What You Should Know About the New STEM OPT Rule

Beginning May 10, 2016, new rules will take effect that will update the regulations surrounding the F-1 STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. Most individuals with F-1 student visas are eligible to remain in the United States for up to 12 months after graduation. The OPT program allows certain foreign national students who are working toward their STEM degrees and new STEM graduates with F-1 student visas to extend their time in the United States by an additional 17 months in order to obtain on the job training in their field. The new rule will allow eligible STEM grads to extend their stay by an additional 24 months instead.

Information about STEM OPT Extensions for Students and Employers

  • Students who currently have STEM OPT extensions should be aware that their current Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will remain valid through its end date. Once the new rules are effective, however, those wishing to remain in the United States may be able to still apply for the additional seven months offered for OPT.
  • Students who have pending applications should know that if their extension is approved on May 9, 2016 or before, they will be allowed the current 17 months for OPT. As of May 10, 2016, however, those wishing to stay in the U.S. for additional training need to apply for the extra seven months.
  • Students with applications that are still pending on or after May 10, 2016 will need to provide proof of eligibility for the new 24 month period.
  • Employers will be faced with new compliance regulations that include:
    • STEM OPT employers are now required to have an employer ID number
    • Employers now have 60 days to submit EAD applications once the student being entered into SEVIS
    • Employers may not replace current American workers with STEM OPT workers
  • Volunteer positions do not qualify for STEM OPT extensions

The new rules are designed to enhance training opportunities for international students, but it is important to realize that the OPT extension updates will benefit employers in the United States as well. According to Sarah R. Saldaña, the Director of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), “U.S. employers will benefit from the increased ability to rely on the skills acquired by U.S. educated-STEM students, as well as their knowledge of markets in their home countries.”