Follow OPT STEM Changes

October 19, 2015:  DHS Publishes Proposed Rule on STEM OPT

DHS proposed changes to STEM OPT were published in the Federal Register as a Notice of Proposed Rule Making.  There is a 30-day public comment period, ending on November 18, 2015. After this DHS must read and analyze all comments before it can publish the rule. It appears that DHS would have to successfully publish a final rule prior to February 12, 2016 to allow current qualified F-1 visa holders to apply for the new STEM OPT benefits.

OISS will provide more information as we begin our own analysis of the proposed changes, but in the meantime the highlights of the proposed rule are listed below. 

  1. Permits eligible STEM graduates to receive a maximum STEM OPT of 24 months.
  2. Permits eligible STEM graduates who have obtained a second qualifying STEM degree to obtain a second STEM OPT extension of 24 months.
  3. Permits eligibility for the extension based on a STEM degree that is not the student’s most recently obtained degree (degrees obtained in the U.S. only).
  4. Implements a formal mentoring required of the employers for students on STEM OPT and requires six month evaluations.
  5. Adds additional reporting requirements of the student, employer and school.
  6. Retains the automatic “Cap-Gap” relief, allowing students whose employers file an H-1B petition to remain in the U.S., in some cases with work authorization, until the H visa is available on October 1st.

What has not changed includes:

  1. Requires the employment be related to the degree field.
  2. Still allows 90 days of unemployment in the first 12 months of OPT, but allows for an additional 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT extension period.
  3. Still requires employers to be enrolled in the E-Verify program.

While we don't have all the answers at this point, OISS will be in touch with all students currently in STEM OPT status.  Students who are currently employed on F-1 STEM OPT, as well as students who plan to make a new STEM OPT application may want to discuss the current situation with their employer. If your employer is Yale, please contact your OISS adviser.   Current Yale students hoping to use STEM OPT in the future, please contact your OISS adviser.

August 12, 2015:  F-1 Optional Practical Training STEM extension may be suspended

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could potentially end both the 17‑month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for non-immigrant students with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees as well as F-1 OPT cap-gap relief to certain non‑immigrant students with pending H-1B petitions.  This ruling came in response to a case filed in March 2014 that stated that the 2008 regulation that allowed STEM extension was improperly approved in the first place and did not comply with the intent of F-1 regulations.  Full details of the court’s decision can be found at: Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), No. 1:14-cv-00529 (D.D.C. filed March 28, 2014). 

 While the court has now vacated the 2008 regulation, it has stayed (delayed) its order until Feb. 12, 2016.  This means that if there is no successful response from the Department of Homeland Security, all STEM employment could end on Feb 12, 2016, regardless of the end date on the EAD card.  At present our understanding is that anyone who is currently on their STEM OPT at that time would lose their F-1 work authorization. Any new applications for STEM OPT submitted to USCIS prior to this date should be processed and approved as normal. However, any approved STEM OPT work authorization card that is valid beyond 2/12/2016 would potentially become invalid on that date.