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NEW 24 Month STEM Employment Authorization (OPT) for F-1 Students

Posted by Karen-Lee Pollak on May 12, 2016, 4:29:45 PM

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Effective May 10, 2016, eligible F-1 nonimmigrant students with STEM degrees from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified and accredited U.S. colleges and universities may apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension from their school and employment authorization from United States Citizenship and immigration Services (USCIS). This extension effectively replaces the previous 17-month OPT Extension.

Can I obtain an additional 7 months of work authorization if I am on a 17-month OPT

Students currently participating in a 17-month STEM OPT extension may be eligible to benefit from the additional seven months of training and must apply for updated employment authorization from USCIS by August 8, 2016. Any 17-month STEM OPT EAD that USCIS issued on or before May 9, 2016, will remain valid until the EAD expires is terminated or revoked. DHS will not automatically convert 17-month extensions into 24-month extensions.

From May 10, 2016, through August 8, 2016, certain students with such EADs will have a limited window in which to apply for an additional seven months of OPT, effectively enabling them to benefit from a 24-month period of STEM OPT. To qualify for the additional seven-month extension, the student must satisfy the requirements below and pay all applicable fees. For students who choose to seek an additional seven-month extension, the new enhancements apply upon the proper filing of the Form I-765 requesting the seven-month extension. 

DHS recommends that students who choose to request the additional seven-month extension obtain the necessary DSO recommendation and file their application as early as possible in advance of the August 8, 2016, application deadline. 

To qualify for the seven-month extension, such students must have at least 150 calendar days remaining before the end of the student’s 17-month OPT period at the time the Application for Employment Authorization is filed and they must meet all requirements of the OPT 24-month extension. 

If an application for a seven-month extension is approved, USCIS will issue an EAD with a validity period that starts on the day after the expiration date stated in the 17-month STEM OPT EAD.

 How Do I Qualify for the 24- Month OPT Extension

 To qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student participating in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT must: 

  • Have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school that is accredited when the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.
  • Pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
  • Select a STEM OPT employer that provides the student with formal training and learning objectives.
  • Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
  • Complete a FORM 983 Training Plan
  • WHAT IS FORM 983 or Training Plan
  •  
  • Before applying to USCIS for a STEM OPT extension, a STEM OPT student must complete, sign and submit the Form I-983 to their DSO.  You can download the Form and Instructions at https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/i983Instructions.pdf and https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/I-983.pdf
  • The STEM OPT student and their prospective employer must work together to complete this form. STEM OPT students and their employers are subject to the terms of the 24-month STEM OPT extension regulations and Form I-983 instructions, effective as of the start date requested for STEM OPT, as indicated on the form.
  •  
  • Students are responsible for facilitating the completion of this form, submitting it with their STEM OPT application and returning it to their DSO, who will keep it in the student’s record. DHS maintains the discretion to request and review all documentation for eligibility concerns.
  •  
  • The STEM OPT student must complete Section 1 of the Form I-983 and work with their prospective employer to complete Sections 2-6. In Section 5 of the Form 983 the Employer should describe what tasks and assignments the student will carry out during the 
  •    training and how these relate to the student’s STEM degree. The plan must cover a specific span of time, and detail specific goals and objectives.
  • For students currently on the 17-month STEM OPT extension and requesting conversion to the terms and conditions of the new 24-month STEM OPT extension, the student and employer will be subject to the terms and conditions of the Form I-983 as of the date of receipt at USCIS. Thus, the requested period should identify a start date on or around the date that the student files their seven-month STEM OPT extension with USCIS The USCIS offers useful tips to complete this form on their website at https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-and-the-form-i-983Reporting
  • Requirements
  • There are reporting requirements associated with STEM OPT extensions.
  • The student must work with their potential STEM OPT extension employer to complete the Form I-983, which must include how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree.
  • Employers must report to the relevant DSO (indicated on the Form I-983) when an F-1 student on a STEM OPT extension terminates or otherwise leaves their employment before the end of the authorized period of OPT. The employer must report this change to the appropriate DSO no later than five business days after the student leaves employment.
  • STEM OPT students must report to their DSOs every six months. As part of such reporting, STEM OPT students must confirm the validity of their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System information, including:
      • Legal name.
      • Address.
      • Employer name and address.
      • Status of current employment/practical training experience.
  1. STEM OPT students must do an annual self-evaluation on Form 983 and must report to their DSO about the progress of the training experience. Students must sign the self-evaluation prior to submitting it to the DSO, who will include it in the student's record.
  2. Both the student and employer are obligated to report to the student's DSO any material changes to, or material deviations from, the student's formal training plan.UnemploymentDepartment of Homeland Security allows STEM OPT Students an additional 60 days of unemployment during the OPT Stem Extension Period. The 150-day unemployment limit that is applicable to students who are granted the 24-month STEM OPT extension is also applicable to students whose seven-month extension is approved under the transitional plan. These students are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment, for a total of 150 days of allowable unemployment (90 days during the initial period of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the extension period). This 150-day unemployment limit will apply to a student seeking a seven-month extension only upon approval of that extension (and not during the filing of such extension).   

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