Effective May 10th 2016, F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) who elect to pursue 12 months of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) may extend their STEM-OPT period by 24 months.
What is OPT?
OPT is a type of work permission which allows eligible F-1 Foreign students to get real-world experience related to their field of study. Twelve months of Regular OPT is available for each degree level, allowing a student to have 12 months of regular OPT period for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months of regular OPT period for a master’s degree.
OPT may be used before (Pre-Completion) or at the end (Post-Completion) of the student’s program of study.
Who is eligible for OPT?
- A full-time student for at least one academic year in a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified college, university, conservatory or seminary. The student must not solely be studying English as a Second Language (ESL).
- The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s major area of study.
- A student who has not used all of the practical training period at the current level of study and has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
The program was instituted by the U.S. government in its efforts to attract the best and brightest international talent and enable them to contribute to our nation’s economic, scientific and technological competitiveness.
Through the new rule effective May 10, 2016, the government gives STEM students a 24-month extension of their OPT period. A full list of eligible degrees may be accessed here.
What has changed?
Training Plan and Bonafide Employer Relationship
In addition to extending the OPT period, the rule requires the completion of a written training program form (Form I-983) and plan stating training goals, objectives and milestones. As this form is signed and certified by the employer, the STEM-OPT extension may not be used for self-employment, unless there is a bonafide employee-employer relationship.
For more about self-employment while on OPT, click here.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel may conduct site visits with a 48-hour notice, unless there are compliance issues, at which point ICE may visit without any prior notice. DHS may request compliance info with or in lieu of site visit to ensure compliance with program requirements.
Students are required to report and update the Designated School Official (DSO) every six months with an annual evaluation of the program. In addition, students are expected to notify the DSO if there are any material changes to the training program or I-983, termination of or change of employment, or employer’s noncompliance with OPT requirements.
How do I apply?
There is no automatic conversion for those under the existing program. Applicants must have at least 150 days remaining on their Employment Authorization from the date of application to allow completion of the program. The application must be filed on or before August 8, 2016 and the applicant must meet other eligibility requirements. For those with pending applications, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will send requests for evidence to demonstrate STEM Extension eligibility.
For comprehensive information on the application process, follow this link to the USCIS STEM-OPT portal. Students may also contact their scool’s DSO for guidance or SEVP at SEVP@ice.dhs.gov, 703.603.3400 and 800.892.4829.
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