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Changes to Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The new 24-month extension will replace the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension. Eligible students could begin applying for the 24-month STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016.

To be eligible for the 24-month extension, the applicant must:

* Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT
* Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency, and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when the STEM OPT extension application is submitted.
* Work for an employer who meets all of the requirements listed below.
* Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before the applicant’s current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date of the applicant’s designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for an OPT extension into the SEVIS record.

The new 24-month extension brings additional responsibilities for the STEM OPT employer to fulfill. If the employer wishes to provide a practical training opportunity to a STEM OPT student during their period of extension, the employer must:

* Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing.
* Implement a formal training program to develop the student’s academic learning through practical experience, and complete Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.
* Report material changes to the STEM OPT student’s employment to the DSO within 5 business days.
* Provide an OPT opportunity that is consistent with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in terms of hours, duties, and compensation.

The Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students is a new aspect of the STEM OPT program which requires the employer to attest that it has enough trained personnel and resources to properly train the student, working for the employer will help the student reach his/her training objectives, and that the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker. Please contact your Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm attorney for assistance in preparing the training plan and extension.

Students with Pending 17-Month STEM OPT Extension Applications

If USCIS has not yet adjudicated a student’s application for a 17-month STEM OPT extension and the application was submitted before May 10, 2016, the student will receive a request for evidence (RFE). The RFE allows the student to amend their application to demonstrate their eligibility for a 24-month extension without incurring additional fees or having to refile their EAD application.

The RFE the student receives will generally request that the student submit a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that was endorsed on or after May 10, 2016. If a student with a pending 17-month STEM OPT extension application doesn’t respond to the RFE by the specified deadline, the student will not be granted the STEM OPT extension and must depart the United States within the 60-day grace period following their initial period of OPT.

Students with Existing 17-Month STEM OPT Extensions

Any 17-month STEM OPT EAD that USCIS issued on or before May 9, 2016 will remain valid until the EAD expires, is revoked or terminated. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will not automatically convert 17-month extensions into 24-month extensions as there are new requirements in place.

As a transitional measure, from May 10, 2016 through August 8, 2016, students with these 17-month EADs will have a limited period of time in which to apply for an additional seven months of OPT, which will enable them to benefit from a 24-month period of STEM OPT. To qualify for the additional seven-month extension, the student must obtain an endorsed Form I-20 from the DSO, fulfill the new additional STEM OPT extension requirements, pay the applicable fees, and have at least 150 days of work authorization left when the application is filed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that students who choose to request the additional seven-month extension file their application as soon as possible in advance of the August 8, 2016 deadline, and no more than 60 days from the date of the DSO’s recommendation.

For further guidance on the changes to the STEM OPT Extension program, please contact your Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm attorney.

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