STEM OPT Extension and Transition Plan18 Mar 2016
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final STEM optional practical training (OPT) rule on March 11, 2016. In order to facilitate the transition to the new regulation, the DHS has added a STEM OPT hub to its Study in the States web portal.
Transition Guidance for Applications Filed Through May 9, 2016
The 17-month STEM OPT provisions remain in place until May 10, 2016, which is when the new, 24- month STEM OPT regulation goes into effect. Accordingly, the DHS will continue to adjudicate 17-month STEM OPT applications through May 9th. Any 17-month STEM OPT approvals issued until this time will remain valid through the expiration date listed on the corresponding employment authorization document (EADs), unless specifically revoked or terminated. These 17-month STEM OPT approvals will not be terminated or otherwise directly impacted by the change in regulation.
Form I-983 Training Plan Required, Effective May 10th
Beginning May 10, 2016, all new or pending STEM OPT extension applications will be adjudicated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the new regulation. For cases filed before this date that are still pending as of May 10th, the USCIS will issue a request for evidence (RFE) asking for documentation demonstrating eligibility for the 24-month extension. Among the evidence required to demonstrate eligibility under the new regulation will be an updated I-20 with a 24-month duration recommendation and a completed training plan for STEM OPT students (form I-983).
150 Days of STEM OPT Required to file OPT Extension
Students who are issued 17-month STEM OPT extensions before May 10th may be eligible to apply for the extra seven months of STEM OPT allowed under the new regulation. This is not an automatic extension, however. Rather, on or after May 10th, it must be specifically requested by filing a new application for employment authorization (form I-765) that is accompanied by evidence of eligibility for the benefits available under the new STEM OPT rule.
Withdrawal Option Risky Due to Strict Filing Deadlines
The DHS cautions students who may be considering withdrawing a pending STEM OPT application and refiling in order to request the 24-month period. There are strict filing requirements and deadlines when applying for a STEM OPT extension. If a new filing is made outside of those timeframes, the case will be denied, even if the initial application was timely filed.
Premature Requests Considered for 17-Month STEM OPT
If a student files a request for a 24-month STEM OPT before May 10th, the DHS will process the application as a 17-month STEM OPT application.
The coming change in the STEM OPT regulation has understandably created a great deal of confusion and uncertainty among many stakeholders. This updated guidance provided by the DHS should help to provide a clearer picture of how these cases will be treated over the next several months. Students who have questions about the new rule are encouraged to speak with designated school officials (DSO) from their respective schools. Murthy Law Firm attorneys are also available for consultations with students and university officials who have questions regarding the revised STEM OPT program.
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