Q: Who can apply for and benefit from the new 24-month STEM OPT extension?
A: New STEM OPT applicants, and some students who have already applied or already received an extension under the old program will be able to benefit from the new 24-month STEM extension. Here’s a breakdown of the OPT program and new STEM extension:
What is OPT?
OPT (Optional Practical Training) gives foreign students the opportunity to remain in the US after graduation to apply what they’ve learned and receive practical training in their fields. This is an excellent opportunity to both enhance the student’s educational experience while allowing US employers to benefit from the student’s knowledge and skills. An immigration attorney can advise you further on this option and talk to you about a common immigration path that many F-1 students follow in the US.
Who can qualify for OPT?
F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled full-time in a DHS-approved university or college and who are maintaining status are eligible to apply for OPT. The training selected must directly relates to a student’s major area of study. You can find out more information about the application process on USCIS’s website, and your international student advisor can help you apply.
OPT status lasts for 1 year, however students in STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields who meet certain eligibility requirements are eligible for an extension. Previously the extension was for 17 months, but just this week, a new rule changed the extension time to 24 months. That means a STEM OPT participant can be eligible for a total of 3 years of OPT time.
Eligibility for new 24-month STEM extension
The new 24-month OPT STEM extension is effective beginning May 10, 2016. New applicants for the extension, and some students with existing 17-month extensions are eligible to benefit:
(1) Students applying for STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016 will qualify for the new 24-month extension
(2) Students with 17-month STEM OPT applications pending on May 10th will also automatically have their applications converted to applications for the 24 month extension – even if they’ve applied for 17 months.
(3) Students with existing 17-month STEM OPT work permits (EADs) on May 10, 2016 fall into 2 categories:
(a) Students with 150 days remaining on their EAD document on May 10, 2016 are eligible to apply for the new 24-month extension. Students must have 150 days remaining form the date they apply, and applications are accepted between May 10th and August 8th. If the extension application is approved, these students would receive an additional 7 months added to their current 17-month extension, for a total 24-month extension.
(b) Students with less than 150 days remaining on their EAD document on May 10, 2016 are unfortunately not eligible to apply for the new 24-month extension.