by Maria Schneider

On March 11, 2016 the USCIS published the rules of a new, expanded STEM Extension OPT program. The new STEM Extension will go into effect Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Among other changes, the program extends the length of the STEM Extension from 17 months to 24 months.

STEM OPT Extensions are available to students completing a degree in the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields at US colleges or universities in F-1 status. A list of degrees eligible for STEM Extensions is available on the Immigration Customs and Enforcement website.

In August 2015, the US District Court judge ruled that the USCIS STEM OPT Extension program was invalid because the USCIS had not followed the proper procedure when creating the STEM Extension program in 2008. The federal judge allowed the USCIS time to re-create the program using the proper procedure.

The USCIS has now re-created the STEM Extension program using the proper procedure and has extended the length of the STEM Extension from 17 months to 24 months. The new STEM Extension rules also include the following:

· Employers participating in the STEM Extension program must incorporate a formal training program that includes concrete learning objectives with proper oversight.
· All STEM employers taking part in the program must also participate in e-verify.
· Students must work at least 20 hours per week per employer to qualify for STEM Extensions.
· Students are now permitted a total of 150 days aggregate unemployment while on OPT. Students continue to be permitted 90 days aggregate of unemployment during the initial period of OPT. Students are now permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT Extension period.

The Immigration Service has also created a STEM OPT Hub website which includes resources for schools, students, and employers to assist in the transition from the old STEM OPT program to the new STEM OPT program.

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