Section: ISSS

OPT STEM Extension

Bridge from Student to Employee
UPDATE! The Department of Homeland Security just announced the new STEM OPT rule, which will take effect this coming May 10, 2016. The new rule permits up to two STEM extensions of 24 months each, replacing the old rule which only allowed STEM extensions of 17 months. Just as with the old rule, the new rule authorizes STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers who participate in E-Verify, but also still allows those employers subject to the higher education E-Verify limitation to offer employment to students seeking the STEM extension. The new rule introduces compliance requirements for employers who hire STEM OPT workers, including Form I-983, which will document a formal training plan for the STEM employee. Employers will also be required to evaluate student progress annually, attest that the STEM OPT worker is not replacing a U.S. worker, and that the STEM student's compensation will be commensurate with that of other similarly employed workers.
The rule contains special provisions and deadlines and extends these benefits to persons currently on a STEM extension which will end on or after this October 6. Persons whose STEM extension ends before October 6 will not be able to extend their current STEM authorization beyond 17 months. This news resolves months of uncertainty about the future of the prior regulations for qualified students in science, technology, engineering or mathematics ("STEM") fields and means that STEM students will not have their status disrupted by the federal judge's 2015 order invalidating these regulations. A copy of the new final rule is available here. For a detailed summary and additional resources, please click here.

Transition Plan from 17-month Extension to 24-Month Extension

  •     The 17-month STEM OPT regulations remain in effect through May 9, 2016. The 2016 final rule’s STEM OPT 24-month extension is effective beginning on May 10, 2016.
  •     DHS will continue to adjudicate 17-month STEM OPT extension applications until that date. Any 17-month STEM OPT EAD that is issued before May 10, 2016, will remain valid until the EAD expires, is terminated or revoked.
  •     If a student submits a Form I-765, requesting a 24-month STEM OPT extension and such application is adjudicated before May 10, 2016, then the student’s Form I-765 will be treated as a 17-month extension request and will be adjudicated in accordance with the 17-month STEM OPT regulations.
  •     F-1 student who has a Form I-765 filed and approved prior to May 10, 2016, will be issued an EAD that is valid for 17 months, even if the student requested a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  •     Students with existing 17-month STEM OPT EADs on May 10, 2016, are not required to transition their extension by requesting an additional seven-month period. EADs indicating a 17-month OPT extension that have been issued and are valid prior to May 10, 2016, remain valid until expiration (unless terminated or revoked), and the student, the student’s employer and the student’s DSO must continue to abide by all the terms and conditions that were in effect when the EAD was issued.

Students with Existing 17-Month STEM EADs on May 10, 2016

As a transitional measure, from May 10, 2016, through August 8, 2016, certain students with such EADs will have a limited window in which to apply for an additional seven months of OPT, effectively enabling them to benefit from a 24-month period of STEM OPT. To qualify for the additional seven-month extension, the student must satisfy the following requirements:

  • 150 Calendar Days Remaining on EAD: To qualify for the seven-month extension, such students must have at least 150 calendar days remaining before the end of the student’s 17-month OPT period at the time the Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” is filed, and they must otherwise meet all requirements of the 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  • Timely Filing of the Seven-Month Extension. The STEM OPT student must properly file a Form I-765 with USCIS, along with applicable fees and supporting documentation, on or before August 8, 2016, (i.e., 90 days after May 10, 2016) and within 60 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  • Fulfill 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Requirements. The student must meet all the requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

If approved for the additional seven-month extension, student will receive a new EAD with a validity period that starts day after the expiration date and a 150-day unemployment limit is approved. If denied the seven-month extension, the student must follow the 17-months OPT terms and conditions.

Click here for more information on filing the additional seven-month extension during this transition period.

F-1 students who are currently authorized for OPT employment based on completion of a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) field, as defined by DHS, may be eligible for a 24-month extension of OPT.

Eligibility Requirements for the 24-Month STEM Extension

  • Student is currently authorized for post-completion OPT and is working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to his/her field of study at the time of application.
  • The degree that was the basis for the student's current period of OPT is a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree listed on the current STEM Designated Degree Program List. A minor field of study cannot serve as the basis for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  • Student has had fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT.
  • Student is employed by or has a job-offer from an employer registered with the "E-Verify" employment verification system.

There is a lifetime limit of two periods of 24-month STEM OPT; each occurring after a higher degree level has been obtained.  A STEM degree obtained at a U.S. university prior to your current degree may be the basis for a STEM extension under certain circumstances.

Prior Degree

To use a prior degree to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, the F- 1 student must:

  • Most recent degree (need not to be STEM) from an accredited SEVP certified school.
  • Have received their prior, qualifying STEM degree (at the bachelor’s level or higher) within 10 years preceding the date of application for the STEM OPT extension with USCIS.
  • The qualifying STEM degree needs to be on DHS’s STEM List at the time the student submits their application for 24-months extension

When to Apply

A qualifying STEM degree holder may file the 24-month extension application within the 90 days before the current OPT end date. However, the STEM extension application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the date on which UW-Platteville issues the new I-20 recommending the 24-month extension. In general, a 24-month extension application will take three months to be approved. However, a student's work authorization is extended for up to 180 days while the 24-month extension application is pending. Note, however, that employment must conform to STEM conditions during this interim extension period, including the requirement that the student work only for an E-Verify employer.

How to Apply

Please see the documents listed in the "Instructions" box at the right.

Unemployment

Under STEM OPT Extension, students are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment after their OPT ends, for a total of 150 days of allowable unemployment (90 days during the initial period of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the extension period).

Employer's Responsibility

  1. Complete and Certify the Form I-983. The STEM OPT program requires employers to submit and certify a mentoring and training plan (Form I-983) for the STEM OPT student they hire.
  2. Review student's annual self-evaluation of their own progress and sign it to attest to its accuracy. The student must submit the first assessment within 12 months of the OPT STEM start date, and a second, final assessment that recaps the training and knowledge acquired during the complete training period. The evaluation must have an applicable date range associated with it, so the relevant timeline for the evaluation is clear. The student submits the 12-month and final evaluations no later than 10 days following the conclusion of the applicable reporting period. The employer’s Official with Signature Authority from the Form I-983 must print, sign and enter the date of the signature to show concurrence with the assessment information that the student entered. Once signed, the employer must return the evaluation to the student, who will provide it to their DSO for recordkeeping.
  3. Report material changes to an existing Form I-983 (i.e. change in EIN, reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked, any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity, changes to the employer's commitments or student's learning objectives as documented on Form I-983). So long as the STEM OPT student and employer meet the regulatory requirements, and the modified Form I-983 meets the specified requirements, the student’s employment authorization will not cease based on a change to the plan.
  4. Report student loss of employment. The employer must agree to report within 48 hours the termination or departure of a STEM OPT employee to UW-Platteville International Student Services office via e-mail (isss@uwplatt.edu) with the subject line, "STEM OPT Employer Update" if the termination or departure is prior to the end of the authorized period of OPT. An employer shall consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left the employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the consent of the employer, whichever occurs earlier. The employer should provide the student's name, SEVIS ID (if available), and the date the student's employment ended.
  5. Employment must be paid and would be subject to wage protection.

For more details about reporting requirement for employers of STEM OPT students, please click here.

Employer Site Visits

Please click here for more information on site visits by the Department of Homeland Security to employer locations that train STEM OPT students.

Why STEM OPT is Good for Small Business

Please click here to read more about the potential impact that the STEM OPT extension regulation could have on small businesses.

For more information

STEM OPT Hub

USCIS Website

NAFSA Website

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