We would like to inform our readers that a new development has been occurring in recent months involving Form I-539 change of status applications filed by prospective students. Students applications wishing to change their status from a B-2 visa classification to F-1 must proceed with caution. USCIS has recently been issuing denials for such change of status applications that request a change of status from a B-2 nonimmigrant visa classification to F-1 student status. These denials have been issued, despite the fact that applicants have seemingly filed their application in a timely and proper manner with USCIS. To submit an application in a timely manner, it is required that the applicant file an I-539 change of status application with USCIS, prior to the expiration of their underlying B-2 status, as indicated on the applicant’s I-94 arrival/departure record. An additional problem that has been occurring involves the delayed adjudication of these applications with the California Service Center. In delaying the processing of these applications, designated school officials (DSO) have been forced to defer student program start dates that appear on the SEVIS form, before adjudication of the applicant’s change of status application has been completed. The unfortunate cause of these delays has resulted in a discrepancy between the deferred program start date and the ending B-2 visa status or the date USCIS adjudicated the I-539 application to change status.
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
For this blog we are answering 5 questions we have recently received through our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office for a free legal consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust and interest in our law office.
Change of Status B-2 to F-1
Q: I need advice regarding my change of status. I am currently in the United States on a B-2 tourist visa. I have filed a change of status application to change my status to F-1 student. My B-2 duration of stay will expire today and my change of status application to F-1 student is still pending with USCIS. I informed my school that I will be postponing my classes and was notified that I need to file a new I-20 and provide some missing information. I have time to make adjustments to my application but I would like to know the steps to correct any missing information. I also wanted to know if I need to leave the United States immediately since my F-1 application is still pending. Please assist.
The new replacement rule affecting the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), has been posted and is now available for inspection in the federal register. The new replacement rule will replace the previous 2008 rule and become effective beginning May 10, 2016.
The new rule authorizes F-1 STEM students pursuing a 12-month Optional Practical Training program in the United States to extend their ‘OPT’ status for a 24-month period. The 24-month extension replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students. The 17-month STEM OPT extension will continue to be effective until May 9, 2016. The new 24-month extension applies only to F-1 STEM OPT students attending accredited United States institutions, whose employers participate in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services E-verify program. Only students in a valid period of post-completion OPT may file for a STEM OPT extension. The 24-month extension, coupled with the 12-month period given with initial post-completion OPT, will give STEM students a period of 36 total months of practical training in their field. Amendments that come with the new rule include additional oversight and improvement of the program requiring formal mentoring and training plans by employers, a new STEM definition and Classification of Instructional Program Categories, provisions on previously obtained STEM degrees, Accreditation and Employer Visits, and OPT compliance. In addition, new provisions have been introduced relating to wage and protections for STEM OPT students and safeguards for American workers as described below.
The ‘Cap Gap’ provision previously available to F-1 STEM OPT students in 2008 remains in place. This provision allows students with a timely filed H-1B petition requesting a change of status, the benefit of automatically extending their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1 of the H-1B visa fiscal year for which the student has applied. The Cap-Gap was created with intention of avoiding any disruption students might experience in their careers and personal life as a result of temporary gaps in their status.
What is the H-1B Visa? The H-1B visa is a work visa that is awarded on a lottery basis. The H-1B visa program allows American companies and/or qualifying organizations to employ foreign workers to fill specialty occupations temporarily. The foreign worker must posses a combination of education, specialized training, and/or experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher. The H-1B program was first enacted by Congress with the intention of helping American employers seek out distinguished foreign workers, possessing the skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the specialty occupation. The H-1B program has remained popular because it has allowed American employers to remain competitive and provides highly skilled foreign workers a path to permanent residence.
The provisions of the H-1B visa program allow qualified foreign workers to attain temporary employment having met specific requirements. H-1B visa recipients typically work in the STEM fields as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, software developers, business analysts, etc. although fashion models are also classified under the H-1B category.
USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2017 beginning April 1, 2016. April 7, 2016 is the absolute deadline to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. Please note: employers cannot file an H-1B petition for an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. If accepted, H-1B visa workers can begin employment by October 1st. The H-1B visa is issued for up to three years but may be extended for another three years.
International students seeking a STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension must be aware that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not yet published a replacement rule authorizing further STEM OPT extensions, this following a court decision prohibiting DHS from allowing 17 month extensions to be issued. The OPT program allows foreign students the right to seek temporary employment during or following their studies in the United States. On August 12th of this year a court decision invalidated the processing of a DHS rule allowing a 17 month STEM OPT extension program to take place, due to procedural errors. The court’s ruling will be officially enforced on February 12, 2016 in an effort to delay hardships STEM students are likely to experience, and the disruption of employment among technology companies and relevant sectors. The delay also allows DHS to present a new rule before February 12, 2016.
With time running out (4 workdays to be exact) no such rule has since been released by DHS. While DHS has not communicated any changes to international student offices, we expect that any new rulings will have no impact on the initial 12-month OPT program. Until further clarification is provided by DHS, universities are authorized to continue to produce I-20 forms for STEM extensions. In fact, most universities are continuing to accept applications for STEM extensions, regardless of DHS’ failure to publish a new rule within the given time. Students should heed with caution if they wish to file an application for extension, as they may risk forfeiting money spent on such applications. EAD cards already issued under the existing STEM program are considered valid until further notice. DHS mandated employment reports and regular attendance should continue as normal. Students should make sure to abide by the strict unemployment limits of OPT, regardless of these developments.