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One Step Closer to Reality in Extending STEM OPT

On Friday, March 11 the Department of Homeland Security will publish the final rule that will change Optional Practical Training (OPT) for those in a STEM field.

WASHINGTON –The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that on Friday, March 11 it will publish the new and enhanced OPT program for international students in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, and math). The new rule will be posted on Friday for a final public inspection and it will officially go into effect on Tuesday, May 10, 2016!

“The new rule for STEM OPT will allow international students with qualifying degrees to extend the time they participate in practical training, while at the same time strengthening oversight and adding new features to the program,” said Lou Farrell, director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) in a press release sent from DHS.

OPT is a program international students can apply for to gain work experience in the United States after graduation. OPT is good for 12 months, but those in a STEM field can apply for an extension.

There are many changes to the new STEM OPT rule, the major one is increasing the extension period from 17 months to 24 months, meaning a student could have up to 36 months of OPT.

Additionally, other enhancements to STEM OPT shared in the press release include:

  • Only students who earned a degree from a school accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP may apply for a STEM OPT extension.
  • Participating students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension.
  • Participating students can use a previously-earned qualifying degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension. The prior degree must not have already formed the basis of a STEM OPT extension and must be from a school that is both accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP at the time of the student’s STEM OPT application. The student’s most recent degree must also be from an accredited and SEVP-certified institution.
  • Employers participating in STEM OPT must incorporate a formal training program that includes concrete learning objectives with proper oversight.
  • Employers and students must report material changes in their training program.
  • To guard against adverse effects on U.S. workers, terms and conditions of a student’s training opportunity – such as duties, hours, and compensation – must be on par with U.S. workers in similar positions in the same geographic area of employment. Additionally, the student must not replace a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.
  • Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer to qualify.
  • Students are permitted a limited period of unemployment during the initial period of post-completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension.
  • All STEM OPT employers must participate in DHS’ E-Verify program.

How Did We Get Here

Back in August 2015, DHS started the process of increasing the extension period of STEM OPT from 18 months to 24 months, but was stalled when a lawsuit from the U.S. District Court for D.C. said DHS didn’t follow required procedures when they extended OPT for STEM fields the first time back in 2008. So they had to follow procedures this time around.

One major procedure was opening the new STEM OPT rule for public comment. From October 19-November 18, 2015 the public could share their thoughts and opinions about the new STEM OPT proposal. DHS received 50,500 comments, the most in DHS history.

Read some of the public comments here


So, What’s Next for Students?

All the hard work will soon pay off! Starting May 10, international students on STEM OPT will be able to apply for the 24 month extension.

On Friday, March 11, with the new rule being published, the Student Exchange and Visitors Program (SEVP) will launch a STEM OPT Hub on the DHS’ Study in the States website. This is where students will be able to find more resources about the new STEM OPT rule.

Beginning Friday, March 11 international students can visit for resources regarding the new STEM OPT rule
Beginning Friday, March 11 international students can visit Study in the States for resources regarding the new STEM OPT rule

We’ll also be sure to share what students need to know about utilizing the new STEM OPT rule.

We can all be a little happier today.

Click/tap for full excitement affect, courtesy of Friends.


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