STEM OPT Rule Published March 11 and Becomes Effective May 10.

  • March 9, 2016
  • Richard Newman

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule on March 10, 2016, amending current F-1 nonimmigrant student visa regulations on optional practical training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in STEM from U.S. colleges and universities.

The OPT program allows F-1 students to temporarily work in the US after they graduate, normally for a one-year period.  However, students who graduated with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) have been allowed to extend their OPT period for an additional 17 months on top of the initial 12 months.

The new STEM rule goes into effect on May 10, 2016 and extends the 17 month OPT extension for students with STEM degrees to 24 months (+ the initial 12 months of OPT), totaling 36 months of OPT. DHS notes that a 17-month STEM OPT work permit issued before May 10 will remain valid until it expires, and that beginning on May 10, students with STEM degrees will have a chance to apply for an additional 7 months.  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.

The result of the final rule is that beginning on May 10, certain international students earning STEM degree from accredited US universities can stay in the US for an additional 24 months post-graduation to participate in on-the-job training within the STEM fields. The new rule also requires international students and employers to develop individualized training plans that enhance students’ educational experience with practical training.


The final rule:

  • Lengthens the STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months
  • Allows for 2 lifetime STEM OPT extensions instead of one, and
  • Provides eligibility for non-STEM graduates (e.g. MBAs) to participate in STEM OPT based on a prior STEM degree obtained in the past 10 years.

Other changes:

  • Site Visit Notifications: DHS will provide notice to the employer 48 hours before any site visit unless a complaint or other evidence of non-compliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations triggers the visit, in which case DHS may conduct with site visit without notice.
  • Focus on Training: DHS has modified the rules Mentoring and Training Plan (Form I-983) to increase the focus on training.
  • Employer Attestation: Employer must attest that the STEM OPT student will not replace a full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent US worker.

For more information or questions, please contact:
Richard A. Newman
212-986-0947  rnewman@richardnewmanlaw.com