Rule Would Extend STEM Foreign Student Work Program

October 19, 2015

A proposed new rule scheduled to be published in the Federal Register today would extend the work authorization period known as the optional practical training program for international students at U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Under the current rules governing the OPT program, international students in all fields of study get a 12-month work authorization period, while students in the STEM fields can get a 17-month extension. The proposed new rule would replace the 17-month extension for STEM students with a 24-month extension. It would also make international students who earn a second STEM degree at a higher level eligible for a second 24-month extension. The proposed rule requires formal mentoring and training programs on the part of employers and adds new wage-related requirements. Only students from accredited institutions would be eligible for the extension.

The proposed rule fits into President Obama’s announced intention in November to “expand and extend the use” of the OPT program. It had to be written in a hurry, however, after a federal judge invalidated the existing rule governing the OPT STEM extension on procedural grounds. The judge stayed her decision vacating the rule until February to allow the Department of Homeland Security time to submit new rules for public comment.

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