OPT extended for highly skilled foreign students

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is extending the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) by 17 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. That means the OPT period will now be 29 months instead of 12.

Who are eligible for extension?

The DHS interim rule makes this extension available to only F-1 students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.

To qualify, the F-1 student must:

1.      Currently be participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT

2.      Have successfully completed a degree in science, engineering, technology, 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;

3.      Be working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study;

4.      Be working for, or accepted employment with, an employer enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify program. E-Verify is a free, internet-based system operated in partnership with the Social Security Administration that helps employers to determine the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees; and

5.      Properly maintain F-1 status.

Good new for H1B applicants

The interim rule also makes provisions for F-1 student’s whose status andwork authorization are going to expire before he or she can get her H-1B by automatically extending the period of stay and work authorization for all F-1 students with pending H-1B petitions. The rule will implement further changes including allowing students to apply for OPT within 60 days of graduation.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has stated that the extension will enable US to retain highly skilled foreign students as workers.