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F Student Visas/ CPT, OPT & STEM OPT

Understanding the F Student Visa

The F visa is for students who are enrolled in certain authorized educational programs. In some circumstances, an F-1 student may obtain restricted work authorization (“CPT” and “OPT”) during and/or after completion of his or her program of study. Employment on OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. An F-1 student can receive up to 12 months of full-time OPT for each level of schooling. For example, 12 months is given for an undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate program. Students who have graduated with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, may be eligible for a “STEM OPT” extension beyond the initial 12 months. Before May 10, 2016, STEM OPT extension was granted for only 17-months, but after May 10, 2016 STEM OPT extensions are granted for24 months.
There are also special rules that extend OPT employment authorization for those workers whose employers timely file an H-1B petition during the first week of April of each year.

What is CPT?

In some circumstances, an F-1 student who is enrolled in a full-time program that will result in the issuance of a degree may obtain restricted work authorization called Curricular Practical Training or “CPT.” Typically CPT is available only after a student completes her or his first year of study, although there some limited exceptions to this rule. The purpose of CPT is for an educational institution to authorize work activity that is “an integral part of an established curriculum.”

A Designated School Official (“DSO”) will update a student’s records showing that she or he is allowed to engage in some work that is related to the curriculum.  CPT can be full-time or part-time, but a student who uses a full 12 months of full-time CPT will become ineligible for OPT. In contrast, a student who completes any amount of part-time CPT or less than 12 months of full-time CPT remains eligible for OPT.

Students who have graduated with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (“STEM”) degree, may be eligible for a “STEM OPT”  extension beyond the initial 12 months. Before May 10, 2016, STEM OPT extensions were granted for only 17-months, but after May 10, 2016 STEM OPT extensions are  granted for 24 months.  There are also special rules that extend OPT employment authorization for those workers whose employers timely file an H-1B petition during the first  week of April of each year.

What is OPT?

OPT stands for Optional Practical Training and is a form of work authorization available to certain F-1 foreign students who are pursuing a degree in the United States. Employment on OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. An F-1 student can receive up to 12 months of full-time OPT for each level of schooling. For example, 12 months is given for an undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate program.

How is Pre-Completion OPT Different Than Post-Completion OPT?

Pre-completion OPT is when a school authorizes a student to work part-time (not more than 20 hours per week) during school or on a part-time or full-time basis during school breaks. Post-completion OPT, is given only to a student who has completed his or her full-time program (excluding thesis) for the degree.

What is a STEM OPT extension?

By regulations implemented in 2007, students who have graduated with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, are  eligible for an additional 17-month extension. Regulations that took effect May 10, 2016 extended the 17-month period to 24-months. Starting on May 10, 2016 a STEM graduate may obtain a total of 36 months in total OPT and STEM OPT  combined, if certain conditions are met.

How did the May 10, 2016 rules change the STEP OPT program?

The May 10, 2016 regulations allow students in F-1 status with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees from U.S. institutions to obtain work authorization for an additional 24 months beyond the normal 12  months of OPT (Optical Practical Training). This replaces the previous 17-month OPT extension program.

The biggest change, beyond the additional 7 months of employment, is the requirement that the student and employer submit a detailed training plan with the STEM OPT EAD extension application. The training plan should be detailed on Form I-983. This plan must clearly articulate learning objectives for the 24-month period and the employer’s role in achieving those  objectives.

Like the 17 month extension program, employers must be enrolled in e-verify to employ students under the STEM OPT extension.

Click here for additional Frequently Asked Questions about the May 10, 2016 STEM OPT rules.

Connecting Your Business With International Talent

At Becker & Lee LLP, employment-based immigration is one of our primary practice areas. Our experienced attorneys have worked with a range of talented individuals, employers and human resource professionals to help F-1 students to maintain OPT status and obtain other temporary visas. Past clients include graphic design companies, Silicon Valley tech companies, and a range of additional startups and businesses.

Our F-1 visa lawyers offer comprehensive representation to help ensure legal compliance and efficiency and increase chances of success in the visa application process. Contact our San Francisco law firm to learn more about your options.