On March 11, the Department of Homeland Security published its final rule to expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 international students who are in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The rule will take effect on May 10.
Currently, F-1 students are eligible to receive 12 months of OPT upon the completion of their degrees, and students in the STEM fields can receive a STEM OPT extension for an additional 17 months, provided the employer participates in E-Verify. The new rule extends the 17-month period to 24 months. Students who are currently on the 17-month STEM OPT extension will be able to request the balance of the new 24-month extension. The rule also allows students who are on OPT based on non-STEM degrees to receive a STEM extension based on a previously obtained STEM degree, provided it was obtained within the last 10 years. One important thing to keep in mind is that the STEM OPT extension must be used for STEM-related work.
The new rule obligates the employer to develop a formal training plan to enhance the STEM OPT student’s theoretical knowledge through practical experience. The plan is submitted to the Designated School Official. The plan must specify the goals of the STEM practical training opportunity and must describe how those goals are to be achieved. The plan also must detail the knowledge, skills, or techniques to be imparted to the student and must describe how the student will be evaluated. Finally, the employer attests that it has sufficient resources and personnel to provide the specified training and that the student’s practical training opportunity will not negatively impact any full- or part-time temporary or permanent U.S. workers.