The rule regulating theSTEM OPT was published in the Federal Register last month 81 FR 13039. (https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=ICEB-2015-0002-43168)
Previously the extension was available for 17 months on top of the initial 12 months. The new rule means that upon completion of one full year of academic studies in the US a foreign/international student is eligible for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). After May 10, 2016 when the initial OPT is about to expire a student may apply for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) OPT 24-month extension. Please note that a student cannot apply for a 3-year Employment Authorization Document from the very beginning. A student can apply for an OPT card only upon the expiration of the initial OPT card. Prior to the new rule, a STEM student qualified for a 17-month extension, not for 24 months more in the US.
Not any OPT recipient falls under the provision of the new rule. Only students who completed academic programs in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The best way to know if a particular program qualifies is to ask the International Student Office at a university that issued a degree. All the programs that qualified before will qualify for the new rule grantingthe 24 months as well. The new rule has increased the period of EAD validity without any limitations pertaining to the degrees, educational institutions or countries of origin.
Those students who already have received 17-month extensions and their OPT cards will expire after May 10, 2016 will be eligible for an additional 6-month extension.
The practical application of the new STEM extension rule.
This rule definitely has improved the situation for the students who are employed in the US but whose H-1B packages were not selected for the cap. Before the rule, the STEM students potentially had 2 or even 3 shots to receive an H-1B. If their case was not selected once, they could easily wait for another H-1B cap year, continue working and even travelling without limitations. Now, the new rule gave 6 months more. The students can have another opportunity to file an H-1B visa and to “bridge” to October 1, wait for a decision on the H-1B filing without having to exit the country.
While being employed under the OPT program whether initially or under the STEM extension, a student is free to change employer and shop around for better job opportunities in any state in America. The main requirement is that the job itself remained in a STEM field and related to the completed academic program.
Please note that the students who were awarded graduate or post-graduate degrees in any fields not related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are not eligible for the benefits of the new OPT extensions. They still will remain in line for regular 12-month OPT Employment Authorization Documents.
Our law firm ilexlaw pllc has had many cases where we wereforced to file H-1B cap cases once and twice and even three times on behalf of the same H-1B applicants. This new rule will allow US employers retain foreign talents in the US longer and have more opportunities to change their statuses to different visas (H-1B visa is the most common solution). Also, often the employers initiate green card cases for the employees while the latter still remain in F-1 status. The new rule will allow more time to complete lengthy Labor Certification stages and secure permanent residency or I-140 priority dates (for Indian and Chinese nationals).
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