The New 24-Month STEM OPT Extension: How to qualify and who will be affected?

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[The first part of the article can be found here]

Currently Pending Applications
USCIS will send an RFE to any applicant who filed for a 17-month STEM OPT extension under the current rule and whose application is still pending as of May 10, 2016. The RFE will “request documentation that will establish that the student is eligible for a 24-month OPT extension” under the new rule. This documentation includes a new Form I-20 indicating that the Designated School Official (DSO) recommends the student for a 24-month OPT extension, a completed and signed Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan, and any other documentation to establish that the requirements for a STEM OPT extension under the standards of the new final rule have been met.

Approved 17-month STEM OPT Extension
For students who already have the 17 month STEM OPT approval prior to May 10, 2016, their approvals will not automatically extend to 24 months. A student whose 17-month STEM OPT was approved before May 10, 2016 has two choices:

  • Option 1: Continue in the 17-month period until it ends, without applying for an extension. If the student chooses this option, the standards of the 17-month rule will govern that STEM OPT period throughout its term.

  • Option 2: Request the balance of the modified extension (i.e., the extra 7 months). However, not all students will qualify for this option as they must meet the following conditions:

    1. File a Form I-765, with USCIS on or after May 10, 2016 and on or before August 8, 2016, and within 60 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for the 24- month OPT extension into the student’s SEVIS record, with applicable fees and supporting documentation, including a new Form I-20 endorsed on or after May 10, 2016, indicating that the Designated School Official (DSO) recommends the student for a 24-month OPT extension, a completed and signed Form I-983 Mentoring and Training Plan, and any other documentation to establish that the requirements for a STEM OPT extension under the standards of the new final rule have been met;

    2. Have at least 150 calendar days remaining prior to the end of his or her 17-month OPT extension at the time the Form I-765, is properly filed; and

    3. Meet all the requirements for the 24-month OPT extension under the new rule, except the requirement that the student must be in a valid period of standard 12-month post-completion OPT at the time of filing.

12-Month OPT Expires before May 10, 2016
Since an application for STEM OPT under either rule (17-month or 24-month) requires the student to be in a valid period of standard 12-month OPT at the time the application for STEM OPT is filed with USCIS, the preamble to the final rule advises such students to make sure to apply for the 17-month STEM OPT extension before the end of their 12 months of standard 12-month OPT.

The rule specifically states:

“This rule, like the 2008 IFR, does not allow students to apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial 12-month period of post- completion OPT. The current requirement to properly file the request for a STEM OPT extension prior to the end of the initial OPT period allows sufficient time for the F-1 student to apply for the extension and is administratively convenient as it ensures continuing employment authorization during the transition from the initial OPT period to the STEM OPT period. Accordingly, if a student anticipates that he or she will enter the 60-day grace period before May the student should not wait to apply. Such a student should apply for the 17-month STEM OPT extension before his or her initial OPT period expires.”

If you are a student or you are representing a student that falls within any of these categories, you may want to look into how the new STEM OPT extension may affect you or your client.

Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Damini M. Patel Damini M. Patel, Esq is an associate attorney at the Nair Law Group, a law firm practicing exclusively in the area of US Immigration and Nationality law. The firm represents business and corporate clients in all matters of employment-based immigration.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.