US confirms STEM OPT work rights extension to 24 months.
After the largest number of responses from the public ever received on a rule revision, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that international STEM graduates in the US will be able to undertake an Optional Practical Training programme for a 24 month extension, up from the current 17 month extension rule.
This means that all appropriately qualified STEM graduates can stay and work in the US for up to three years, as the extension rule is on top of the standard OPT rule of 12 months that many international graduates can benefit from.
The final ruling lays to rest months of uncertainty since August 2015 when a judge had ordered that the original STEM 17-month extension to OPT for science, tech, engineering and maths graduates had happened without following correct procedure.
Since then, STEM grads on OPT had been in limbo waiting for final clarification after a period for public comment, which received 50,500 responses.
“Now not only has the extension been preserved – it’s been lengthened. So in effect we’re seeing an extended extension,” said Eddie West, Director of International Initiatives at NACAC. “That’s great news for students.”
Rachel Canty, deputy director of the Student and ExchangeVisitor Program, told , “The National Science Foundation states that the average STEM research project takes about 24 months to complete. Based on this info, we thought a STEM OPT extension of 24 months would be appropriate.”
The news will be welcomed by the international education community, which is cognisant of the huge value that the STEM extension to OPT offers international students. At San Jose State University, based in Silicon Valley, there are many international student testimonials about the experience gained both at university and via OPT.
“This new ruling has the potential to very positively assist US colleges and universities”
West commented, “We know how important those benefits are to current and prospective international students alike. And we know that’s particularly true of students from India and other leading countries of origin of international students.”
“This new ruling has the potential to very positively assist US colleges and universities, particularly graduate programmes in STEM fields.”
Canty added, “Optional practical training has been a hot topic here in the US. We have individuals who want to enhance training opportunities for international students, while others have voiced concerns about how that training is implemented. The final rule includes a variety of provisions that enhance oversight of the STEM OPT program all while providing an enhanced educational experience for international students studying in the US.”
SEVP will unveil a STEM OPT hub on the Study in the States website once the final rule publishes on March 12. The rule is posted online for public inspection.
There are various provisos in the rule to protect American jobs. Employers participating in STEM OPT must incorporate a formal training program that includes concrete learning objectives with proper oversight.
To guard against adverse effects on US workers, terms and conditions of a student’s training opportunity – such as duties, hours, and compensation – must be on par with US workers in similar positions in the same geographic area of employment. Additionally, the student must not replace a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent US worker.
Heather Stewart, NAFSA Counsel & Director of ImmigrationPolicy, noted, “NAFSA is glad that DHS issued the ruling in this manner because it gives DHS time to educate and train their people to implement it. We look forward to working with SEVP on implementation.”