The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending it F1 non immigrant visa regulations on Optional Practical Training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) from US institutions of higher education.
OPT is a period during which undergraduates (BS/BA) and graduate students (MS/MBA) with F1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than 9 months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for 12 months on a student visa towards getting practical training to complement their education. On April 2nd 2008 DHS announced a 17-month extension to the OPT for students in qualifying STEM fields to be eligible for the 12-month permit. Any degree in any field of studies is valid. For the 17-month OPT extension a student must have received a STEM degree as listed on the USCIS website.
DHS is now amending its rule regarding OPT under STEM category to extend the OPT period to 24 months. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month OPT extension previously available to certain STEM students. In short, a student can now work in America for up to 36 months after completing degree even if he doesn’t qualify for H1B visa during that period. This rule will be effective from May 10th 2016.
The rule also makes F1 students who subsequently enroll in a new academic program and another STEM degree at a higher education level eligible for one additional 24 months STEM OPT extension. In other words, a student can get 36 months OPT after undergraduate education (BS) and also after completing a graduate degree (MS) from STEM category.
The rule also permits an F1 student completing a non-STEM graduate degree to use a prior eligible STEM degree from a US institution of higher education as the basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension. For e.g. if a student has completed MS in STEM category and now completes MBA which is a non-STEM degree is also eligible for the 36 months OPT extension.
To improve the integrity of the STEM OPT extension, the rule limits eligibility only to students with degrees from schools accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education.
Keep yourself updated on our next blog on E-Verify requirements and Cap-Gap extension.