International Students Get Reprieve

Work period extended to 36 months following graduation.

01 April 2016

The US Department of Homeland Security has updated a rule allowing some 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 a 2008 regulation had not gone through the official rule-making process. The Obama administration was ordered to establish a formal rule extending the previous period for graduate STEM workers by nine months. The new rule takes effect 10 May.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows international students an initial period of 12 months of employment, followed by the additional 24 months afforded by the new rule.

“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 time frame 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. It also allows for two lifetime OPT extensions instead of one and provides eligibility for non-STEM graduates to participate if they obtained a STEM degree in the past 10 years at an accredited college or university.

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

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