The Department of Homeland Security’s final rule on optional practical training (OPT) work authorization for foreign nationals in F-1 status with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. institutions will go into effect on May 10, 2016. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) then will begin accepting applications to extend an initial 12-month period of OPT work authorization for an additional 24 months — a welcomed increase from the old rule’s 17-month extension period.

Qualifying STEM graduates in their initial OPT period can therefore apply for a 24-month extension beginning May 10, 2016, assuming they meet the new rule’s eligibility and timing requirements.

But what about foreign nationals with 17-month STEM OPT extensions already approved under the old rule? The new rule clarifies that a 17-month STEM OPT employment authorization document (EAD) issued before May 10, 2016, will remain valid until the EAD expires or is terminated or revoked. Significantly, it also provides a limited window for certain F-1 students with these STEM EADs to apply for an additional 7 months of OPT, allowing them to benefit from the new rule’s full 24-month period. To qualify for this additional 7-month period, the student must:

  • 1) Properly file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with USCIS (along with all required fees and supporting documentation) between May 10, 2016, and August 8, 2016. The I-765 must be filed within 60 days of the date the student’s Designated School Official (DSO) recommends the 24-month STEM OPT extension in the student’s SEVIS record.
  • 2) Have at least 150 calendar days remaining prior to the expiration of the 17-month STEM OPT EAD at the time the I-765 is properly filed(i.e., receipted) with USCIS.
  • 3) Meet all the requirements under the new rule for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, including submission of the Training Plan on Form I-983 to his or her DSO.

Due to the limited three-month application window and strict eligibility requirements, F-1 students seeking to benefit from the 7-month balance should file their applications with USCIS as soon as possible. Before a student can file with USCIS, he or she must first submit a Form I-983 Training Plan to his or her DSO and obtain an endorsed Form I-20 with the DSO’s recommendation for the 24-month STEM OPT extension period. Students are encouraged to work with their employers and school officials as soon as possible to ensure they can obtain the proper documents and file their applications with at least 150 calendar days remaining before their STEM OPT EADs expire.