Key Requirements for STEM OPT Extensions
In March, we announced the new STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) rule which will allow graduates of U.S. universities with a STEM degree, working for E-Verify enrolled employers, to extend their 12-month OPT by 24-months.
While this is a major benefit for F-1 graduates and employers, there are major changes from the previous STEM OPT extension rule. The new rule places far more burden on employers who sponsor F-1 graduates for the 24-month extension.
Below, we describe the key differences ushered in by the new rule and highlight the information and attestations required of employers:
Training - Not Employment
The most significant difference is the heavy emphasis on training as opposed to regular employment. Under the new rule, employers must describe:
- the assignments the F-1 graduate will carry out during the training,
- how the assignments relate to the F-1 graduate’s STEM degree,
- the knowledge the F-1 graduate will learn or apply,
- how the F-1 graduate will achieve the training goals, and
- how the employer will confirm that the F-1 graduate is acquiring new knowledge.
Training information provided by employers must cover the entire 24-month period.
For the first time, employers must provide compensation information: wage, and if applicable, other forms of compensation such as housing, tuition waivers, transportation, etc.
Employers must also attest to the fact that compensation for a STEM practical training opportunity is commensurate with those for similarly situated U.S. workers (i.e., trainees who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents).
Employers must notify the Designated School Official (DSO) of an F-1 graduate’s termination or departure within 5 business days. Additionally, employers must notify the DSO regarding any material change to the training plan, including a change in employer ID number, reduction in compensation, and any significant decrease in hours per week (number of hours must be no less than 20 per week).
F-1 graduates will be required to provide a self-evaluation of his/her traininig, using the measures identified in the training plan. Students must provide the first evaluation before the 12-month mark and a second evaluation at the end of the 24-month period.
Given the importance of accuracy and consistency in the training and compensation information provided to DSOs and USCIS, it is not advisable for companies to place the burden of applying for STEM OPT extensions on hiring managers and F-1 graduates, or other company personnel. A competent immigration law firm can control the information that is provided and provide important services including tracking student-evaluation due dates, ensuring notification requirements are met, and ensuring compliance with employer attestations.