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New Rule Proposed for OPT STEM Extensions

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In our recent bLAWg post on August 20, 2015, we discussed the cancellation of the 2008 federal rule allowing for 17-month Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) extensions for individuals with a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (“STEM”) field. We also explained how the cancellation does not go into effect until February 12, 2016, and mentioned the expectation of a remedy through the passing of a new administrative rule for continued OPT STEM Extensions. In line with our prediction, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register: “Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students With STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students.” The proposed rule, published October 19, 2015, expands upon the 2008 rule in many ways. Some highlights include:
  • OPT STEM Extension period lengthened to 24 months
  • Eligibility to use prior STEM degree from U.S. institution
  • Additional 60 days of unemployment for students in an OPT STEM Extension period
  • More clearly-defined STEM fields of study
  • Qualifying degree required to be from an accredited institution
  • Implementation of mentoring and training programs by U.S. employers In addition, the proposed rule maintains some aspects of the 2008 rule, such as the requirement for OPT STEM Extension employers to utilize the federal E-Verify system, and the “Cap Gap” provision (i.e. allowing for an automatic extension of an individual’s F-1 status and employment authorization through October 1st pursuant to a timely-filed H-1B petition).

    The proposed rule is currently open for notice and comment and has not yet been formalized. Stay tuned for continued updates on the proposed rule. GoffWilson is your source for immigration updates! Contact our office today with any questions.
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