Optional Practical Training (OPT) time is being extended for pending H-1B applicants caught in the cap gap and for students with science, math and similar degrees, USCIS announced this week.
In particular, OPT will be extended automatically for those F-1 student visa holders who have applied for an H-1B work visa but who will have a gap in authorized stay because they cannot start work until Oct. 1, when visas for the next fiscal year will become available.
The extension will cover this gap, enabling them to continue working and alleviating concerns by employers who would be at risk of losing a valuable employees because of the unreasonably low number of H-1B work visas available annually.
The new rule also provides for the extension of OPT from the traditional 12 months to 29 months to students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program. (E-Verify is an internet-based system operated in partnership with the Social Security Administration that is used to check a newly hired employee’s right to work. E-Verify has been widely criticized for its error rate, forcing the employer to question employment eligibility of U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.)
To be eligible for an OPT extension under the STEM program, an F-1 non-immigrant student must:
l Currently be participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT;
l Have successfully completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) included in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List from a college or university certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program;
l Be working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study;
l Be working for, or accepted employment with, an employer enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify program.; and
l Properly maintain F-1 status.
The STEM designated degrees include:
l Actuarial Science
l Computer Science (except Data Entry and Microcomputer Applications)
l Engineering Technologies
l Biological and Biomedical Sciences
l Mathematics and Statistics
l Military Technologies
l Physical Sciences
l Science Technologies
l Medical Scientist (MS, PhD)
The new rule takes effect the day it is published in the Federal Register. That date has not been given yet, but should be soon. The public has 60 days to comment on the rule, after which the government will consider the comments and issue a final rule.
The rule is available here: http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/press_opt_ifr.pdf
USCIS has posted frequently asked questions regarding the new rule on its website.