International Students in STEM Fields To Get OPT Extension

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Washington, DC – The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today (Wednesday) unveiled a final rule that is to allow foreign students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to extend their Optional Practical Training (OPT) period by 24 months, with the regulation going into effect this May.

The rule is currently posted online for public inspection and will publish Friday (March 11) in the Federal Register, according to Carissa Cutrell, Public Affairs Officer, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The new rule for STEM OPT will allow international students with qualifying degrees to extend the time they participate in practical training, while at the same time strengthening oversight and adding new features to the program,” said Lou Farrell, director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

The final rule lengthens the STEM OPT extension from the current 17 months to 24 months. The DHS listed a number of guidelines in its document.

“Only students who earned a degree from a school accredited by a US Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP may apply for a STEM OPT extension,” the DHS statement said.

“Participating students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension,” it said, adding, “Participating students can use a previously-earned qualifying degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension. The prior degree must not have already formed the basis of a STEM OPT extension and must be from a school that is both accredited by a US Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP at the time of the student’s STEM OPT application. The student’s most recent degree must also be from an accredited and SEVP-certified institution.”

In addition to the OPT extension increase, the final rule will require formal training plans by employers, and add wage protections for STEM students and US workers, according to DHS.

“To guard against adverse effects on US workers, terms and conditions of a student’s training opportunity – such as duties, hours, and compensation – must be on par with US workers in similar positions in the same geographic area of employment. Additionally, the student must not replace a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent US worker,” the DHS noted.

Outlining the details, the DHS said, “Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer to qualify. Students are permitted a limited period of unemployment during the initial period of post-completion OPT and the STEM OPT extension.”

In an email to Indian American Times, Curtail (ICE) explained, “In order to help school officials, students and employers understand the new regulations, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will unveil a STEM OPT Hub Friday on the Study in the States website once the final rule publishes.”

Curtail concluded that the STEM OPT Hub would include sections, “titled the Transition Plan and the Training Plan, as well as a series of frequently asked questions to walk stakeholders through the amended regulations.”

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