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DHS Proposes Rule on Expanding F-1 STEM OPT


On October 19, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a new proposed rule on expanding F-1 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT). Specifically, the proposal would allow F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). This 24-month extension would effectively replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension currently available to certain STEM students. The rule also increases oversight of STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal mentoring and training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools.

As with the current 17-month STEM OPT extension, the proposed rule would authorize STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. The proposal also includes the “cap-gap” relief first introduced in 2008 for any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status. DHS said that the cap-gap relief allows such students to automatically extend the duration of F-1 status and any current employment authorization until October 1 of the fiscal year for which such an H-1B visa is being requested.

The proposed rule also responds to a court decision that vacated a 2008 DHS regulation on procedural grounds. The proposed rule includes changes to the policies announced in the 2008 rule to further enhance the academic benefit provided by STEM OPT extensions and increase oversight. DHS noted that “[t]hese on-the-job educational experiences would be obtained only with those employers that commit to developing students’ knowledge and skills through practical application. The proposed changes would also help ensure that the nation’s colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international STEM students to study and lawfully remain in the United States.”

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