USCIS Proposed New Rule Providing 24 Month STEM Extension
Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) December 23, 2015 – A proposed new rule would expand work authorization for F-1 foreign students with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the proposed rule Oct. 19, 2015. The proposed rule allows eligible foreign students to extend their F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) for 24 months beyond the usual 12-month OPT period, provided certain requirements are met. This is a change from a 2008 rule that had permitted a 17-month extension.
“While the proposed regulations extend STEM employment authorization to 24 months yielding a total of 36 months of OPT for STEM graduates, the proposed regulations add complexity,” said Stewart Rabinowitz, a Dallas immigration attorney with Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “If implemented as written, an employer must create formal mentoring and training plans as a school extension instead of simply providing work experience to STEM graduates. While many employers may be willing to do this, some may balk at being a university extension instead of live on the job training.”
The original rule allowing the extension of F-1 OPT by 17 months for certain STEM students was introduced and implemented in April 2008, with no notice and comment period. In 2014, a lawsuit alleged that DHS failed to follow its required notice and comment procedures for new rules. Also in 2014, President Obama announced executive actions on immigration, which included directing that OPT rules allow additional STEM OPT time. The new proposed rule is a response to these challenges.
In addition to the 24 month STEM OPT extension period, the proposed rule requires that employers eligible under the program be enrolled in the E-Verify system and institute a formal training program for the 24-month extension. The proposed rule also provides a clearer definition of the STEM fields, and maintains cap-gap protection for F-1 students whose employment authorization ends before a successful H-1B petition change of status period is to begin.