STEM Extension OPT
F-1 students with degrees in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) may be eligible for an extension of their Post-Completion OPT work permission. On March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published new expanded regulations, which take effect on May 10, 2016. There are many details about the new STEM OPT regulations that need further clarification.
Transitioning to the new STEM OPT Rule
It will take some time for DHS (including SEVIS and the USCIS Service Centers), employers and universities to define the application procedures and reporting requirements of STEM OPT. The IO will continue to update our STEM OPT materials here and keep students informed. For now here are the trending questions many potential STEM OPT F-1 students have:
- May now be as long as 24 months beyond the initial post-completion OPT period
- Students may be eligible to have two STEM OPT extensions during their time in the U.S.
- Students currently in a non-STEM degree can be eligible for a STEM OPT extension based on a previous STEM degree obtained in the U.S. from an accredited institution.
- There is a new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes.
- The student and employer will be required to use the new Form I-983
- Additional reporting requirements (evaluation, exit survey, etc…)
- Employers must provide an Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
- DHS is permitted to conduct employer site visits to confirm that training plan goals are being met.
- Volunteering is no longer permitted on the STEM OPT extension.
- Students' compensation must be commensurate to similarly situated U.S. workers.
- Self-employment is not permitted.
- Small start-up companies: There appear to be ways for some to qualify as long as the employer has an FEIN, student is considered an “employee” and a supervisor can complete the I-983.
- Most temporary agency and contract work will not be eligible
- During the STEM OPT extension you could have up to 150 days of unemployment time
I have a pending STEM OPT Application
We have been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications approved before May 10 will be adjudicated under the old 17-month rule. If this happens, you would be eligible to convert to the 24-month STEM OPT extension if you file a request for the additional 7 months between May 10 and August 8, 2016. Speak to your IO advisor about how to proceed. If you choose not to move to the 24-month STEM OPT, you will be required to follow the old 17-month rules regarding employment reporting and unemployment time.
We have also been alerted that any STEM OPT extension applications still pending on May 10 or later will be sent a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) to update their I-20 to the 24-month STEM OPT benefit. At that time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared when USCIS requests it.
I have an approved 17-month STEM OPT Extension
Once the rule takes affect on May 10, 2016 you will have a limited window of time to apply for an additional 7 months of STEM OPT. Eligible students must have at least 150 days of STEM OPT remaining on the day USCIS receives the application, and must file no later than August 8, 2016. To request the additional time, a completed Form I-983 will be required. We recommend that you begin conversations with your employer about the I-983 now so that you have one prepared to submit during the eligibility window. Please also alert your IO advisor that you wish to file for the additional 7 months, so that we can inform you of the process as it develops.
I want to file my first STEM OPT application
We recommend that you speak to your IO advisor about the best time to file. All STEM extension applications, regardless of when they are filed, must be received by USCIS before your current Post-Completion OPT expires. In some cases, it may be better to wait until the new rule has taken affect but for others you may need to file now while you still can. Anyone considering a STEM OPT extension will be required to complete the Form I-983 with their employer. We recommend that you begin conversations now with your employer about the I-983 so that you have one prepared when you need to file the application.