On May 10, 2016, the new 24-month STEM OPT extension took effect. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees.
Under the new program, F-1 students with a qualifying STEM degree will be eligible for 12 months of initial OPT plus an additional 24 months of OPT extension. The new regulations also allow some F-1 students who already have a 17-month STEM OPT extension to apply for an additional 7 months.
To qualify for the 24-month OPT extension, the F-1 student must:
- Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT;
- Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when you submit your STEM OPT extension application;
- Work for an employer who meets all the requirements of the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities
- Submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
The new program institutes significant changes for the F-1 OPT STEM extension, such as:
- STEM applications may only be submitted up to 90 days before the initial 12-month OPT EAD expiration.
- It allows a total of 2 lifetime STEM extensions, the 2nd after earning a new STEM-eligible degree at a higher level. For example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
- It may be based on a previously earned STEM degree. If currently in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
- Requires significant responsibility on the part of the employer to provide a training plan related to the field of study, and attestations to wages and compensation being commensurate with “similarly situated US workers”.
- Requires new obligations for students, schools and employers, such as 6 month validations reports, annual evaluations and submission of a new I-983 in case of material changes to the original I-983; employers must agree to Department of Homeland Security site visits, and provide attestations to wages and working conditions.
Students with 24-month STEM extensions may have up to 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period including the initial 12-month and 24-month STEM opt period.