Certain F-1 students will now be able to extend their optional practical training period (OPT) by 24 months under a new final rule published by the Department of Homeland Security on Friday. This extension will allow STEM graduates to supplement their academic knowledge with practical workplace experience. The rule also includes requirements for the employer to protect the integrity of the training program and safeguard U.S. workers from any adverse effects.
Who is Eligible?
The new 24-month OPT extension is only available to F-1 students who have earned a qualifying STEM degree from an accredited school in the United States. The specific fields of study that qualify as a basis for a STEM extension can be found on the Department of Education Classification of Instructional Program Categories. Students may use a previously-earned STEM degree to apply for the extension, but the STEM degree must be from an accredited U.S. school certified by SEVP to receive F-1 students, and the student’s most recent degree must also be from an accredited and SEVP-certified school.
Apart from the degree requirement, the rule also places requirements on the employers. Specifically, all STEM OPT employers must participate in DHS’s E-Verify program, and the employer must incorporate a formal mentor and training program that includes concrete learning objectives and oversight. In an effort to guard against any adverse effects on U.S. employees, employers will also be required to attest that 1) the employer has the resources and personnel to provide training and mentoring, 2) none of the employer’s full- or part-time U.S. workers will be terminated, laid off or furloughed as a result, and 3) the student’s opportunity assists the student in attaining his or her training objectives. Additionally, both the student and the employer will be required to report any changes in employment status or material changes to the student’s training plan to their designated school officials. Finally, the rule clarifies that DHS may conduct employer site visits to verify whether employers are meeting the program requirements.
Normally, F-1 nonimmigrant student must return to their home country upon completion of their studies. The OPT program allows F-1 students to remain and work in the United States after completing their degree. This employment period is intended to supplement the student’s formal education and provide valuable on-the-job workplace experience. The OPT program is available to F-1 students in all academic fields except English Language programs. The initial OPT period is limited to 12 months, but the new rule will allow F-1 students with STEM degrees to extend their OPT period by an additional 24 months, for a total of three years. The new rule replaces the previous 17 month extension available to STEM OPT students.