17-Month STEM Extension Information
Proposed Changes to STEM Extension Regulations
The Department of Homeland Security has published the proposed STEM changes.
The public comment period ends on 11/18/15. Finalized regulations will be published after this date.
While we await the final determination on the future of the F-1 STEM OPT program, there has been a development in current STEM OPT practices. At a NAFSA Regional Conference this week in Farmington, CT, representatives from the USCIS Vermont Service Center have confirmed that students who had filed for a 17-month STEM extension of their Post-Completion OPT since the suspension of the program was ordered will still be receiving STEM EADs valid for 17-months, not just through February 12, 2016.
It is, at this point, unclear as to what these students will need to do in order to be approved for the proposed 24-month STEM extension, should this be authorized. At present, despite being issued a STEM EAD valid beyond February 12, 2016, the STEM OPT program is still scheduled to be suspended as of that date. We hope to hear within the next week or so whether this suspension will be lifted, and that a 17-month (or 24-month) STEM extension will be allowed. The ISSO will keep all students abreast of STEM OPT-related developments as we hear them.
For more information, please contact the ISSO at 978-934-2383 or ISSO@uml.edu.
If a student has a double-major the 17-month extension can also be based on the second major. The second major CIO code should be listed on Form I-20. Students requesting an extension based on second major, need to include proof that the second major was successfully completed. A transcript will usually reflect how many degrees a student has completed. A STEM Extension cannot be approved based on a student's minor.
Key Points of 17-Month STEM Extension include:
- An individual is eligible for only one 17-month STEM OPT extension. According to SEVP, this is a lifetime limit.
- Student must be currently employed in the 12-month period of post completion optional practical training, working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
- Student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a STEM field, from a SEVIS-certified college or university.
- Student must have a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. (The job can be paid or unpaid as long as it is for 20 hours per week.)
- Student and student’s employer are required to report termination of employment to UMass Lowell’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). Termination of employment is considered to be when a student has not reported to work for a period of five consecutive business days without the employer’s consent.
- Students granted a 17-month STEM Extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month OPT period.
- Student is also required to make a validation report to the UMass Lowell’s International Students and Scholars Office every six months. The validation is a confirmation that the student’s name and address, employer name and address, and/or loss of employment is current and accurate. Keep in mind that any of the above changes should have already been reported to our office within 10 business days of each change. This is critical as SEVIS may terminate the STEM extension if the six month report isn’t provided to them. We can only provide it if you update your status with our office every six months. SEVIS will be strictly enforcing this requirement.
Questions on the 17 Month STEM Extension
What is the deadline for student to file for the 17-month extension?
The student must submit the STEM Extension Petition, within 90 – 120 days prior to the expiration date of their current Post-OPT Employment Authorization Document. The STEM Extension Petition must include a completed Form I-765 as well as an approved new Form I-20 issued by the International Students and Scholars Office. Other paperwork will also be included, as listed below. The International Students and Scholars Office will provide guidance in this area. The STEM Extension petition must reach USCIS no later than the end date of the EAD card.
Can student submit STEM Extension petition more than 120 days before the end date of the original 12-month OPT period?
The USCIS Service Center will most likely reject a petition if filed prior to the 120 days before the current OPT period end date. It is best to apply no earlier than 120 days prior to the current OPT period end date.
Employment authorization while the STEM Extension Application is pending -When does the student’s period of STEM Extension OPT start?
If the student has properly filed for a STEM Extension, (i.e. filed within 90 and 120 days prior to the expiration date of the current OPT, as listed on EAD card), the student’s period of STEM Extension starts the day after the expiration of the student’s original period of optional practical training. If the STEM Extension was filed in a timely fashion, as above-mentioned, the student’s work authorization automatically extends for up to 180 days while the student’s STEM Extension application is pending.
Can student apply for STEM Extension when he/she is within the Cap-Gap OPT Extension?
Yes. A student can apply for the STEM Extension during the Cap-Gap Extension of OPT. The student will need to have his or her employer request withdrawal of the approved or pending H-1B petition in time for USCIS to effectively accept the withdrawal prior to the October 1 start date in order to avoid changing status to H-1B on that date. To avoid a denial based on the scheduled expiration of Post-Completion OPT, a student should include mention (and supporting evidence) of his/her Cap-Gap OPT Extension when filing during the Cap-Gap period.
Cap Gap Extension of “D/S” (i.e. Duration of Status)/work authorization until October 1.
- Effective April 8, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security authorized an H-1B cap-gap extension of D/S (i.e. Duration of Status) and in some cases it also includes extension of work authorization until October 1.
- Cap gap extension applies only to H-1B change of status petitions (not consular processing). You must be in valid F-1 status at the time you apply for the cap gap. You must also remain in the U.S. during your cap gap period and cannot travel until you are in H-1B status. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) strongly recommends that students do not travel outside the United States during the cap-gap Extension, as USCIS will consider a change-of-status application to be abandoned if the applicant leaves the country while the application remains pending Thus, a change-of-status petition from F-1 to H-1B filed on behalf of a student with a cap-gap extension who departs the U.S. before the application is adjudicated could be denied.
- In order for a student to have employment authorization during the cap gap extension, the student must be in an approved period of post-completion optional practical training (i.e., your card must be valid at the time your H-1B is filed.) If your Post-OPT Employment Authorization Card is still valid at the time the H-1B Petition is filed, your cap gap Extension will not only extend your F-1/Duration of Status, but it will also extend your work authorization until September 30.
- If, however, you are in the 60-day grace period beyond the expiration date of your Post-OPT Employment Authorization Card, you are legally permitted to remain in the U.S. until September 30, but are not authorized to work until the effective date of your H-1B Petition Approval.
- The application for the cap-gap extension is processed through our office and SEVIS.
- A student can apply for the 17-month STEM Extension during the cap gap Extension of OPT. The student will need to have his or her employer request withdrawal of the approved or pending H-1B petition in time for USCIS to effectively accept the withdrawal prior to October 1.
- The 90-day limitation on unemployment continues during the cap gap Extension.
Can student change employers while STEM Extension application is pending with USCIS?
Yes. However, if the STEM Extension period has started, the employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The student must report the change in employment to his or her International Student Advisor. The Advisor must update the student’s employer information in SEVIS and the student should submit an amended Form I-765 to the appropriate USCIS Service Center, providing the new employer’s E-Verify number and a copy of the USCIS receipt notice for the first Form I-765. A brief letter explaining the submission should also be included. There is no fee associated with submitting the amended Form I-765.
Can student travel outside U.S. if EAD card expires while STEM Extension Request is Pending?
No. The student must wait to receive the new Employment Authorization Document.
How do employers report to an International Student Advisor that a STEM Extension student is no longer employed?
The student is responsible for informing the International Student Advisor of all employment changes, within 10 days of the change.
Student’s legal requirements while on STEM Extension
A student pursing a period of STEM Extension must:
- Work either paid or unpaid for an E-Verify employer at least 20 hours per week
- Work in a position related to the STEM degree and in student’s field of study
- Cannot Accrue more than 120 days of unemployment time during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT time and STEM Extension period)
Report to the International Student Advisor within 10 days of the following change(s):
- Legal name change
- Change in Marital Status
- Change in Country of Citizenship
- Change in U.S. Residential or Mailing address
- All employment changes, providing the employer(s) name and address – Can only work with E-Verify Employers
- Report loss of employment
- Report/Verify employment information to International Student Advisor every six months
You must remember to notify the ISSO every six months of where you are employed as we will need to record this on your SEVIS Employment Record.