F-1 system students can now stay longer

By Reuben S. Seguritan

March 16, 2016

A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule just gave international students with F-1 visa two more years of on-the-job training here in the US.

Before, an F-1 student with a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from a US institution of higher education can apply for 17 months of OPT on top of the one year already allowed to them after graduating in a STEM field. Under the new rule, starting May 10, students can apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT.

This means that the new rule that was published last March 11 gave international students earning a degree in these fields the chance to experience three years of on-the-job training. This gives them more time to expose themselves to valuable and practical STEM experience.

This is good news for a lot of students who want to gain more knowledge in their field of study. This is also great news for US employers who can benefit from their skills and know-how.

However, there are a lot to consider as the new rule is very strict when it comes to reporting.

In order for one to be eligible to apply for the extension, you have to have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when you submit your STEM OPT extension application. It is also important that your OPT must be in a field related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Should you have a non-STEM master’s degree but you have a bachelor’s degree in any of the fields mentioned, you can use your bachelor’s degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension.

A formal training plan developed with your prospective employer is also necessary. You need to draw a plan where you and your future employer identify learning objectives and the ways by which you envision to achieve these. In order to keep track of how these goals are being met, the DHS may conduct unannounced site visits when necessary.

The new rule also imposes a six-month validation requirement where you or your school must confirm the validity of certain information about you. This information may be about your home country, your address, current employment status and other biographical information. There is also a yearly self-evaluation that you will submit to your designated school official (DSO) detailing the progress of your on-the-job training. The employer must sign this evaluation.

Come May 10, USCIS will accept applications for STEM OPT extensions. If you feel like you need more time to hone your skills here in the US, you must submit an I-765, Application for Employment Authorization together with an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, endorsed by your DSO.

You may also submit your application up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.