Foreign graduates of U.S. colleges or universities are permitted to work in the United States for up to twelve months in a job related to their course of study with Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. “STEM” OPT work authorization allows students graduating in certain high-demand fields (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) to work for an additional seventeen months in the U.S., for a total of 29 months. This STEM OPT rule has been in effect since 2008.
In October 2015, DHS proposed to amend the rule to permit STEM OPT validity for up to twenty-four months, for a total of 36 months of work authorization post-graduation. A lawsuit was filed in response to this rule change, which challenged not only STEM OPT extensions, but all OPT work authorization.
A federal court vacated the proposed rule change on procedural grounds, but granted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until February 12, 2016 to revise their procedures. This continuance was subsequently extended through May 10, 2016 while permitting the Immigration Service to continue issuing 17-month STEM OPT extensions according to existing law. DHS is expected to publish the new 24-month STEM OPT rule before the May 2016 deadline, which would impact as many as 50,000 foreign nationals working pursuant to STEM authorization.