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U.S. Department of Homeland Security Increases Optional Practical Training for STEM Students

April 7, 2016

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending its regulations regarding Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 nonimmigrant students with qualifying degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from accredited U.S. colleges or universities. The new rule, which goes into effect on May 10, 2016, allows qualifying students pursuing 12 months of OPT in the United States to apply for a 24-month extension.

New STEM OPT Employer Requirements

All STEM OPT employers must do the following:

  • Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing
  • Report material changes or deviations to the STEM OPT student's employment to the relevant Designated School Official (DSO) within 5 business days
  • Implement a formal training program with learning objectives and a plan for achieving them as well as and provide proper oversight
  • Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation
  • Require STEM OPT students to complete an annual self-evaluation and report to the DSO their progess which the employer must sign
  • Work with students to complete the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

Site Visit Notification

The new rule also provides for DHS site visits to employer locations to verify that they are meeting program requirements. The DHS will generally provide 48 hours' notice however an unannounced site visit can occur if it receives a complaint or has other evidence of noncompliance with STEM OPT regulations.

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