Good News for F-1 International Students: STEM OPT Authorization Allowed Beyond February 12
Federal court rules to allow limited relief of court’s order to May 10, 2016.
On January 23, Federal Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted a request by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to delay the possible termination of the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program until May 10, 2016. The STEM OPT program allows students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields who work for employers that have registered for E-Verify to extend their period of OPT by 17 months.
The ruling means that F-1 students with a valid STEM OPT employment authorization document (EAD) can continue to work beyond February 12, 2016, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) can continue to accept applications for STEM OPT extensions at least through May 10, 2016. The court had originally given DHS until February 12, 2016 to put new rules in place for the STEM OPT program. It is anticipated that DHS will finalize rules well before the new May 10 deadline to enable the STEM OPT program to continue without interruption.
DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on October 19, 2015 and sought comments from the public. An unprecedented response followed—over 50,000 comments to the notice were received. For this reason, in December 2015, DHS argued that it had “determined with a reasonable degree of certainty that it would not be able to meet the February 12, 2016 deadline” and asked for an additional 90 days to consider the comments from the public and promulgate its final rules.
According to DHS, there are approximately 23,000 STEM OPT participants, 2,300 dependents of STEM OPT participants, 8,000 pending applications for STEM OPT extensions, and 434,000 foreign students who might be eligible to apply for STEM OPT authorization. Had the stay not been extended, many of these people and their employers would have been adversely affected.