The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently proposed the extension of the period for which international students are authorized to work in the U.S.
The agency suggested lengthening the work authorization period for international students studying at U.S. schools in subject areas such as science, engineering, math and technology. This proposal, if enacted, would apply to many students from Asia - the region from which over 60 percent of international students come. The DHS offer would extend the current stretch of time allotted for international students to work in the U.S., bringing the authorization period to three years.
The proposed extension would apply only to students who work for employers enrolled in the E-Verify employment authorization verification system. Right now students enrolled in optional practice training, or OPT, are allotted 12 months to work in the U.S. following graduation. Those with STEM degrees are allowed to extend that period to 17 months. The proposal will also enhance OPT oversight, require employers to set up formal mentoring and training plans and add certain protections, such as for wages, for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers.
Proposal replaces vacated STEM OPT program
The old program was vacated by a federal judge on August 12, and a six-month deadline was established to come up with an alternative solution. This decision left around 50,000 foreign-born individuals in limbo regarding whether they would be forced to leave the country or not. The DHS announcement offers some relief, since, should the proposal be enacted, STEM OPT students and U.S. workers who may have been forced to leave the country will be allowed to continue working in the U.S.
"The DHS announcement should mean that STEM OPT is saved," Bob Whitehill, an immigration lawyer, told U.S. News & World Report.
"H-1B visas are typically hard to qualify for."
Program participants will have another chance for H-1B visas
The extension will give STEM OPT participants another chance to apply for H-1B work visas, which are offered to individuals with college degrees and those who are working in related fields. These work permits are typically hard to qualify for. The work visas allow holders to stay and work in the U.S. in three-year increments, with opportunities to renew their visas, for up to six years - though extending visas beyond six years is possible.
Each year there is a cap on how many H-1B visas may be issued. The annual cap is 65,000 permits. The first 20,000 permit filings for individuals with master's degrees or higher are excluded from the cap.
Employers hiring individuals holding these visas should remember not to ask for them specifically, but to allow new hires to bring in whichever documents they choose during the Form I-9 process. H-1B visa holders will likely bring their work permits. Requesting those documents specifically could qualify as citizenship status discrimination, a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.