April 29, 2016 Iris Castro

OPT STEM Extension to 24 Months

Earlier this month the Department of Homeland Security amended some regulations pertaining to F-1 student visas on optional practical training (OPT) for students who have accomplished degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields. The new regulations will allow STEM students to apply for a 24-month extension to their OPT after they have already completed 12 months of OPT.

This ruling will come into effect on May 10, 2016, before then the current STEM OPT extension regulations apply, which only allows for a 17-month extension to OPT.

How exactly will this transition look like? Let’s first take a look at what are the criteria and the processes involved with the 17-month OPT extension still in place until May 10, 2016.

17-MONTH OPT EXTENSION FOR STEM STUDENTS

The OPT STEM extension currently in place is a 17-month OPT extension for STEM students, that is students who have completed programs of study in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields. To be eligible for a 17-month OPT extension students must comply with the following:

  • Have completed a STEM degree. The complete list of programs under the STEM criteria is in the Department of Homeland Security “STEM-Designated Degree Program List”.
  • Their potential employer must be a part of the E-Verify program, an internet based system which cross references other government databases to confirm employment eligibility.
  • A previous 17-month extension of OPT has not already been granted.
  • Have already been granted OPT and are currently in an OPT program.

PROCESS

The process to obtain a 17-Month OPT Extension is very simple. Students can apply for an OPT extension as early as 90 days before their OPT period ends or up to 60 days after their OPT period ends. Students must:

Step 1: File a new Form I-20 and have their Designated School Officer recommend them for an OPT extension.

Step 2: Apply for work authorization with the USCIS by filing Form I-765 and paying the accompanying filing fee.*

While an OPT extension petition is pending, a student may continue to work on an expired EAD for up to 180 days given that they have complied with the proper procedures for applying for the OPT extension. If the USCIS approves a student, that person will receive an EAD card and can begin work.

*Note: After a DSO recommends a student for OPT, the student must apply for work authorization within 30 days.

24-month Opt Extension for Stem Students Eligibility

The 24-month OPT extension which will go into effect May 10, 2016 is very similar to the 17-month opt extension in terms of eligibility and procedures.

To be eligible for a 24-month OPT extension students must comply with the following:

  • Have completed a STEM degree. The complete list of programs under the STEM criteria is in the Department of Homeland Security “STEM-Designated Degree Program List”.
  • Your employer must meet OPT Employer Responsibilities
    • Be a part of the E-Verify program, an internet based system which cross references other government databases to confirm employment eligibility.
    • Employers must ensure at least 20 hours of work per week.
    • Employers must work with students to complete Form I-983, showing the relevancy between students’ STEM degrees and their training.
    • Students must be employed by the employer signing Form I-983.
  • Have already been granted OPT and are currently in an OPT program

THE PROCESS

Students can apply for an OPT extension as early as 90 days before their OPT period ends or up to 60 days after their OPT period ends.

Step 1: Students must work with their potential employer to complete Form I- 983 and submit this form to DSO.

Step 2: File for a new Form I-20 and have their Designated School Officer recommend them for a 24- month OPT extension.

Step 3: Apply for work authorization with the USCIS by filing Form I-765 and paying the accompanying filing fee.

While an OPT extension petition is pending, a student may continue to work on an expired EAD for up to 180 days given that they have complied with the proper procedures for applying for the OPT extension. If the USCIS approves a student, that person will receive an EAD card and can begin work.

Students Currently on a 17-Month OPT EXTENSION

Students on a 17-Month OPT extension on or after May 10, 2016 can apply to extend their OPT by another 7 months for a total of 24 months as long as students have at least 150 days of employment left on their OPT. The work authorization Form I-765 must be filed by August 08, 2016 for consideration of the OPT extension.

Students approved for STEM OPT extension before or on May 9, 2016 will be granted a 17-month OPT extension. After this date these students can request to extend their OPT by another 7 months for a total of 24 months as long as they meet the requirements outlined above in the “24-MONTH OPT EXTENSION FOR STEM STUDENTS ELIGIBILITY”.

Students with Pending OPT Applications on May 10, 2016

For students with pending OPT extension applications on May 10, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security will apply the requirements of the 24-month extensions to their application. The USCIS will issue students a request for evidence, asking students to demonstrate their eligibility for a 24-month STEM OPT-extension.

The requirements for this are outlined in the section “24-month Opt Extension for Stem Students Eligibility”. After receiving the needed new Form I-20 showing their DSO’s OPT recommendation and showing their employer meets 24-month OPT extension guidelines, students can reply to the RFE with these documents to have their application re-evaluated.

This way, students are not required to re-file Form I-765 or pay the form fee again.

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Iris Castro

Iris Castro is a recent college graduate, earning a degree in Political Science from Rutgers University, New Brunswick.Ms. Castro is a green card holder (a permanent resident) immigrating to the United States with her family from Ecuador in 2001. Ms. Castro is fluent in Spanish and English. Prior to joining Lightman Law firm, Ms. Castro was in IT, providing tech support for executive departments in Rutgers University, but her interests have always lain with law and upon graduation has chosen to pursue her career in law.To discuss your case with Ms. Castro or another representative of Lightman Law Firm LLC, call (212) 643-0985 or fill out the consultation request form on your right. A representative of our firm will contact you shortly upon review of your request.