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On March 10, 2016 a final rule was published in the Federal Register which amends the regulations on some F-1 nonimmigrant students’ participation in optional practical training (OPT) who have received degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). Prior to the rule, F-1 STEM students could participate in full time employment related to their field of study for 1 year on OPT, and then extend that time for an additional 17 months. After the implementation of the amendment, F-1 STEM students can now extend that time (beyond the first year) for 24 months instead of 17.

With the extension of time available to F-1 STEM students to participate in OPT, the Department of Homeland Security has increased oversight over the program by instituting several new requirements. First, employers and employees on STEM OPT must develop and engage in formal training plans to ensure that the new graduate is gaining substantive experience and training in their field. Also, there will be new wage protections. Among other things, the extension will only be available to those students that graduated from an U.S. accredited university. Finally, the rule allows for announced and unannounced site visits. As before, only employers that are enrolled in the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification program may employ F-1 nonimmigrant students through OPT.

The rule is designed to allow F-1 students who received their STEM degrees in the U.S. to supplement their academic training with valuable professional experience in their field. Therefore, the employment must directly relate to the student’s field of study.

The rule also includes provisions similar to the prior regulation, where employees are eligible for “Cap-Gap” relief if their employer submits a timely-filed, successful H-1B Petition and the employee’s time on OPT expires before the start-date of H-1B status.

Please feel free to contact our firm with any questions or issues that you may have. You may reach us via telephone at +1 (202) 618 4540 or via email at anindita@USILaw.com. We look forward to the opportunity of working with you as this rule is implemented and more opportunities are available for F-1 nonimmigrant STEM OPT employees.

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