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New OPT Extension for STEM Students, Applications to be Accepted Beginning May 10th

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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security published a new final rule that will allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, also known as (STEM) fields, to apply for a 24-month extension of their optical practical training (OPT) program. This new 24-month OPT extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension that had been previously in place since 2008. Eligible students can begin to apply for the new 24-month extension starting May 10, 2016. If you mistakenly apply for a 24-month extension before May 10, 2016 you will receive a 17-month extension.

Applicants should note that the cap gap extension has not changed. Individuals who have filed an H-1B change of status application that is currently pending with USCIS, must keep in mind that their status will only be extended until September 30. It is recommended that selected H-1B participants upgrade their petition to premium processing, so that foreign workers in F-1 status do not experience significant gaps in employment. USCIS will adjudicate STEM OPT applications under the 2008 rules until May 9, 2016. STEM OPT extension applications filed and approved before May 10, 2016 will receive a 17-month extension. If you have a pending application requesting a 17-month STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016 you will receive a request for evidence asking for additional documentation to satisfy the new rule for the new 24-month extension. We have learned that the SEVIS system will be updated so that I-20’s will reflect 24-month extensions.

Students currently on 17-month STEM OPT

If you are a student who currently has a 17-month STEM OPT extension, you may apply for a 7-month extension to receive your 24-months of OPT on or after May 10, 2016. The 150-day rule applies. You may file for an additional 7-months of OPT if you have at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining on the date that you file your I-765 application with USCIS. The deadline to file your I-765 application to be considered for the additional 7-month extension is August 8, 2016. If you do not abide by the 150-day rule or you file your application after August 8, 2016 your application will be denied. At this time, the final training plan I-983 has not yet been released, but anticipate that it will be published before May 10th. The deadline to file your STEM OPT extension will depend on the date your OPT expires. To make sure you satisfy the 150-day rule, it is best for you to consult with an attorney.

To qualify for the 24-month extension:

  • Students must have been granted OPT and be in a valid period of OPT status;
  • Students must earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an accredited U.S. institution recognized by the Department of Education, be evaluated by an accrediting agency, and be certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) upon submission of your application for an extension;
  • Qualifying STEM Degrees earned in the past: If you obtained a STEM degree from an accredited U.S. institution in the past, but are currently participating in the 12-month OPT program based on a non-STEM degree, you may use your prior STEM degree to qualify for the 24-month OPT extension, only if you have not already received a STEM OPT extension for that degree.

To be eligible for the extension:

  1. the non-STEM and STEM degree must both be fully accredited and SEVP certified;
  2. your OPT employment opportunity must be related to the STEM degree received, NOT the non-STEM degree.
  • Additional STEM Degrees Earned in the Future: If you earn another qualifying STEM degree in the future from an accredited U.S. institution, you may be eligible for an additional 24-month OPT extension;
  • Students must work for an employer that meets all STEM OPT Employer Responsibility obligations;
  • Students must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before their current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) makes the OPT recommendation in your SEVIS record.

To apply for the 24-month extension, applicants must submit:

  • Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization on or after May 10, 2016;
  • Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, endorsed by your DSO on or after May 10, 2016;
  • A copy of your STEM degree.

If your current OPT status expires while your OPT extension is pending, USCIS will extend your employment authorization for 180 days while your application is being processed.

For more information about the 24-month extension please contact our office.