mathematics and statistics, and physical sciences. Degrees under these categories automatically qualify for the new STEM OPT extension.
The standard 12-month OPT will remain unchanged for all other F-1 students. This new rule only applies to F-1 STEM degree students seeking the new 24-month extension. Thus, F-1 students who have been granted a 17-month STEM OPT extension prior to May 10th under the previously issued rule will need to file for an additional 7 months of OPT under guidelines of the new rule.
It is important that F-1 student visa holders are aware of the new STEM OPT rule, its requirements, and how best to navigate the process so that they maintain their lawful status. Contact Chokshi Filippone Law, LLC to discuss your options.