New Rules for STEM Optional Practical Training Work Authorizations Effective May 10th

A new rule was published by DHS last month concerning changes to the “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) extension program for F-1 students in Optional Practical Training.  The new rule is effective May 10th.

Under the old rule, students with degrees in STEM programs who obtained employment with an E-Verify employer could extend their standard 12 month period of work authorization by an additional 17 months.

The new rule extends this period to 24 months for qualifying persons with qualifying employers.  A person can have two of these 24 month extensions in a lifetime (e.g. if they go back and get a Master’s in a STEM field, they can get another period of work authorization).

The new rule comes with several caveats:

-A student’s OPT must be directly related to their field of study.

-Students have to prepare and execute a formal training plan with their employer, which identifies learning objectives and a means for achieving these objectives. There are reporting requirements for the student, with their designated school official.  These include (a) a six month validation requirement (fulfilled by the student with their school); (b) an annual self-evaluation requirement for the student, which must be signed by the student’s employer; (c) student and employer must report changes in employment status, including termination or departure from the employer; and (d)both the student and the employer are obligated to report to the school official material changes to, or material deviations from, the student’s formal training plan.

-Employers must be enrolled and remain in good standing with E-Verify.  They must assist with the reporting and training plan requirements.  They will have to attest that a) they have sufficient resources and trained personnel available to provide training in connection with the opportunity; that the STEM OPT extension will not replace a full or part-time U.S. workers; and the opportunity helps attain the training objectives. These attestations will be made on a Form I-983 which covers the training plan.

USCIS has tables posted at their website about the rule, which may be helpful for anyone who this rule change may apply to: