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Lasers & Sources

New DHS rule will allow international STEM graduates to remain in U.S. longer

SPIE Newsroom
11 March 2016

The U.S.  Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week updated a rule allowing international students to work in the United States for up to 36 months following graduation. The students  in select science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, had been under a cloud of uncertainty after a court ruled that the 2008 regulation had not gone through the official rule-making process, and ordered the Obama administration to establish a formal rule. The DHS rule, published on 11 March and taking effect on 10 May, extends the previous period for graduate STEM workers by nine months.

The program, entitled Optional Practical Training (OPT), allows international students an initial period of 12 months of employment, followed by the additional 24 months instituted by the new rule. It also allows for two lifetime OPT extensions instead of one, and provides eligibility for non-STEM graduates such as MBAs to participate in STEM OPT based on a prior STEM degree obtained in the past 10 years at an accredited college or university.

"This is such an important issue, because it is very difficult to find a job placement within the current 12-month post-graduation time frame," said Naman Mehta, a master's degree student from India and vice president of the SPIE student Chapter at CREOL, University of Central Florida. Mehta will graduate this spring, and is preparing his CV to begin his job search, he said.

"Extending the timeframe to 36 months would allow international students to better contribute to American innovation industries and institutions -- and why is this bad?" he asked. "Why incentivize these students to find employment elsewhere?"

The new rule requires international students and employers to develop individualized training plans that enhance students' educational experience with practical training.

DHS estimates that about 34,000 individuals are participating in this program at present, and that the total number of affected students will expand in the coming years.