FAQ’s About New 17 Months STEM OPT Extension for Graduates

Here’s wht you need to know about 17 Months OPT Extension for STEM Graduates. Complete coverage of STEM OPT when it was announced and implemented back in 2008.

Students graduating with a Master’s degree have 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) period to find a job, and then apply for an H1B Visa.

So that’s only one full year of OPT. However, the U.S. Congress is lobbying the Bush Administration to increase the current OPT time frame from 12 months to 29 months. This will provide a short term fix to the current H1B visa shortage.

If the OPT time frame was to increase, then students in F1 Visas don’t need to worry about When to Graduate to avoid OPT to H1B Gap issues.

The next questions that come the minds of international students is about FICA Taxes. If the U.S. Congress decides to increase the OPT from 12 months to 29 months, will students who work using OPT stop paying FICA Taxes (Social Security and Medicare), which come to about 7% of the paycheck?

Students using their OPT period try to stay in such status as long as possible. They are not eligible to pay FICA taxes at present. But if the OPT period is increased to 29 months, will they then be required to pay FICA taxes, too?

We have to wait and see what happens. Until then, students working under OPT enjoy 7% more earnings in their paycheck.

If your employer is deducting Social Security and Medicare Taxes from your paycheck, you can claim them back when you file taxes.

 

Court Challenge for OPT

The USCIS had approved the extension of students’ OPT period to from 12 months to 29 months for STEM graduates.

This move will allow students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees to work for additional 17 months if their H-1B visas are not approved.

That was welcome news, but there is always going to be some resistance coming from groups opposing the H-1B visa policy in general.

If the lawsuit is won, then the 29 month OPT rule will be void. So we have to wait and watch. The lawsuit was filed on May 29, 2008.

This court challenge happened in July 2008.

Federal Judge Throws Out the Challenge

This update is from August 2008 :

A U.S. district court judge in New Jersey this week rejected an attempt by H-1B visa opponents to halt the Bush administration’s extension of student visas from one year to 29 months — a move it claimed would give students a better shot at getting an H-1B visa.

OPT Rules FAQs

After the new rule was proposed, there’s still some confusion about the 3 month unemployment OPT period.

I did some research and was able to get the exact details. I will write in detail about the 90 day unemployment during initial post completion OPT and the total of 120 day unemployment, including the 12 month + 17 month extensions.

Optional Practical Training – 2 new policies were proposed and they were approved. But for the new policies to come into effect, they have to be written into the Federal Register.

It is anticipated that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) will publish this rule as quickly as possible.

Still, some students are not clear about OPT extension matters. I was asked a few questions about the OPT extension to 29 months and some were confused about the 17 month OPT.

And again, 2 new policy proposed will not be effective until its published. I can answer the questions from my point of understanding

1) I’m planning to apply for OPT, will I get OPT for 12 months or 17 months?

If you haven’t applied for OPT yet, and if the new rules become effective, then you will get 17 months of OPT extension. This will help students avoid the OPT to H-1B cap-gap issues.

2) I’m currently in OPT status and it’s valid for 12 months, can I apply for extension?

The answer is “Yes,” you can apply for OPT 17 months extension.

This applies to all who are currently in post graduation OPT and had successfully completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) included in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) STEM Designated Degree Program List from a college or university certified by the USICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

The answer is “No,” if you have a degree that’s not within the STEM area and a few other areas.

3) I graduated with an MBA degree and am currently in OPT, can I apply for a 17 month extension?

No, the current MBA degree doesn’t come under the STEM. So you will have to wait until new changes will be incorporated into the 17 month OPT extension policy.

4) Can I apply for a 29 month OPT when I graduate in August 2008?

No, once the new policies become effective, you can only apply for a 17 month OPT.

5) Who can take advantage of the 17 Months OPT Extension?

If you are currently in OPT and if your H-1B Visa is not approved, you can apply for a 17 month extension.

The above questions and answers are my personal understanding about the OPT extension for 17 more months, which are based on my own research using valid sources.