NEWYORK (TIP): On Oct. 19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposal for “Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students with STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students.” “The rule will benefit the U.S. educational system by helping ensure that the nation’s colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international students in STEM fields,” said the U.S., in its description of the proposed changes.
As of September, 2015, over 34,000 students were in the United States on a STEMOPT extension, according to the Federal Register.
The proposed rule seeks to remedy the procedural deficiencies of the original STEMOPT Extension, ensure that the extensions can continue beyond February, and make several additional changes to the rules and procedures.
|Since 2008, those who complete a degree in a STEM field have also qualified for a one-time 17-month extension of OPT. This extension, however, was recently challenged in court by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, and this August, the District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the STEMOPT Extension on the grounds of procedural deficiency. The court order is set to take effect in February 2016 unless a new rule is enforced.|
DHS, in response to the August 2015 court order, increased the scope of the program. It took the original STEMOPT extension of 17 months and made it 24 months. That means the overall amount of time someone can work on a student visa has been will be extended from 29 months to 36 months.
The proposed rule received nearly 35,000 comments on its plan to extend the Optional Training. The deadline for comments was November 19, 2015.
By increasing the length of time someone can work on a student visa, the U.S. is trying to give these students more time to get an H-1B visa. Demand for H-1B visas, especially from IT offshore outsourcing firms, is making it harder for students who graduate from U.S. schools to get a work visa.
The majority of comments received (view comments) support extending the program, which is not surprising. If the government effort fails, many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students may be forced to leave the U.S.
The comments, some anonymous, were collected over the last month. Technically, the register says it has received about 50,000 comments, but it has only posted 35,000 and moderates before posting. The responses define the sharp divide on this issue.
The question is whether this comment collection meets the obligations imposed in August by a federal court. That court had ruled that government erred by not seeking public comment in 2008, when it originally extended the OPT program from 12 months to 29 months for STEM students. The court gave the U.S. until Feb. 12 to fix the program or risk giving the students 60 days to return home.
The Indian Panorama has zealously reported on STEM and will continue to update our readers on the changes on OPT as and when they become available.