What are the changes to the STEM OPT program?
The new STEM OPT program will go into effect on May 10, 2016 and will 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 (Optional 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.
I currently have the 17-month STEM OPT extension. How do I take advantage of the new 24-month STEM OPT extension?
Students with 17 month extensions must meet the following requirements to qualify for the additional 7 months offered by the new 24-month rule:
1. Have at least 150 days remaining on their 17-month extension on the date the I-765 application is submitted to USCIS.
2. File for the additional 7 months between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016.
3. Meet the new enhancements of the 24-month program (e.g., complete the training plan).
Students whose 17-month STEM OPT extension expires prior to May 10, 2016, or who have less than 150 days remaining on their 17-month STEM OPT extension EADs on the date that they are able to file their STEM OPT extension will not be eligible for the 24-month extension.
Students who have entered the 60-day grace period following the expiration of their post-completion OPT are also ineligible for the 24-month extension.
If you are currently working under a 17-month STEM OPT EAD issued on or before May 9, 2016, that EAD will remain valid until the expiration date. Additionally, USCIS will continue to issue 17-month extensions until May 10, 2016.
I am on my initial 12 months of OPT now and earned a qualifying STEM degree. How do I apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension?
USCIS recommends that you file the I-765 application with all necessary supporting documentation 90 days before the expiration of your current OPT. However, if your application is submitted and approved before May 10, 2016, you will only be issued an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) consistent with the 17-month STEM OPT extension rule. If your application is submitted after May 10, 2016, it will need to meet the new 24-month program requirements to be approvable. If your application is submitted before May 10, 2016 and remains pending on that date, USCIS will issue an RFE (Request for Evidence) to provide you the opportunity to show you qualify for the 24-month extension.
In accordance with current procedure, if your post-completion OPT expires while your STEM OPT application is pending, you will receive an automatic extension of employment authorization of up to 180 days upon the expiration of the current employment authorization.
My employer filed an H-1B petition for me, but it was not selected in the lottery. Can I apply for a STEM OPT extension instead?
Depending on how much OPT time you have used, you may be eligible for the extension. Please see read the previous sections depending on whether you are in your initial period of OPT or currently working under the 17-month STEM OPT extension program.
For more details on the program please visit DHS’s website. For an analysis of your specific situation, please contact your immigration attorney.