STEM OPT rules revised – international students will have more time to find jobs in the US!

A blog by Ms. Vaishali Madhavan, Head-Admission Consulting (IMS)

The revision in STEM OPT rules and what this means for you !

stemIf you are considering a Master’s degree in  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in the USA, there’s great news for you.

  • F-1 visa students who are currently enrolled/will enroll in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields of study from accredited educational institutions in the United States will be allowed, beginning from May 10, 2016, to work for as long as three years under the Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • This means that all appropriately qualified STEM graduates can stay and work in the US for up to three years, as the extension rule is on top of the standard OPT rule of 12 months that many international graduates can benefit from.
  • The Department of Homeland Security released its final rule in this matter, which will be published in the Federal Register Friday, March 11. The rule goes into effect on May 10, 2016, which means that all students who are either under OPT till that date, or who qualify for OPT by then, will be able to work further, for a period totaling 36 months.
  • STEM students who are availing their extension of 17 months under OPT – after their initial OPT of 12 months got over – and will be done with that on May 10, 2016, or later, will be able to file to extend their OPT by further seven months.

How does this help you as a STEM Master’s student?

  • Increasing OPT work authorization from 29 months to 36 months will give F-1 visa STEM OPT holders more chances at being selected for an H-1B visa number in the annual H-1B lottery.  The rule also redresses the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s vacatur of the 2008, 17-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM Extension rule, and part of the contentious legal battle surrounding the overall validity of the STEM extension program, which is expected to be decided by a Federal court in May.
  • The new rule also expands the amount of time a student may be unemployed while in OPT status.  Under the new rule, students granted a 24-month OPT extension may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 150 days (which, prior to the new rule, was 120 days) during the total OPT period (i.e., students may not be unemployed for more than 150 days for the 12 months of initial OPT plus the 24-month STEM extension period).
  • The new rule also allows students enrolled in a subsequent STEM degree program at a higher level to become eligible for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension upon completion of the subsequent, higher level program.

How do you avail of the benefits of this new rule?

  • You need to be enrolled at an accredited STEM degree program. While the complete list is available on the DHS site on https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2014/stem-list.pdf – here is a listing of STEM majors that are most likely to provide you with a job:
    • Information Technology
    • Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications
    • Computer Science
    • Computer and Information Systems Security
    • Multimedia and Information Resources Design
    • Engineering (Mechanical/Electrical/Electrical and Computer/ B=Civil/Petroleum/Chemical/Aerospace, Aeronautical, Astronautical/Biological, Agricultural/Biomedical, Bioengineering/ Environmental/Industrial/ Manufacturing/ Materials/Nuclear)
    • Data Modeling/Warehousing and Database Administration
    • Biological and Physical Sciences
    • Computer Systems Analysis
    • Mathematics
    • Geology
    • Physics
  • To qualify for a STEM extension, you and your employer must prepare and execute a formal training plan that identifies learning objectives and a plan for achieving those objectives – It is possible that employers will be able to use existing training programs to meet the training plan requirement. The responsibility is a joint responsibility between employer and student.
  • The rule requires that the terms and conditions of STEM OPT (including duties, hours and compensation) must be commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers – In addition, the employer must attest that it has sufficient resources and trained personnel to provide training to the student, the student will not replace a full- or part-time temporary or permanent U.S. worker and the opportunity will help the student attain the training objective.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has discretion to conduct site visits to verify that program requirements are being met – DHS will provide 48-hour notice before any site visit unless a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT regulation triggers the visit (in which case DHS may conduct the visit without notice).
  • As with the prior rule, employers must be enrolled in E-Verify and comply with reporting requirements – In addition, the Cap-Gap extension provision for F-1 students ending OPT before beginning H-1B status is maintained. Students in that situation will keep their work authorization and duration of status until Oct. 1 when their H-1B status begins

To quote Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Students who previously earned a STEM degree, but are now working toward a non-STEM degree, are also eligible. (For example, someone who got a B.S. in Chemistry but is currently in an MBA program)”.

In conclusion 

The STEM OPT will allow immigrant STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students to stay in the U.S. for up to 36 months after graduation. This applies to both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and higher level degrees—meaning that students who go on to attain more than one STEM degree can further their stay beyond the 36 month maximum.

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