Today, I’m delighted to bring you what I hope will be the first of several updates for employers from the immigration law perspective. One of my newest colleagues, Ashley Mendoza, along with my law partner Brenda Eckert, have been tracking some of the newest rules for employers coming out of the Department of Homeland Security. These rules will have a particular impact to employers who recruit from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas. For employers that rely on foreign workers to help supplement their ranks, this is crucial to understand.
But a cautionary note: It’s a bit technical. There’s really no way around that. Immigration laws are just filled with technical requirements. Indeed, that’s one reason why a qualified immigration lawyer is often needed to help employers navigate these rules. Brenda and Ashley are leading the way here at my firm and I thank them for this detailed update.
Yesterday (May 10, 2016), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) implemented major modifications to Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) extensions for students on F-1 visas enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) degree programs.
The new regulations, published at 8 CFR Parts 214.2(f) and 274a, authorize a 24-month STEM OPT extension period, replacing the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension period.
While at first glance, the new STEM OPT extension regulations may seem a cause for celebration, there are a number of added requirements and oversight provisions and, for some U.S. employers, the benefits may not outweigh the burdens.
What is OPT?
OPT is a form of temporary employment available to students holding F-1 visas that directly relates to a student’s program of study. The employment is often paid, and may take place during and/or after completion of the degree program.
The overarching idea is that OPT will afford eligible international students and new graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on practical experience to supplement what they learned during their degree program. Students may be authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time OPT at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate).
The application process is relatively straight forward. The student must first request approval from his or her designated school official (“DSO”), who will then make a recommendation to the electronic Student and Exchange Visitor and Information System (“SEVIS”) by endorsing a Form I-20.
Thereafter, the student must file the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, supporting documentation, and a filing fee of $380.00 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).
The extension & the changes to it
Since 2008, eligible students who graduate with a qualified STEM degree and are presently engaged in a period of approved post-completion OPT may have the option to extend their OPT for a period of 17 months.
This is the existing STEM OPT extension, and this is what the new regulations modify. These changes will affect all parties involved in the STEM OPT extension process. This includes the students and the U.S. employers with whom the students will train during the course of the approved period of STEM OPT.
Not to be forgotten, however, are the DSO’s who perform pivotal work with students behind-the-scenes to recommend them for OPT and extensions and maintain student records in SEVIS.
So, what’s new?
The better question, really, is what isn’t new.
The new regulations provide a comprehensive overhaul to the STEM OPT program.