STEM OPT Regulatory Changes Effective May 10, 2016
In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Final Rule in the Federal Register, entitled “Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students with STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students.”
On March 28, 2014, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a high tech worker union, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 students. The resulting ruling invalidated the existing (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) STEM OPT extension program on the grounds that DHS had not followed the proper administrative process when implementing the rule. In response, the DHS proposed and published a new final rule on STEM OPT extensions, which took effect on May 10, 2016. An overview of the rule can be found on Study in the States. Please find a summary of key dates associated with the STEM OPT litigation and rulemaking here.
The following information explains the key provisions in the regulation. In addition to reviewing this summary, please ensure that you discuss your particular STEM OPT questions with your university’s Designated School Official (DSO) or a representative from your school’s International Student Office. Additional resources include the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM OPT Hub, and the Form I-983 Training Plan Overview. A new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes is also available for review.
What has changed?
Under the new rule, F-1 students who have earned degrees STEM fields of study are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of OPT. Up until May 10, 2016, the STEM extension was limited to 17 months. When combined with the initial 12-month OPT program, a STEM graduate may secure up to 3 years (36 months) of OPT per a STEM degree level.
Training Plan for STEM OPT Students (Form I-983)
The employer and student must prepare a formalized “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” (Form I-983), signed under penalty of perjury by the student and an employer official with signatory authority. At Berkeley Lab, “employer official” refers to your direct manager, supervisor, or PI who is most familiar with you and your work. The student must submit the form to the DSO, who will review it prior to recommending a STEM extension. Please find specific information you will need to complete the form here, along with a tutorial from the U.S. Department of State. Managers, supervisors, and PI’s may visit the Employer page for additional information specific to the employer’s role.
The Training Plan must:
- Identify goals for the STEM practical training opportunity, including specific knowledge, skills, or techniques that will be imparted to the student.
- Explain how those goals will be achieved through the opportunity.
- Describe a performance evaluation process.
- Describe methods of oversight and supervision.
- Explain how the training is directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree.
Student Employee Evaluations and Reporting Obligations
Students must report to their DSO every 6 months confirming the validity of their SEVIS information (legal name, address, employer name and address, and status of current employment). This obligation begins on the first day of the STEM OPT extension and ends the earlier of (i) F-1 status expiration or (ii) the conclusion of the extension.
The student must provide two self-evaluations to the DSO: the first within 12 months, and the second at the conclusion of the opportunity. The evaluation must be signed by an employer official with signatory authority, which at Berkeley Lab will be your direct manager, supervisor, or PI. The student must submit the first evaluation within 10 business days of the reporting date (i.e. within one year and 10 business days of the first day of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) validity period) and the final evaluation no later than 10 days after the conclusion of the opportunity.
If a student initiates a practical training opportunity with a new employer, he or she must submit a new Training Plan (Form I-983) to the DSO within 10 days and obtain a new DSO recommendation. The student must report within 10 days to the DSO a change of legal name, residential or mailing address, employer name, employer address, and/or loss of employment.
Students who obtain the 24-month STEM OPT extension are allowed a 60-day period during which they may be unemployed, in addition to the 90 days already permitted during the initial 12-month OPT period, for a maximum of 150 days total.
- A student must apply for an EAD with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 60 days of the DSO’s recommendation for the STEM OPT extension, and must apply prior to the expiration of his or her current EAD.
- The student may file the EAD application up to 90 days before his or her OPT EAD expires.
- The student does not need to submit the Training Plan (Form I-983) with the EAD application but may be required to submit it to the government upon request.
- If a student has properly applied for the STEM OPT extension but his or her current EAD expires prior to a decision on the extension, the prior EAD will be automatically extended for up to 180 days while the application is being adjudicated.
All questions related to the new STEM OPT regulations may be addressed with your school’s DSO or by emailing an IRSO Advisor at email@example.com.