The number of international students in the U.S. hit a record high in 2014, with more than 880,000 students. The stakes are therefore high for international college students who are concerned about choosing their majors and finding jobs for after graduation.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aware of this issue and has proposed a new regulation which would allow F-1 nonimmigrant student visa holders science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities to extend their initial 12 month optional practical training (OPT) period by 24 months. The proposed rule would increase the current STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months (for a total of up to 36 months).
Like the current STEM OPT extension regulation, the proposed rule would only allow STEM OPT extensions for students employed by employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
Under the proposed rule, “cap-gap” relief will still be available so as to allow students to automatically extend their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1st, if they timely file an H-1B petition. Additionally, the proposed regulations seeks to clarify the STEM field to studies in mathematics, natural sciences (including physical sciences and biological/agriculture sciences), engineering or engineering technologies, and computer/information sciences and related fields, in order to address current STEM needs in the U.S. economy while balancing the potential for future changes.
There will be a 30-day comment period, which will end on November 18th, at which point DHS will be required to review and consider all comments prior to implementing the final regulation. If approved, this new regulation would allow certain students already working under the STEM extension to request the additional time that would be allowed under the new rule. U.S. employers and foreign STEM graduates should continue to monitor this situation as it continues to evolve.