Last Call for New Cap H-1Bs and International Student STEM Optional Practical Training Changes

April 1 is the filing date for new H-1B cap subject applications. There is a 7-day process that must be completed through Department of Labor prior to filing. 

For international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, Department of Homeland Security published a final rule March 11, 2016, to replace the 2008 interim final rule, governing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM extensions. The final rule contains the following requirements:

  • All STEM OPT employers must participate in DHS’ E-Verify program.
  • The STEM OPT extension program is lengthened from 17 months to 24 months.
  • STEM OPT extension is only offered to students earning a degree from a U.S. Department of Education accredited school or accrediting agency and certified by SEVP[1].
  • Participating students can only apply for a second STEM OPT extension if they are receiving an additional qualifying degree from an accredited college or university.
  • Participating students may use previously earned qualifying degree to apply for a STEM OPT extension if the prior degree is accredited by a U.S. Department of education- recognized accrediting agency and certified by SEVP at the time of application. Also, the prior degree cannot have already been used to apply for a STEM OPT extension.
  • A formal training program is required of employers participating in the STEM OPT program.
  • Employers and students are required to report material changes in their training program.
  • The student’s training opportunity must be comparable with a U.S. worker participating in a similar position in the same geographic area of employment.
  • A student participating in the program cannot replace a full-time, part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.
  • To qualify, a student must work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
  • Students are permitted a limited unemployment period before commencing the STEM OPT extension.