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STEM FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

On March 11th, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Changes included in this final rule will affect how students, employers, and UIC administrators interact with the OPT STEM extension. Below is a list frequently asked questions (FAQs) in order to address specific questions the UIC international community may have. The FAQs will continue to be updated as new questions and issues emerge so we encourage you to revisit this page frequently.

FAQs regarding the new 24-month STEM OPT extension

I am a UIC international student on an F-1 visa. Is my degree a STEM-qualifying degree?

To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, your degree program, as listed on your I-20 form, must be included on the list of eligible CIP codes published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If your degree program’s CIP code is not included on this list, you are not eligible for the STEM OPT extension.

Does the new 24-month STEM OPT extension make any changes to the standard 12-month OPT, pre-completion OPT, or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs?

No.

What is the individualized training plan required by the new 24-month STEM OPT extension?

The 24-month STEM OPT extension increases the educational benefits that F-1 students receive from their practical training experiences by requiring the submission of a formal training plan on form I-983. Students and their employers will complete the form I-983 and submit it to the student’s school which must review it prior to recommending a STEM OPT extension. Additionally, students must complete an annual self-evaluation of the training plan and submit it to their employer for review. SEVP has provided further training on this important new document via an online tutorial and pages specific to students and employers.

What else do employers need to know about the form I-983?

As part of signing the form I-983, the employer must certify that the duties, hours, and compensation of the STEM OPT student are commensurate with the employer’s similarly situated workers, or if the employer has fewer than three comparable U.S. workers, with the general wages and working conditions of U.S. workers in the area. The employer also certifies that it has sufficient resources to provide the training and evaluation of the student called for in the training plan, and that the STEM OPT student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker.

I was granted a STEM OPT extension previously. Can I apply for another STEM OPT extension under the new rule?

Maybe. The new rule provides that students may receive up to two STEM extensions over the course of the academic career. In order to qualify for a second OPT STEM extension, a student must meet certain eligibility requirements. Additionally, the second OPT STEM extension can only be approved for a degree earned at a higher level than the first extension.

Can I apply for a second STEM OPT extension to immediately follow my first STEM OPT extension?

No. Two periods of STEM OPT cannot immediately follow each other. There must be an intervening degree and a period of 12-month OPT between the STEM OPT extensions.

Can I use a previously earned STEM degree to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension?

Maybe. Previous STEM degrees must have been earned from an accredited U.S. institution no more than 10 years prior to the date the 24-month OPT STEM extension is filed. For more information on how to use a prior STEM degree, see the STEM OPT extension eligibility requirements (Click + Expand under the heading Degree).

Can I apply for the 24-Month STEM OPT extension if I’m currently on an approved period of 17-month STEM OPT? 

Maybe. The new rule provides a transition plan for students with existing 17-Month STEM OPT EADs on May 10, 2016. If eligible, there is a window within which a student must apply for the additional seven months of OPT. However, to qualify for this 7-month extension, such students must have at least 150 calendar days remaining before the end of the 17-month OPT period. As a practical matter, this means students whose current grant of STEM OPT ends prior to October 7, 2016 will not be eligible for the transition 7-month extension of OPT.

Can I apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension if my 17-month STEM OPT application is currently pending with USCIS?

Yes, provided you meet the requirements of the new 24-month STEM OPT extension. The rule provides a transition plan for students with 17-month STEM OPT applications pending on May 10, 2016. If your application is adjudicated and approved before May 10, 2016 it will be granted for 17 months only and you would need to submit an application for the additional 7-month extension before the deadline (see previous FAQ). If your application is adjudicated on or after May 10, 2016 you will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS asking for documentation to prove that you are eligible for the 24-month extension under the provisions of the new rule.

My 17-month STEM OPT extension was approved on or before May 9, 2016. Do I need to do anything if I DON’T want the additional 7 months of STEM OPT?

No. 17-month STEM OPT extensions approved on or before May 9, 2016 will continue to be valid until the expiration date printed on the EAD without being subject to the requirements of the new rule.

How does the new rule affect the H-1B Cap Gap Extension?

For all F-1 OPT students whose OPT ends between April 1 and October 1, the rule continues the “cap gap” employment authorization for those students who have a cap-subject H-1B filed on their behalf. As in the current rule, the new rule continues employment authorization until the H-1B petition is rejected in the lottery, denied, revoked by USCIS, or until October 1, whichever is latest. The new rule also clarifies that employment authorization ends when the petition is withdrawn by the employer, and that it ends if the H-1B petition is approved, but the student’s change of status portion of the petition is denied.

Must the employer still participate in the E-Verify program under the new 24-month STEM OPT extension?

Yes. The new rule continues the requirement that in order for the student to receive a STEM extension, the student’s employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program for all of the employer’s new hires, at least at the location where the student will receive OPT. The employer continues to be required to inform the student’s school of any termination of the student’s employment (or non-authorized absence from work for 5 consecutive days).

How will the requirements of the new 24-month STEM OPT extension be enforced?

The new rule allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce the rule through site visits to employers, which will normally be announced unless in response to a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance. ICE will have the ability to prosecute employers who fail to provide competitive compensation, or who replace U.S. workers with STEM OPT students, for false certifications and visa fraud, both felonies. ICE may also pursue civil forfeiture of a company’s assets, or those of its owners.

I still have questions. Who can I contact?

Many questions regarding the 24-month STEM OPT extension can be answered by visiting the SEVP STEM OPT HUB website or reading their Frequently Asked Questions. If you still have questions after reading through this information, feel free to contact OIS at stemopt@uic.edu, 312-996-3121.  Students may also visit us during Open Advising for an in-person consultation.