The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published new rules regarding the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension benefit. This new rule will become effective on May 10, 2016 for all applications submitted on or after that date. Updated forms can be found on the Forms for Current Students page.
24 Months of additional OPT for STEM fields
After May 10, 2016, qualified students on OPT in one of the designated STEM fields can apply for a 24 month extension. This new rule effectively replaces the previously-available 17 month extension benefit. Students who received the 17-month STEM OPT extension and whose EADs are valid until October 8, 2016 or later may apply for a seven month extension to take advantage of the full 24 months.
STEM OPT eligibility based on previous degrees
The new rule allows students to apply for the STEM OPT extension based on either their current degree or on a previous STEM degree earned at an accredited U.S. institution. Degrees earned outside of the U.S. cannot be used as a basis for a STEM OPT extension application.
Additional STEM OPT extension possible
F-1 students are eligible for one 24-month STEM extension per qualifying degree. Under the new rule, students may become eligible for an additional 24-month OPT STEM extension by completing another degree at a higher level.
Additional days of allowable unemployment
Students who are granted the 24-month STEM extension can have up to 150 cumulative days of unemployment during the 36-month OPT period (the original 12-month OPT plus the 24-month STEM OPT extension).
Training Plans and Evaluations
Under the new rule, employers will be required to complete a Training Plan (Form I-983) at the start of employment to establish expected outcomes and learning objectives. This added reporting and oversight requirement better establishes the extended OPT period as an integral piece of an academic training experience. Students will need to review Form I-983 every 12 months throughout the STEM OPT experience to self-assess progress and performance. The training plan, or Form I-983, can be found here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students-and-the-form-i-983. A Form I-983 pre-populated with NC State University’s School SEVIS Code and DSO Contact Information can be found on OIS’s Forms for Current Students page. If your employer has questions about the new requirements, please refer them here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-stem-opt-reporting-requirements.
The Form I-983 does not replace the existing requirements to validate and confirm employment and address information every six months while on a STEM OPT extension. Students must still report to OIS 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months after the start of their STEM OPT extension.
Limitations on unpaid employment and self-employment
Unpaid internships and employment and volunteer work are no longer eligible employment opportunities for the STEM OPT extension. Similarly, students cannot represent themselves as both employer and employee on the I-983 form.
The STEM OPT extension options available to you will depend on when your current EAD expires. Refer to the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States website to read more about the transition plan and what deadlines might apply in your situation: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/transition-plan-overview.
Talk to your current employer or a potential new employer about the new I-983 Training Plan requirements. DHS has a wealth of information on their website for employers here: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/employers-stem-opt-reporting-requirements. The employer should review the new requirements and work with you to start preparing the I-983.