The New STEM-OPT Extension Rule: What You Need To Know

As of May 10th, 2016, a new 24-month optional practical training (OPT) extension for F-1 students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees will go in effect. This rule replaces the previous 17-month STEM extension.  The new rule includes certain reporting requirements for students, schools and employers.  OPT extension rules will be in place.

Below is important information you should know about the changes to the STEM OPT rule:

  • Prior SEVP-accredited STEM degree supports the extension even if the immediately preceding degree is not in a STEM field
  • Employers and Foreign Nationals are required to complete a training plan and provide regular status updates to the Designated Student Official (DSO) at the University for the I-983 form
  • USCIS may conduct site visits to verify employment
  • The extension permits 60 more days of unemployment during the 2-year extension period, which supplements 90 days of unemployment permitted during the first year
  • Students whose unemployment exceeds 150 days violate their status. It is the responsibility of the student to report any unemployment to the DSO who will update SEVIS.  Failure to report unemployment will result in automatic termination of SEVIS after 90 days

Not everyone will qualify for the new extension, however if your extension is approved as of May 10th, 2016:

  • EAD card remains valid so long as unexpired
  • Can apply for additional 7-month extension requirement during the application time period of May 10th – August 8, 2016
  • Student must have at least 150 calendar days remaining on EAD as of USCIS receipt date (Students with EAD’s expiring 10/6/2016 are automatically ineligible)
  • Student must meet the I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan requirements

If you have a pending extension request prior to May 10th, 2016:

  • Expect RFE to establish that the new rule’s guidelines are met
  • USCIS will request a new I-20 with 24-month endorsement
  • Form I-983 will need to be completed by both the employer and student, DSO will keep this and update the SEVIS system
  • Expired OPT-EAD’s are auto-extended for 180 days if the extension is pending and was filed prior to the EAD expiration date
  • It is important not to withdraw a pending stem extension request and file a new one to meet the 24-month guideline — this will cause the extension to be denied

In addition to the changes in the extension requirements, there are also material changes that require F-1 students to communicate to their DSO.  These changes include:

  • Change in EIN resulting from employer’s corporate restructuring
  • Nontrivial reduction in compensation from the amount previously submitted in the training plan (which is not tied to hours worked)
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week on STEM training
  • Any decrease in hours below the minimum 20 hours per week threshold

USCIS has a fantastic online resource detailing the new rule on their STEM OPT HUB:  https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/stem-opt-hub

For an assessment of your eligibility under the new OPT-STEM extension rule or related questions, contact our office at 312-857-5402.

 

 

 

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