On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule regarding extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students with degrees in a qualifying “STEM” (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field. This rule is expected to benefit U.S. employers that rely on a diverse workforce in the STEM fields, while protecting the U.S. workforce and the integrity of the STEM program. The rule becomes effective on May 10, 2016. Below are the highlights of the rule.
Increased STEM Extension to 24 Months. Foreign students generally receive 12 months. STEM students will now receive a 24-month extension, for a total of 36 months.
Multiple STEM Extensions. If a student has a previous STEM degree and has not used the additional work authorization, the student can use a previous STEM degree to get the extra 24 months. Additionally, if the student has multiple STEM degrees, the student may be eligible for as many as two separate STEM extensions. If the STEM student has already used a STEM extension, an extension based on that degree is not available, however.
Formal Training Plan. The new rule requires employers to create a formal training plan. If the employer already has a training plan in place, it is allowed to use that plan. Employers will now be required to complete Form I-983, Training Form for STEM OPT Students.
Student Reporting Requirements. The new rule requires students and employers to confirm changes in the student’s biographical data, such as residential and employment information, as well as changes in employment, such as a student’s departure or material changes or deviations from the formal training plan. In addition, annually the student must prepare a self-evaluation report for the Designated School Official on the progress of the training.
Unemployment Limitation Extended. The new rule extends unemployment time from 120 to 150 days for STEM students.
Employer Site Visits. DHS will be conducting discretionary site visits. DHS will normally provide 48 hours of notice. If there has been a complaint or evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT regulations, DHS can conduct a site visit without notice.
Employer Attestations. To protect the legitimacy of the program and to prevent harm to the U.S. workforce, the new rule requires an employer to attest that:
1) It has sufficient resources to support STEM training
2) The student worker will not replace a U.S. worker
3) The opportunity will help the student in his or her training objectives.
What Has Not Changed.
- Employers hiring STEM students must enroll in E-Verify.
- The “cap gap” extension is automatically granted during the pendency of an H-1B petition.
If you have student workers and have questions regarding the applicability of the new rule, call your attorney at Rose Immigration Law Firm, PLC.