USCIS Announces New Policy on STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extensions for F-1 Students

On October 6, 2013, USCIS announced in a policy memorandum a clarification of its guidelines on eligibility requirements for a 17-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 foreign students enrolled in programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) fields.  It has decided that F-1 students engaged in OPT are eligible for a 17-month STEM extension even if they have not completed the thesis requirement or equivalent for their STEM degree.

The employment authorization afforded F-1 students through OPT is usually their only way to work legally in the US after they have graduated.  They are granted OPT for one year following their graduation so long as they are obtaining practical training that directly relates to their major area of study.  However, F-1 OPT students who completed a course of study in a bachelor’s degree or higher in one of the STEM fields are eligible for a 17-month OPT extension.  During this 17-month extension, F-1 students are eligible for the H-1B cap gap extension of their OPT but are also subject to the unemployment restrictions (allowing students only certain periods of unemployment before losing their F-1 OPT status).