OPT STEM Extension Lengthens From 17 to 24 Months


Summary: DHS’ new legislation on STEM extensions will amend the existing STEM program to allow foreign students with qualifying degrees to work in the US for up to 3 years after graduation from a US university or college. Traditionally, OPT allows foreign students to remain in the US for a year beyond graduation; the existing STEM program allowed for an additional 17 months after the one-year OPT. With the increased program duration comes increased scrutiny, as applicants and employers must prove that they are qualified for STEM extensions and are complying with OPT regulations.

March 19, 2016

DHS has released final legislation on the STEM OPT extension. Optional practical training (OPT) allows foreign students to work in the U.S. after graduation for up to a year, while students who majored in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics related fields can apply for a STEM extension. This new ruling allows students of STEM majors in OPT to have up to 24 months extension on top of the initial one year of OPT. It will take effect on applications submitted on or after 10 May 2016.

This will allow current STEM OPT students and their employers even more time to submit petitions for the H-1B temporary work visa lottery, which has a limit of 80,000 visas issued per year. Companies mainly employ foreign workers on H-1B visas due to a lack of qualified in such fields like STEM.

Final legislation on the STEM extension covers not only allocated time for STEM students, but also amends controversial areas, like training, wage security, and American jobs. Employers of students wishing to apply for a STEM extension must participate in the U.S. government’s E-verify program. Furthermore, students must coordinate with their employer to complete the I-983 form, which has questions regarding students’ qualifications for STEM, and mandates that the employer set out a training regime for STEM workers.

Furthermore, employers must prove that the working conditions and compensation of OPT students are the same, if not similar, as Americans working the same job.

Finally, employers are encouraged to discuss student situations with immigration attorneys to ensure that all requirements are met.

Source: Lauren Cohen, National Law Review