More Foreign Students in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering
and Mathematics May Extend Their Practical Training in the U.S.,
and I-9 Central Has Arrived
List of STEM Degrees Expanded
On May 12th, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
announced an updated STEM Designated Degree Program List including
additional degrees which will now qualify for a 17-month extension
of Optional Practical Training (OPT).
OPT provides F-1 students with 12 months of authorized
employment status to work in a capacity directly related to their
majors, either during their schooling (pre-completion) or within 14
months of graduation (post-completion). Each year, thousands of
foreign students who have studied in the U.S. use OPT to apply
their education, and work in the U.S. In some instances these U.S.-
educated and trained foreign nationals will continue to work in the
U.S. on H-1B visas.
In 2008 the Department of Homeland Security passed a rule
providing for a 17-month extension of post-completion OPT for those
students with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or
mathematics) degree. This means that qualifying STEM students now
have a total of 29 months to work in the U.S. after graduation. The
STEM extension was first passed to address the fact that the H-1B
visa category is generally greatly oversubscribed and that many
qualifying applicants are forced to leave the country when their
OPT ends. This fact has negatively impacted employers and their
ability to recruit skilled workers, particularly in the fields of
science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The STEM 17-month
extension directly addressed this issue.
The qualifying criteria for the STEM 17-month extension are as
follows: students must not have previously received a 17-month OPT
extension; the underlying degree serving the basis for the initial
period of OPT was a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree
on the STEM Designated Degree Program List published by ICE; the
employer agrees to report the student's departure; and the
student's employer is registered in the E-Verify program. The
E-Verify program is an Internet-based system established by the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in partnership with the
Social Security Administration (SSA), to verify employee
eligibility to work in the U.S. Under federal law, participation in
the E-Verify program currently is voluntary however, several states
have enacted their own laws adopting it in some form.
The updated Designated Degree Program List now includes degrees
in Neuroscience, Mathematics and Computer Science and Business
Statistics, to name just a few. A complete list highlighting the
additions is available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm.
This expansion comes in the wake of President Obama's May 10th
immigration address, where he commented on the need to encourage
the talented students we train at our universities to apply the
skills they have learned here in the United States.
On May 13th, USCIS announced that it has launched I-9 Central.
All employers must complete an I-9 form for all of their new hires.
This new Web site provides comprehensive information and guidance
on the I-9 process. Specifically, the site includes step-by-step
instructions to complete the Form I-9, examples of what documents
employers should accept in the process, employers' retention
obligations, employee rights in connection with the I-9 process, an
overview of the penalties for noncompliance and information about
the form itself. There is also a link to the actual Form I-9 and a
comprehensive list of contact information for customer support.
USCIS characterizes the site as a "one-click access to
resources." For more information, visit I-9 Central at http://www.uscis.gov/I-9Central.
Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State, shares his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories with AILA.
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