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Changes might be coming to the Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) Optical Practical Training (OPT) program, which affects foreign graduates with a STEM degree and their American employers.

In August 2015, a judge struck down a 2008 regulation that allowed these students to work post-graduation. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) submitted a proposed new rule to the Office of Management and Budget that would extend the OPT period from 12 months to 24 months. Doing so would mean the total time a foreign student could work in OPT would be three years, the same amount of a time as a valid H-1B visa. A final rule is anticipated by March 11.

Immigration associate Yova A. Borovska weighed in on the changes. “Because of the uncertainty with the program, employers are not confident that they can continue to employ certain workers with pending OPT STEM extensions or workers whose current OPT is expiring and will soon be due for an extension,” she says.

She adds, “Some employers are also deciding to skip the nonimmigrant visa step and proceed with permanent resident sponsorship for F-1 students and students on OPT through the [permanent] labor certification (PERM) program. This is because the backlog for individuals in the EB3 category has decreased substantially for workers who are not from India or China. Therefore, employers are able to more quickly process their applications for permanent residency without significant gaps in employment authorization.”

Read the full article – “Employers Still on Edge over STEM OPT Program” (Society for Human Resource Management, February 18, 2016)