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F-1 Student Visa Optional Practical Training Extension (F-1 OPT)

For students with the STEM OPT Extension grants an additional 24 months of work authorization to individuals in STEM fields who completed their initial 12 months of work authorization.

What is F-1 OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available for all international F-1 student visa holders who have graduated from higher education in the U.S. OPT allows students to gain real-life experience for a minimum period of one year, as they train and work in a field related to their area of study.

What is the STEM extension for F-1 OPT?

Certain F-1 visa holders graduating with a degree in a STEM field in math, science, technology or engineering are eligible to apply for an OPT STEM extension of 24 months, permitting them to train and thus work in the U.S. in their field of study for a total period of up to three years.

What is CPT?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is authorization for a student who has been enrolled in higher education studies for at least one year for temporary practical training. Training can take place during the academic year, while the student is enrolled full-time at a higher education institution, and during annual vacations. CPT can be part-time or full-time and includes employment as well as paid and unpaid internships, but must be related to the student’s field of study as indicated on the original Form I-20.

Who can supervise F-1 OPT students?

The personnel who supervise and train the student must be either you, your employees or retained by the employer directly for training. In other words, trainers cannot be hired by clients or outside external parties that have hired your organization to provide services or as their vendor.

How long does an F-1 OPT extension last?

This extension grants an additional two years of work authorization for STEM students who complete their initial 12 months of optional practical training. There is no extension option after the 24 months elapse.

Is the F-1 visa a dual-intent visa?

Once all extensions are used, an F-1 visa holder can pursue a green card, but travel restrictions apply throughout the process. With that in mind, it may be simpler to transfer the worker to a dual intent visa, such as an H-1B visa before the green card petition is filed.

What are the employer STEM OPT extension requirements?

Employers must participate in E-Verify and complete a training plan with the OPT STEM extension eligible employee. Also, students with the STEM extension cannot be used to replace a full or part-time U.S. worker.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The system compares information contained in the Employment Eligibility Verification, Form I-9, with records contained in the systems databases to help employers verify identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees (foreign nationals, as well as U.S. workers). If you are not currently enrolled in E-Verify, be sure to discuss this with your general counsel as you will be required to use E-Verify for all I-9 purposes going forward. The F-1 student with OPT will be required to submit your E-Verify company identification number in order to apply to USCIS for the STEM extension.

How do I complete an F-1 OPT training plan?

The training plan for the F-1 employee must be completed with the student via Form I-983. This form is then submitted to the student’s designated Department of Homeland Security school official, usually located in the college or universities’ international student office. The training plan does not need to be elaborate, rather it just sets the expectations for the period of employment and communicates the goals and objectives of the training.

Where can the F-1 STEM OPT student be employed?

Recently, U.S. immigration authorities have increased scrutiny over both the H-1B visa and the L-1 visa. In 2017, USCIS announced its intention to up the number of site visits at worksites of L-1 visa-sponsored employees. The number of L-1 visa-related site visits have been increasing over the past three to four years. And, considering the L-1 visa vs H-1b visa, both have seen the number of RFEs on applications increase as well, which can make the application process longer.

What happens to my employee after CPT or OPT ends?

You may be able to sponsor your employee for employment-based work through a visa or green card. It’s essential to plan in advance, since some visas are only available at certain times during the year, and some students may be able to skip an employment visa altogether and move straight into the green card process if they are eligible for a STEM extension. Even if you’re planning to make a long-term offer of employment, it’s critical to understand your options and timeline if you choose to move forward with sponsorship.

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