DHS Proposes Extension of Work Authorization Period for F1 Visa Students

The Barack Obama administration is continuing its efforts to provide additional benefits and work permits to legal residents of United States. Close behind the new rule of granting work permits to H-4 visa holders, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now proposing to extend the work authorization period for F1 visa holders to 6 years post-graduation under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

The OPT for international students currently allows F1 visa holders to stay in the US for 12 to 29 months (depending on the degree obtained) after graduating. The new proposal of allowing graduates to stay in the US for up to 6 years once graduated aims to provide benefits equal to those that H-1B visa holders receive.

Currently, F1 students that go on to participate in an OPT program can stay in the US and work in their field of study for 12 months, for non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors, or 29 months, for STEM majors. During this post-graduation work or training period, F1 visa holders can find employment with an H-1B sponsoring employer. However, many return to their home countries as a result of not being chosen in the highly impacted H-1B lottery system.

Another option for F1 students is to participate in a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program, which allows students to work in their field of study for up to 20 hours per week while attending an academic program.

Proposed Regulation

The proposal submitted before the Senate Judiciary Committee by DHS plans to allow F1 visa students with STEM degrees to stay and work in the US for up to 6 years under OPT. According to the proposed regulations, students with STEM degrees can stay and work in the US for:

  • 3 years after completing a STEM undergraduate program; and
  • Another 3 years after completing a STEM graduate program.

The OPT period for non-STEM students would remain at 12 months, but graduating non-STEM students who have earned an earlier STEM degree would be eligible for a work period of 3 years after graduation.

Potential Drawbacks of the Proposal

Despite the DHS intention to give F1 students a better chance to stay in the US and find employment after graduating, the proposal brings the following potential flaws.

  • Lack of work benefits. Employers may have a different set of rules for OPT employees and might deny them of certain benefits such as health insurance or 401K.
  • Employee exploitation. Trainees may be paid only a fraction of the amount an American worker might receive for the same skills.

The proposed regulation has also been criticized for its unfairness to H-1B applicants. While Congress have not been able to increase the 85,000 limit for work visas, F1 graduates may be able to stay in the US for 6 years, which could affect American jobs and wages.

Find out more information about Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F1 Students.