On March 10, 2016 a final rule was published in the Federal Register which
amends the regulations on some F-1 nonimmigrant students’ participation
in optional practical training (OPT) who have received degrees in science,
technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). Prior to the rule, F-1
STEM students could participate in full time employment related to their
field of study for 1 year on OPT, and then extend that time for an additional
17 months. After the implementation of the amendment, F-1 STEM students
can now extend that time (beyond the first year) for 24 months instead of 17.
With the extension of time available to F-1 STEM students to participate
in OPT, the Department of Homeland Security has increased oversight over
the program by instituting several new requirements. First, employers
and employees on STEM OPT must develop and engage in formal training plans
to ensure that the new graduate is gaining substantive experience and
training in their field. Also, there will be new wage protections. Among
other things, the extension will only be available to those students that
graduated from an U.S. accredited university. Finally, the rule allows
for announced and unannounced site visits. As before, only employers that
are enrolled in the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification
program may employ F-1 nonimmigrant students through OPT.
The rule is designed to allow F-1 students who received their STEM degrees
in the U.S. to supplement their academic training with valuable professional
experience in their field. Therefore, the employment must directly relate
to the student’s field of study.
The rule also includes provisions similar to the prior regulation, where
employees are eligible for “Cap-Gap” relief if their employer
submits a timely-filed, successful H-1B Petition and the employee’s
time on OPT expires before the start-date of H-1B status.
Please feel free to contact our firm with any questions or issues that
you may have. You may reach us via telephone at +1 (202) 618 4540 or via email at
anindita@USILaw.com. We look forward to the opportunity of working with you as this rule is
implemented and more opportunities are available for F-1 nonimmigrant
STEM OPT employees.