Great News for F-1 Students with STEM degrees!

Article by Robin Trangsrud

OPT Extensions can be 24 months instead of 17 months

If you are a student in F-1 status pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), things just got better for you. What’s the great news? Generally, students in F-1 status are allowed a 12-month work permit after they graduate from their academic program, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), for when the student graduates. Now, students in F-1 status with STEM degrees are eligible for special treatment; they were previously allowed to extend their OPT work permit for 17 months. Now, students in F-1 status with STEM degrees are allowed to extend their OPT work permit for 24 months rather than 17 months.

Translation: STEM OPT students are eligible to stay in the United States for longer. Great news!

On May 10, 2016, The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new rule on OPT extensions was finalized. According to the new rule, Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F–1 Nonimmigrant Students With STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F–1 Students, the following are the changes to the STEM OPT process and requirements:

  • The STEM OPT extension period increases from 17 to 24 months
  • The definition of STEM degrees, as well as the categories and fields of study that qualify as a STEM degree, are more clearly defined
  • Employers of STEM OPT students are required to implement a more formal mentoring and training program
  • F-1 students with a non-STEM degree but who previously obtained STEM degrees are eligible to qualify for a STEM extension
  • There are safeguards for U.S. workers in related fields
  • There is clarification and requirements for school accreditation, employer site visits, employer reporting, and compliance
  • There is a revision on the limitation of the number of days a STEM OPT student may remain unemployed
  • There is clarification on the “Cap-Gap” extension for F-1 students with a timely filed H-1B petition. With a timely filed H-1B petition, your F-1 status extends until the beginning of the new fiscal year, October 1, of the year your H-1B petition was filed.

If you’re an F-1 student – or you are an F-1 student who submitted an H-1B petition this year – contact the San Jose immigration attorneys at the Law Office of Alison Yew to learn how you could benefit from this new rule.

Guest Blogger Robin Trangsrud is an Immigration Attorney at a non-profit organization in Santa Clara, California serving low-income victims of crimes with their immigration matters. Previously working internationally and in Boston, Robin has experience in employment-based immigration law, family-based immigration law, and in refugee law. Currently, she is the Chair of the Younger Lawyers Division of the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section.