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STEM OPT Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the STEM OPT Frequently Asked Question topic of your choice: General, Students, Employers, School Officials, Cap-Gap Extensions and H-1B Visas

General

Why did DHS implement a new STEM OPT extension rule?

 

The STEM OPT extension rule is in response to a court decision that vacated the 2008 DHS rule on procedural grounds. The rule includes changes to the policies announced in the 2008 rule to increase the educational benefits provided by STEM OPT extensions and oversight of STEM OPT.

How do the changes to the STEM OPT rule benefit international students and schools?

 

The changes to the rule promote the ability of international students to gain valuable and practical STEM experience that supplements the knowledge gained through their academic studies, while guarding against harmful effects to U.S workers. By applying their academic knowledge in a STEM OPT extension, students will be in a better position to begin careers in their fields of study. The changes also help U.S. colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international students to study and lawfully remain in the United States.

What is DHS’s legal authority to propose the rule?

 

Under the Homeland Security Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, DHS has the authority to issue immigration-related regulations, including those related to international students. The Secretary of DHS also has the authority to propose regulations that determine who is authorized for employment in the United States. DHS did not propose any substantive changes to general (12-month) post-completion OPT or Cap-Gap Relief for F-1 students in the rule.

Students

As a STEM OPT participant, am I required to pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes for Social Security and Medicare?

 

STEM OPT participants generally are not subject to Social Security and Medicare contributions (FICA withholdings) until after the first five calendar years that they hold F-1 nonimmigrant status. As a participant in STEM OPT, you are not considered a resident for federal tax purposes as long as you comply with the requirements of your F-1 visa and have not already held F-1 status for parts of five calendar years.

What is the purpose of the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students?”

 

You are required to submit a Form I-983 to ensure that you are receiving the academic and training benefits of your STEM OPT extension. You must work with your employer to prepare the Training Plan and submit it to your DSO before your DSO may recommend a STEM OPT extension in your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

For more information, visit the Form I-983 resources on the STEM OPT Hub.

What if I need to make changes to my Training Plan?

 

If you need to make material changes to your Training Plan, you and your employer must both sign the modified version of the Training Plan and file the updated version with your DSO as soon as possible. Material changes may include, for example, a significant decrease in hours per week that you will be engaging in the practical training or a reduction in compensation without a reduction in hours worked.

You and your employer need to sign your self-evaluation on an annual basis. You will be required to do a mid-point evaluation during the first 12-month interval of your STEM OPT extension and a final self-evaluation prior to the conclusion of your STEM OPT extension.

Will my training be evaluated during my STEM OPT opportunity?

 

Yes. You and your employer need to sign your self-evaluation on an annual basis. You will be required to do a mid-point evaluation during the first 12-month interval of your STEM OPT extension and a final self-evaluation prior to the conclusion of your STEM OPT extension.

Employers

As an employer, what do I have to do to be eligible to accept STEM OPT students?

 

As an employer, you must be enrolled in and remain in good standing with the E-Verify electronic eligibility verification program, as determined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to have international students who participate in a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Am I required to pay FICA taxes (payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare contributions)?

 

It depends. Under current tax laws, if your STEM OPT participant is exempt from payroll taxes, you save an amount equal to 6.2 percent of the STEM OPT participant’s salary up to the taxable wage base and an additional 1.45 percent of the total salary that would have been your contribution to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. STEM OPT participants generally are not subject to FICA taxes or Social Security and Medicare contributions until after the first five calendar years that they hold an F-1 nonimmigrant status, but many STEM OPT participants will already have accrued such physical presence and thus will be subject to FICA taxes.

Do I have to create a new Training Plan for a student who begins a STEM OPT extension?

 

You may use an existing training program or policy to meet certain Training Plan requirements as long as the existing training program or policy aligns with the goals of the STEM OPT student’s continued learning and all other regulatory requirements. However, if using an existing Training Plan, it is important to ensure that it meets all applicable specifications and that it is customized for the individual STEM OPT participant’s qualifying degree and goals and objectives for learning.

What types of changes to my STEM OPT student’s Training Plan am I required to report to their DSO?

 

You are only required to report material changes to your student’s DSO. Material changes include significant changes, such as any change to your Employer Identification Number resulting from a corporate restructuring, a reduction in compensation that is not due to a reduction in hours worked or a significant reduction in hours per week that a STEM OPT student will be engaging in the practical training, including a decrease below 20 hours per week.

In the case of material changes, both you and your student must sign the modified version of the Training Plan and file the updated version with your student’s DSO as soon as possible.

Am I required to provide a mentor to my STEM OPT participant?

 

No. Employers are not required to provide a mentor to STEM OPT participants. However, each employer must describe on the Form I-983 how the STEM OPT participant will be supervised and evaluated.

Will I be notified before a site visit from DHS?

 

In most cases, DHS will provide 48 hours of notice to employers before a site visit. However, if a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations is the reason for the site visit, DHS may conduct the visit without warning. DHS may also request information from you to determine the need for a site visit.

What if my STEM OPT student stops showing up for their training or is terminated?

 

If an employer terminates a student, you are required to notify the DSO within five business days. If a student does not show up for their training or leaves before the end of the authorized period of STEM OPT, you are required to notify the student’s DSO and must do so within five business days after the fifth consecutive business day that the student has not reported for their practical training without your consent (if applicable), or within five business days of the date you know that the student has left the practical training opportunity (whichever occurs earlier).

School Officials

How do I know if a student’s degree makes them eligible for a STEM OPT extension?

 

If a student wants to participate in a STEM OPT extension, they must have received a qualifying STEM degree from a school that was both accredited and Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified at the time that they applied for a STEM OPT extension.

When are employers and students required to notify me of changes to a Training Plan?

 

Only material changes need to be reported. Material changes include, for example, any change to an Employer Identification Number resulting from a corporate restructuring, a reduction in compensation that is not due to a reduction in hours worked or a significant reduction in hours per week that a STEM OPT student will be engaging in the practical training, including a decrease below 20 hours per week.

Cap-Gap Extensions and H-1B Visas

What is a "Cap-Gap" extension?

 

Students with a timely filed H-1B petition and a request for a change of status may apply to receive a “Cap-Gap” extension of their F-1 status and, if applicable, their post-completion OPT employment authorization. The Cap-Gap extension allows such students to automatically extend the duration of their F-1 status and any current post-completion OPT employment authorization until the first day of the new fiscal year (i.e., Oct. 1 of the fiscal year for which H-1B status is being requested).

Did the STEM OPT extension rule change H-1B visa policies?

 

No. The STEM OPT final rule did not change H-1B visa policies.

Is a STEM OPT extension a way to avoid the requirements of an H-1B visa?

 

No. Unlike the H-1B nonimmigrant classification, where an employer submits a petition for a nonimmigrant worker to temporarily perform services in a specialty occupation, STEM OPT offers certain F-1 students an opportunity to further the knowledge that they received during U.S. coursework. A student chooses to participate in STEM OPT as a way to complement their academic experience in the United States and pursuant to an individualized Training Plan that helps ensure that the STEM OPT experience furthers the student’s course of study.

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