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USCIS Will Accept 24-Month STEM OPT Extensions on May 10, 2016

529484_desk_chair.jpgOptional Practical Training (OPT) is a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows foreign students who have been maintaining their lawful F-1 student status to apply for work authorization in order to gain employment experience after they graduate. The OPT employment must be related to their major. For example, a person who received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science should not use their OPT to seek employment as a waiter.

Normally, a foreign student is eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT at each educational level the student completes. Students with degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are also eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT work authorization.

There is good news for STEM students, since the DHS recently published its final rule that will allow STEM students to apply for a 24-month OPT extension. Read on to learn more about this exciting development.

Eligibility Requirements for the 24-Month OPT Extension

In order to qualify for the new extension period, the F-1 student must currently be in OPT status, hold a STEM-related bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an accredited U.S. university, and work for an employer that has enrolled in the E-Verify program.

How to File the 24-month OPT Extension Application

USCIS will begin accepting applications on May 10, 2016. If a student files the application before this date, it will be rejected as an improper filing and returned to the student.

In the application, the student should include the completed and signed Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, a copy of the student’s qualifying STEM degree, the student’s Form I-20 with OPT endorsement (this form should be dated on or after May 10, 2016), a copy of the student’s previously issued employment authorization documents (EADs), two passport-style photographs of the student, and the USCIS filing fee of $380 made payable to “USCIS” or “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Our immigration attorneys urge you to note carefully that if the fee is incorrect, USCIS will return the application.

Special Considerations

Some students may find that their current OPT is scheduled to expire very soon after May 10, 2016. They do not need to worry about a lapse in their employment authorization because as long as the extension application is filed before the current OPT expires (yet still on or after May 10, 2016), USCIS will automatically extend their employment authorization for 180 days in order to allow them to continue working while USCIS reviews all of its applications.

Additionally, many students have already been granted their 17-month OPT extension. USCIS will allow these students to file an application to add seven months to their OPT if the student has at least 150 days of employment authorization left. (The 150 days is counted on the day that USCIS receives the Form I-765 application.) However, please note that students in this situation must file their I-765 applications on or before August 8, 2016.

The Rant

It’s essentially a band-aide fix to our immigration system’s broken arm. Adding 7 months of temporary employment authorization in response to an H-1B program that so badly fails to meet the needs of a U.S. economy starving for S.T.E.M. students is inadequate. Foreign national graduates of our nation’s colleges and university undergraduate and graduate programs deserve better. Their prospective U.S. employers deserve better, too! We should limit Congress to a 24-month period and then have them move along unless they can figure how to do their jobs, namely, drafting and passing legislation that responds to our country’s immigration problem.

Additional Blog Posts:

The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Policy Memo, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012