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EIG Special Alert: Update to STEM OPT Program – Proposed Rule to Extend STEM OPT to 24 Months

October 19, 2015

Update to STEM OPT Program – Proposed Rule to Extend STEM OPT to 24 Months

Following the August 13th, 2015 court ruling, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed on Friday October 16, 2015, an amendment to its F-1 Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) for foreign students receiving a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) from a U.S. accredited Institution to allow them to remain in the U.S. to pursue additional practical experience.  At present, the OPT STEM extension allows a foreign student to extend his or her stay in the U.S. beyond the F-1 12 month OPT period for up to 17 additional months (29 months of OPT in total). In its proposal, DHS calls for extending the STEM extension period to 24 months (36 months of OPT in total), stating “[o]ur nation will benefit from keeping international students here, educated in U.S. colleges and universities here while they receive additional training, rather than sending them out of the country” – Sarah R. Saldaña, Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In response to the court decision vacating the existing rule, the proposed rule aims at furthering the educational benefits to F-1 students graduating from U.S. institutions, as well as providing additional oversight on the STEM OPT program to ensure that the students’ experience in their STEM OPT placements enhances and supplements their academic training. Participating employers, enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-verify, will be required to implement formal mentoring and training plans. Students currently on the 17-month STEM extension will be permitted to apply for the remaining time of the 24-month extension, depending on the time remaining on the current 17-month extension and the date of the final regulation.

It is important to note that this a proposal by DHS and will not become effective until it has become a final regulation. DHS is now accepting comments on the proposed rule through November 18, 2015. The complete proposed rule can be found here.

EIG will continue to monitor the development of the proposed F-1 OPT STEM Extension rule and will provide updates as they are made available.