Proposed Rule to Increase F-1 OPT STEM Extension from 17 Months to 24 Months

Proposed Rule to Increase F-1 OPT STEM Extension from 17 Months to 24 Months

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed changes to its regulations that would strengthen and enhance the process for foreign students with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from a U.S. college or university to get practical training experience in the United States.  The enhancement of this regulation was announced as a part of President Obama’s November Executive Actions.

The optional practical training program, or OPT, allows nonimmigrant international students and new graduates to extend their time in the U.S. on their F-1 student visa status to gain on-the-job-learning for up to a year.  The proposed rule would allow certain F-1 STEM students to extend their OPT period by 24 months with the appropriate mentoring and training by employers.  The proposed rule would also improve and increase oversight over OPT STEM extensions.

“Our nation will benefit from keeping international students here, educated in U.S. colleges and universities here while they receive additional training, rather than sending them out of the country,” said Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sarah R. Saldaña. “At the same time, U.S. employers will benefit from the increased ability to rely on the skills acquired by U.S. educated-STEM students, as well as their knowledge of markets in their home countries.”

By increasing access to OPT for STEM students, the proposed regulations will help U.S. colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international students in STEM fields.  It also reforms the program to better ensure that practical training opportunities are designed to meet student needs, while requiring greater accountability of employers and students.

The proposed rule aims to ensure F-1 students gain valuable practical STEM experience through practical training that supplements knowledge gained in their academic studies.  The rule also seeks to improve and increase the oversight of STEM OPT by requiring the implementation of formal mentoring and training plans by employers and by adding wage and other protections for OPT students and U.S. workers.  The proposed rule would only permit STEM OPT extensions to F-1 students with degrees from accredited schools, and whose employers are enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-verify employment eligibility verification program.  DHS encourages comments on this proposed rule; public comment will be open through November 18, 2015.