DHS Rule Proposes STEM OPT Program Extension

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal editor

UPDATE: Final rules extending the OPT period by 24 months, effective May 10, 2016, are published in the Federal Register.

October 30, 2015

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a proposed rule that would extend the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) program. Specifically, the proposal would allow F-1 visa students with STEM degrees from US institutions of higher education who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the US to extend the OPT period by 24 months. In addition, the proposed rule includes increased compliance requirements for participating employers.

The STEM OPT program allows students to obtain on-the-job educational experiences with an employer that is committed to developing the students' knowledge and skills through practical training. Currently, certain STEM students are eligible for a 17-month extension. The proposed 24-month extension would supplant the current 17-month extension, as well as increase oversight of the program. The increased oversight would entail:

  • Requiring employers to implement formal mentoring and training plans;
  • Adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and US workers; and
  • Allowing extensions to only those students with degrees from accredited schools.

Students are eligible for the extension if they are employed by employers enrolled in the E-Verify program administered and enforced by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The proposed rule includes "Cap-Gap" relief, which allows any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status to automatically extend the duration of F-1 status and any current employment authorization until October 1 of the fiscal year for which the H-1B visa is requested.

Employers have until November 18, 2015 to submit comments regarding the proposed rule, including concerns with respect to any practical, economic, environmental, energy or federalism impact. Comments may be submitted by any of the means listed below and must include the docket number (ICEB-2015-0002):

  • Electronically by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov;
  • By mail to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, 725 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20503, ATTN: Desk Officer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS; and
  • By fax to 202-305-6566.

All comments received will be posted without editing to http://www.regulations.gov and will include any personal information submitted unless a commenter requests that such information be redacted.