Wednesday, May 4, 2016

USCIS ISSUES NEW OPT STEM EXTENSION PROGRAM

On March 11, 2016 the USCIS published the rules of a new, expanded STEM Extension OPT program.  The new STEM Extension will go into effect Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  Among other changes, the program extends the length of the STEM Extension from 17 months to 24 months and that students are now permitted an aggregate of 170 days of unemployment for OPT and the STEM Extension period.  For more information, please visit https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/

EMPLOYER REQUIREMENTS

The new STEM Extension Program requires more from employers.  To employ a student under the new STEM Program, employers must:
  1. Be an E-Verify employer.  This remains unchanged from the previous STEM Extension Program.
  2. Pay the student a wage commensurate to similarly situated US workers.  The calculation of this wage should be documented in the student’s employment record.
  3. Employ the OPT student for at least 20 hours per week in a position that is directly related to the student’s degree.
  4. Report any material changes in the student’s employment to the appropriate school official.  Material changes include: a change in the student’s hours, compensation, worksite, supervisor, or changes to the corporate structure.  Employers must also report a termination or resignation of employment to the school official within 5 business days.
  5. Be subject to site visits by USCIS Officers to verify the student’s employment.
  6. Complete and comply with a training plan for the student’s employment.  See below for additional details about the training plan.

TRAINING PLAN

The STEM Extension Training Plan has four components:
  1. Describe the student’s role.  List specific tasks, give time frames and goals, describe the phases of the student’s training.
  2. Identify the goals and objectives of the training.  State specific skills, techniques, or knowledge the student will gain while employed and describe projects or assignments where the student will use these skills.
  3. Detail the employer’s oversight of the student.  State the frequency with which the student will meet with his/her supervisor.  Detail how the supervisor will review or sign off on the student’s work and describe any existing training programs in place.
  4. Define the measures and assessments by which the student will be evaluated.  Detail how the student’s progress will be tested.  Note any new technologies or skills which will be learned and keep a journal of or regular reviews of student’s work.

Employer’s Certification 

Form I-983, the Training Plan for STEM OPT Students is available in draft form but has not yet been finalized by the Immigration Service.  By signing the training plan, the employer confirms:
  1. Employment is directly related to the student’s degree and achieves the objectives of the training program;
  2. Student will receive supervision and training by experienced staff;
  3. Employer has sufficient resources and personnel to provide training to the student;
  4. The OPT student is not replacing a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent US Worker.  The terms and conditions of the student’s employment are commensurate with similarly situated US Workers at the company.
  5. The training complies with all applicable federal and state requirements related to employment.

TRANSITION RULES

There are three primary groups of students impacted by the implementation of the new STEM Extension Program:

1.  Students on a 17 month STEM Extension.
  • These students with 150 days of time left on their OPT can apply for an additional 7 months of OPT, giving them the full 24 months of STEM OPT.
  • These 7 month requests must be filed between May 10 and August 8.  The request requires a new I-20, I-765, and filing fee.
  • If the student elects not to ask for the 7 month extension, the student completes the STEM OPT Period under the old rules.
2. Students with a pending STEM Extension on May 10, 2016.
  • The new rules apply to the STEM extension request.  These students should expect an RFE to be issued requesting a training plan and other new requirements. 
  • By responding to the RFE the student amends the STEM OPT to the full 24 month period without filing a new request.
3.  Students on a 12 month OPT.
  • If the OPT expires before May 10, the student should file for the 17 month STEM Extension and expect an RFE (as outlined in #2 above).
  • If the OPT expires after May 10, the student should file by June 1 under either STEM Extension Program - the 17 month or 24 month.
  • If the OPT expires after June 1, the student must file the STEM Extension under the 24 month program.

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