Immigration thoughts from an Immigration Lawyer.

New Rule: OPT Extension for STEM Students (Summary of Requirements)

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On 03/11/2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a new rule for OPT extension for STEM students. The biggest benefit for F1 students is the increased length of OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months. Now the STEM students can be employed for 3 years after graduation. However, the new rule also adds new requirements and creates burdens on F1 students and employers by, for example, requiring a formal training plans. The following is the summary of extension application requirements under the new rule. 

In order to qualify for the 24-month OPT extension, all of the following requirements must be met:

  1. The school must be accredited at the time of application. You can find about your school’s accreditation at US Department of Education’s website.
  2. The degree must be a Bachelor, Master, or Doctor degree in STEM fields. You can find the list of STEM majors (STEM Designated Degree Program List) at DHS’s website. For the most recent list as of today, click here.
  3. The extension application must be based on the current degree that granted you the 12-month post-completion OPT, OR a previously obtained degree that meets the above two requirements. The previously obtained degree must have been conferred within 10 years before your extension application.
  4. The job duties under OPT must be directly related to the degree that qualifies you for the extension.
  5. The employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  6. The employer must report to the student’s school if the employment is terminated before the end of the authorized OPT period.
  7. The employer and the student must complete an individualized training plan (Form I-983) and submit it to the student’s school before the extension application. If the student changes employment, he/she must submit a new training plan to the school within 10 days of beginning the new employment.
  8. The duties, hours, and compensation of the student must be equivalent to the employer’s similarly situated U.S. workers. The student must work at least 20 hours per week.
  9. The student must submit (with the employer’s signature) a self-evaluation of the student’s progress toward the training goals to the school. The first evaluation must be submitted within 12 months of the approved starting date of the OPT extension, and the second evaluation must be submitted no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the OPT. The student and employer must also report any material changes in the training, such as:
    1. Change of employer’s FEIN
    2. Reduction in compensation
    3. Significant decrease in hours worked per week
  10. The employer must attest that the employer has sufficient resources and personnel for the training, and that the student’s OPT extension will not replace any US worker.
  11. DHS may conduct a site visit of the employer. DHS will give 48-hour notice, unless there is a complaint or evidence of noncompliance with the laws.

This new rule will be effective on May 10, 2016. There is much more to be discussed about this new rule (e.g. the filing procedure, practical effects on students and employers) and questions remained (e.g. how detailed should the training plan be?). There are number of webinars and teleconferences organized by immigration professional organizations and the DHS, discussing this new rule. I will post more information soon. Stay tuned!

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