Changes to Optional Practical Training Work Authorization Rules for STEM Graduates

  • STEM students may now enjoy up to 3 years of OPT work authorization after graduation
  • Employers must meet new compliance steps to employ STEM students
  • STEM students may obtain another STEM extension after obtaining an additional degree

Today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new rule that allows foreign national students graduating with degrees in science, technology, math, or engineering (STEM) to obtain a total of three years of optional practical training or “OPT” after graduation. This is a significant new benefit for these students and also advances the government’s interest in encouraging foreign students to pursue careers within these fields in the U.S.  The rule is effective on May 10, 2016.

Foreign national students who graduate from a U.S. college or university with a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degree in any field may obtain 1 year of OPT work authorization to pursue work experience in their field of study after graduation.  Under the new rule, students graduating in STEM fields will be able to obtain an additional 24 months of OPT authorization.

Students who receive an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university can apply for a second STEM OPT extension, e.g., a student could obtain a STEM OPT post-Bachelor’s and then return to school to obtain a STEM OPT post-Master’s.

The new rule also implements the following changes to STEM OPT compliance procedures:

  • Individualized training plans must be developed by the employer and the student;
  • The student must regularly report to the university’s designated school official;
  • The employer must attest that the student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker;
  • The employer must offer the same terms, conditions, hours, and compensation to the STEM OPT student as similarly situated U.S. workers;
  • STEM OPT extensions are available only to students with degrees from schools that are accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency; and
  • The rule authorizes site visits by ICE to verify training plans, compensation, and non-displacement attestations employers are required to sign.

The new rule will increase opportunities for STEM graduates to develop careers in the U.S.  The longer term of work authorization, and related immigration status, will also enhance the chances for these talented students to obtain H-1B visa numbers as it will provide them additional chances to participate in the annual lottery under the H-1B Cap if not initially successful.

Please note that as with the prior STEM OPT rule extensions are permitted only for students employed by employers who participate in the USCIS electronic employment verification program known as E-Verify.

Please contact FordMurray to discuss the new rule and the steps you can take now to develop the necessary compliance programs to employ STEM graduates. 

If you represent a business, we can help you with your immigration needs. Immigration law is complicated, to say the least, and we specialize in helping businesses make sense of existing laws and comply with fastchanging requirements.

Whether it’s hiring a foreign national and helping that individual immigrate into the United States, assisting an employee already living in the US with an immigration status, helping your business stay in compliance with immigration programs like I9 or EVerify, or assisting with other immigration matters… we want to help!

Contact us today for more information!