F-1 OPT Students with STEM Degrees Have Extended OPT Option

Concerned about not obtaining an H-1B this next spring due to the cap? If you are an F-1 student with post-completion OPT (Optional Practical Training), you should be aware of the option to extend your F-1/OPT if necessary.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented exciting changes to the OPT program in 2008, to make the U.S. more competitive with countries in the European Union and Asia in recruiting employees with Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degrees. Under previous rules, a foreign national student in F-1 status was eligible for 12 months of post-completion OPT.  There was no eligibility for extension beyond this time. Now, this period can be extended up to 17 additional months, for 29 total months of OPT for F-1 students who have completed a STEM degree and are currently working for a US employer enrolled in USCIS’ employment verification program (E-Verify).

This extension can only be requested once; meaning if one earned 2 STEM degrees, one can only get one 17-month extension granted. The 17-month extension can be requested no more than 120 days prior to the end of the initial OPT period.

USCIS just recently clarified on October 6, 2013 in a policy memo that F-1 students can still be eligible for such an extension even if his or her thesis/dissertation is not yet complete. To review an approved list of STEM degrees, please visit http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm . It is worth checking this list for your degree, as it includes business statistics, behavioral sciences and educational research which some may not normally think of in terms of “science.”

Once an OPT extension is granted, the student and employer must meet certain requirements which are not required for the normal OPT 12-month period.  The F-1 student must visit the Designated School Officer (DSO) every 6 months from the start of extended OPT to verify personal and employer information.  Should the F-1student be terminated or voluntarily leave employment, the US employer is required to contact the school’s DSO within 48 hours.

This certainly is an alternative plan that may be available if you are unable to secure an H-1B in the next fiscal year 2013-14.

If you would like more information on the requirements to extend OPT based on a STEM degree or to maintain this status, you can speak with Catherine Brown, immigration attorney near Boulder Colorado for more information at 303-322-2117 or cbrown@cbrownlaw.com