On April 8, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released proposed rules that made significantly changes to the post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) benefit for F-1 students. The new rules are not yet final; however they are in effect as of April 8, 2008.

The changes are summarized below.

OPT Extensions

New OPT filing window
Limits on Unemployment during OPT
Reporting Requirements

OPT Extensions

The April 8th rule included provisions for two types of post-completion OPT extensions: 17-month STEM extension and the H1B Cap-Gap Extension.

STEM Extension
Students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines who have graduated with a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree are eligible for a one time 17-month extension of their post-completion OPT. This extension is available once per lifetime and cannot be issued in installments of less than 17 months. The STEM extensions do not replace the standard 12-month OPT. Eligible students must apply for the STEM extension before their current post-completion OPT authorization expires. Students are encouraged to apply at least 90 days prior to the end of their current authorization.

The STEM fields designated by DHS include:

At this time, MIS is not considered a STEM field.

In order to be eligible for the STEM extension students must:

Additionally employers of students on STEM extensions must agree to report any change in employment (termination, departure) to OISSS. Students are allowed to continue employment while the extension application is pending.

H1-B Cap-Gap Extension

Students who are the beneficiaries of a timely filed H1-B petition, and who will have a gap between the end of their OPT authorization and the October 1 start date of the H1-B are eligible for a Cap-Gap extension of their OPT. This is an automatic extension that applies to all students on OPT (regardless of their degree field) with a pending or approved H1-B petition. In the event that the H1-B petition is rejected, denied, or withdrawn, the work authorization ends immediately and the 60 day grace period is in effect. This provision does not apply to companies that are exempt from the cap (non-profit, governmental organizations, etc.)

Currently these extensions are not automatically occurring in the SEVIS system. Students who are eligible for this extension should contact OISSS to request this update to their SEVIS record and a new I-20 showing the extended dates of F-1 status and OPT authorization.

OPT Filing Window
DHS has modified the application deadlines for post-completion OPT. Students can apply as early as 90 days prior to the end of their program and as late as the 60-day grace period following their program end date. USCIS must receive the application before the end of the 60-day grace period. Students are still encouraged to file their applications at least 90-days before their desired start date.

Limits on Unemployment

Maintenance of F-1 status while on post-completion OPT is now affected heavily by unemployment. Effective April 8, 2008 F-1 students are now limited to a maximum of 90 days (12-month OPT) or 120 days (29 month OPT) of unemployment. This limit is a cumulative maximum and applies to the entire OPT period. Students on standard OPT cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during their 12-month OPT period. Students on STEM extensions have an additional 30 day allowance but cannot exceed 120 days of unemployment for the entire 29-month OPT period.

The most prominent impact of this change to the regulations is to an F-1 student's eligibility for future benefits. Students who have accumulated more than the allowed maximum days of unemployment could be considered ineligible for H1-B petitions or STEM extensions based upon this failure to maintain F-1 status.

Students who are concerned about this issue should contact OISSS for suggestions on managing unemployment and maintaining F-1 status.

Reporting Requirements

Another part of maintaining F-1 status while on post-completion OPT is compliance with the reporting requirements. Students must update OISSS within 10 days of the change in any of the below information:

Students on STEM extension must also submit a report every six months to validate their current employment information. This report must be received by OISSS within 10 days of the 6 month anniversary date. The anniversary date is considered to be the start date of the OPT extension. Additionally, the employers must agree to report within 48 hours any changes in employment status (termination or departure).

Post-completion OPT Reporting
Students on post-completion OPT must report certain information to OISSS within 10 days of the change. For your convenience we have added an online form to assist you in timely reporting of this information. Please select the link below to report any change in your legal name, local address, employment status and/or employer.  

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