The proposed rule is now available for public inspection. The rule as promulgated proposes certain changes to the program as detailed below:
- Lengthens STEM OPT extension: The proposed rule will increase the OPT extension period from 17 months to 24 months. This is in addition to the 12 month Post Completion OPT. This allows for a total of 36 months for students graduating in STEM programs
- STEM Definition: The rule tries to better define STEM fields and eligible programs for this extension.
- Mentoring and Training Plan: The proposed regulations includes implementing formal mentoring and training programs by the employer for STEM OPT students. The student with the employer has to develop a Mentoring and Training Plan including specific training goals and methods to achieve the goals. The plan will be reviewed by the School DSO prior to recommending OPT. Further, the student is required to provide an evaluation of the program every six months to the DSO and a final evaluation at the conclusion.
- US Worker Safeguards: The proposed regulations includes specific provisions to protect the US workers from possible abuses. As part of the Mentoring Plan, the employer is required to attest that 1) they have sufficient resources and personnel to provide appropriate training 2) no US worker will be terminated or laid off as a result of providing STEM OPT to the student and 3) the opportunity assists the student to attain his or her training objectives. In addition, the employer is also required to attest that the terms and conditions including duties, work hours and wages are commensurate to similarly situated US workers. The proposed wages should also be included in the Plan submitted to DSO. The regulations also includes oversight of the program by including recurrent evaluation process by ICE, reporting requirement on employer and student of any changes to the employment or termination from employment, school accreditation, employer site visits.
In addition to these there are other provisions including increasing the allowed unemployment period to 150 days (90 days for first 12 months and 60 days for the 24 month extension), retains cap gap provisions as currently done, retains e-verify requirements from the current regulations, allows certain students to use previously completed STEM eligible programs to apply for OPT extension, addition 30 days to apply for extension after DSO authorization, etc.
USCIS will adjudicate any application currently pending or filed until February 12, 2016 based on current regulations. The proposed regulation will apply to only to applications made after the effective date of the final rule. The proposed regulation will be published on the Federal Register on October 19, 2015. DHS is inviting comments from stakeholders. Please follow instructions as provided in the notice to submit comments. Please contact Sikal & Associates for additional information and clarifications.