Work Term Extended to 3 Years for STEM F-1 Visa Students

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published amended regulations in the Federal Registry that effective May 10, 2016, foreign students who are enrolled at accredited universities or colleges, in approved Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, will be eligible to work up to 36 months under the Optional Practical Training Program.

The extension only applies to students who are either under the OPT until May 10, 2016, or who will qualify for OPT by that date.  It does not apply to students not under a STEM approved program, who will continue to be able to apply for the current 12 months of OPT work placement.

In addition to the extension for STEM students, the categories for programs of study included under the STEM programs have been expanded as well.  This increases opportunities for both foreign students and United States’ employers, but the new rules impose additional compliance requirements on the students and employers, such as:

  1. Students and employers will be required to submit a work plan identifying learning objectives, using Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.”
  2. Employers are required to evaluate the student’s achievements towards their work plan objectives within the first 12 months of their work period, and at a minimum, at the conclusion of the STEM OPT work program.
  3. Any changes to employer’s name or address, or in the student’s name or address, must be reported to the STEM OPT Program Designated School Official.
  4. Employers must ensure that they have the appropriate resources to provide the training specified in the Form I-983 Training Plan, and the student will work similar hours, perform the necessary duties, and receive similar pay, as United States’ employees in a similar position.
  5. Employers must confirm that they will not put the STEM OPT student in a position of replacing any full-time, part-time, temporary, or permanent United States’ workers.
  6. Extensions of the work period for STEM graduates will only be available to students who have obtained degrees from universities and colleges recognized and approved by the United States Department of Education.
  7. A Foreign Student’s Designated School Official must be advised within five business days, of a student’s termination, or leaving the approved employment position before the end of the authorized STEM OPT period.
  8. To deter the potentially fraudulent use of a student F-1 status, the Department of Homeland Security will conduct announced visits, with a minimum of 48-hour notice, or unannounced site visits, if the visit is the result of a complaint or there is potential noncompliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations.

The Department of Homeland Security is implementing the revision to the number of months that STEM students may work, to assist companies who may wish to continue the employment of students through an H-1B application.  The extended time allows the workers to continue to work while their employers attempt to secure an H-1B Visa through the annual lottery program.

For additional information on the changes to the STEM OPT Program, students and employers are encouraged to check the amended regulations posted to the Federal Register on March 11, 2016.

Restrictions may apply for F1 STEM students applying for  OPT Extension: Visit OPT Extension for STEM Students: Restrictions to learn more.