Students with STEM designated degrees are now eligible to apply for 24-month STEM OPT extensions. In order to qualify, the student must have been granted initial OPT and in a current valid period of OPT, earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, and the student’s proposed STEM OPT job opportunity must be directly related to the student’s STEM degree.
As part of the extension process, the F-1 student must provide their Designated School Official (DSO) with a completed and signed Form I-983. Subsequently, the DSO will issue the student an updated I-20 recommending the student for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. Form I-983 is comprised of six sections plus two self-evaluation sections. The most notable section is the training plan requirement. In this section, the employer and the student must submit a training plan that describes both the type of training that the student will receive and also the goals and objectives that the student will attain in the next 24-months.
Issues often arise when the F-1 student is not working at the employer’s location. In these third-party placement situations, many DSO’s are rejecting I-983’s since it is difficult to show a bona fide employer-employee relationship. To overcome DSO skepticism, employers should fill out the training plan in a clear and detailed manner. Training plans should establish clear objectives within set time frames in which goals will be achieved. Furthermore, employers should thoroughly explain how they will supervise the student at the worksite and how they will provide a work based learning environment.
These changes are new for everyone, including the DSOs, and it is going to be a bumpy ride for the near future. Employers who intend to assign STEM OPT students off-site will want to proceed with caution because there is no guarantee that their DSO will certify the I-983. Moreover, it would be dangerous to assume that because one DSO has signed off on a third-party placement, that another DSO at another school will do the same. Since the DSO holds all of the cards in these instances, it is important to confer with the DSO to figure out what they are looking for on the I-983. Giving the DSO exactly what they are looking for is the key to obtaining an updated I-20. Therefore, be patient and give yourself plenty of time in case the DSO does not approve the I-983 the first go around.
Michelle A. Choe, Associate Attorney