STEM 24 Month OPT Extension: Changes, Challenges, and Compliance (Part 1 of 3)

This post is the first in a three part series of blog posts on the new STEM 24 month OPT extension regulations, which are in effect as of May 2016.

The first post in the series provides an overview of the new regulations, including a summary of what is changing and what is not.

In the second post, we will focus on the training plan requirement, and look at what types of employers the STEM 24 month OPT extension may best be suited for.

The final post in the series will look at compliance issues for both the student and the STEM OPT employer.

What is not changing:

Some elements of the new STEM OPT rule have not changed from the previous version. This includes:

  1. The basic eligibility requirements.
    1. The major field of study of the F-1 OPT student must be a STEM field that is listed on SEVP’s website.
    2. The STEM OPT employer must participate in E-Verify.
  2. The educational institutions still remain actively involved in the STEM OPT application process.
  3. The 180 day automatic STEM OPT extension still applies (as long as the STEM OPT extension is timely filed).
  4. The H-1B cap gap rules still apply. Keep in mind that the H-1B cap gap rules only apply for cap-subject H-1B petitions where a change of status has been requested. The cap gap protection ends on September 30th, even if the H-1B petition is not yet approved.

What is changing:

There are several key difference between the old STEM OPT provisions and the new regulations, including the following:

  1. The STEM OPT extension is now available for 24 months, rather than 17 months.
  2. The STEM OPT employer must design and implement a formal training program.
  3. Previously obtained STEM degrees: An F-1 student may use a prior STEM degree from a US institution to apply for the STEM extension, even if the most recent degree is not STEM OPT-eligible (certain restrictions apply).
  4. The student must submit the STEM OPT extension request while their OPT is still valid, and within 60 days after the DSO’s recommendation.
  5. The employer must agree to provide compensation commensurate with similarly employed individuals.
  6. The student must complete a self-evaluation every six months (the employer will sign).

Please keep in mind that there are several changes to the new STEM OPT extension. Students should coordinate carefully with their DSOs to make sure that all requirements are met. Employers who chose to employ STEM OPT students should also review all requirements carefully to ensure full compliance with the new regulations.

Do you need assistance with a family-based or employment-based immigration matter? Please contact our office to learn how we can help. Call us at 804-396-3412 or email at We look forward to hearing from you!

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