From May 10, 2016, STEM F-1 visa students can work for 3 years under OPT

IMG_2480NEW YORK: F-1 visa students who are enrolled 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).

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.

However, for students who are not in STEM tracks of study, the OPT remains the same at 12 months.

Also, significantly, the rule by the Department of Homeland Security extends cap-gap protection for those H-1B petition beneficiaries that are selected in the H-1B cap. Under the new rule, an F-1 visa student’s duration of status and employment authorization are automatically extended until September 30 if an H-1B petition is timely filed on behalf of the student, and approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In light of this new rule, employers should review their OPT population to determine which workers will be eligible for further STEM extensions, according to the top law firm Greenberg Traurig.

U.S. employers should also verify whether these employees need to change to H-1B status to ensure there is no interruption in their U.S. work authorization beyond the expiration of their OPT.  U.S. employers should plan to file all H-1B cap petitions for 2017 by March 31, 2016, keeping in mind the new factors affecting this year’s H-1B cap season.

The extended OPT time period offers a number of benefits to foreign students and US employers that wish to hire them, according to Greenberg Traurig.  By defining fields of study that qualify for STEM in accordance with the Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) categories, the new rule expands on the permissible fields of study that were authorized under the old STEM rule.

Notably, 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. MORE


Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students (see 73 FR 18944). Eligible students may now apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. Source


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