DHS Extends OPT for Certain F-1 Students; Addresses F-1/H-1B Cap Gap Issue

Murali Bashyam

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an interim final rule extending the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. Currently, foreign students in F-1 nonimmigrant status who have been enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year in a college, university, conservatory, or seminary are eligible for 12 months of optional practical training (OPT) to work for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study. This interim final rule extends the maximum period of OPT from 12 months to 29 months for F-1 students who have completed a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree and accept employment with employers enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify employment verification program. 
To obtain an extension of OPT, eligible F-1 students must request a recommendation from their Designated School Official (DSO) and file a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization prior to the expiration of their current OPT employment authorization. Once the I-765 application is filed, the student’s OPT is automatically extended for up to 180 days until a decision has been made on the case. This interim rule requires F-1 students with an approved OPT extension to report changes in the student’s name or address and changes in the employer’s name or address to the DSO. The rule also requires the employers of F-1 students with an extension of post-completion OPT authorization to report to the student’s DSO within 48 hours after the OPT student has been terminated from, or otherwise leaves, his or her employment with that employer prior to the end of the authorized period of OPT.
The interim final rule also ameliorates the “cap-gap” problem by extending the authorized period of stay for all F-1 students who have a properly filed H-1B petition and change of status request (filed under the cap for the next fiscal year) pending with the USCIS. If USCIS approves the H-1B petition, the students will have an extension that enables them to remain in the United States until the requested start date indicated in the H-1B petition takes effect. The automatic extension does not apply to cases where the H-1B petition is not selected by USCIS for processing or for H-1B petitions filed with a request for consular notification. However, it may be possible to amend the H-1B petition from consular processing to change of status so that the F-1 student can take advantage of the automatic OPT extension. If the H-1B application is ultimately revoked or denied, the automatic extension of OPT is immediately terminated.
We will post more information on this new interim rule as it becomes available on www.bashyamspiro.com.

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