August 8: Deadline to Apply for 7-Month STEM OPT Extension

Employers with employees working pursuant to Optional Practical Training (OPT) on a 17-month extension may extend work authorization for an additional seven (7) months. This extension request must be filed by August 8, 2016.

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule allowing certain F-1 (non-immigrant student visa) students who receive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students (see 73 FR 18944). All eligible students may now apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. If you currently employ a student in an Optional Practical Training program with a 17-month STEM OPT extension, your employee may be eligible for an additional 7-month STEM OPT extension period. In order to apply for this 7-month extension, the employee must properly file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (along with the required fee and signature) on or before August 8th, 2016 and continue to meet STEM OPT extension requirements.

Employees may apply to add seven (7) months to their 17-month STEM OPT period if:

  • The employee is currently participating in STEM OPT based on a 17-month extension;
  • The employee requests the additional 7-month period by filing a new Form I-765 between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016, and within 60 days of the date their Designated School Official (DSO) enters the recommendation for the 24-month OPT extension into their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record;
  • The employee has at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining on the current 17-month STEM OPT period on the date Form I-765 is properly filed; and
  • The employee, the DSO and the employer continue to meet all the 24-month STEM OPT extension requirements.

In order for an employee to qualify for a 24-month OPT extension, the employee must:

  • Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT;
  •  Have earned a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when the STEM OPT extension application is submitted; and
  • Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section.

Note: It is possible for an employee participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. The employee must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

An example would be if an employee who is currently participating in OPT based on a Master’s degree in a non-STEM subject area (such as History/Politics) but previously received a Bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject area (such as Engineering), this employee may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on his/her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university, and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to the Bachelor’s degree in Engineering.

If an employee enrolls in a new academic program in the future and earns another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, he/she may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.

An example would be if an employee received a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on his/her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and later earns a Master’s degree in the same STEM subject, he/she may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on his/her Master’s degree in Mathematics.

STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities include:

  • Continuing enrollment in E-Verify and remaining in good standing;
  • Reporting material changes to the employee’s employment to the DSO within 5 business days;
  •  Implementing a formal training program to augment the employee’s academic learning through practical experience.
  • Providing an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours and compensation; and
  • Completing Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.

It is possible that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may visit your worksite(s) to verify whether you are meeting the STEM OPT program requirements, including whether you are maintaining the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences for STEM OPT employees. For employers seeking more information, please contact our offices at 856-222-0130.

Call us at (856) 222-0130