The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently updated the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) program. On July 12, 2023, the Department expanded the list of degrees eligible for participation. This expansion means more students can gain practical experience while staying in the United States. It also means employers can access much-needed workers in these high-demand fields.
Federal law states that non-immigrant students may qualify for two sources of work authorization: Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training. Most F-1 students pursuing their education may utilize the first option due to its connection with their coursework. Students often acquire the second as a work authorization after completing their degree.
F-1 students may rely on OPT for up to 12 months during or after they complete their degree program. However, students with eligible STEM degrees may work longer. They can apply for an additional 24 months to continue their work authorization. Interested students should check the DHS’s Designated Degree Program list to see if their degree qualifies. Eligible students must also ensure their employer participates in E-Verify.
Interested parties may check the STEM Designated Degree Programs through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS). As of this Federal Register notice, the DHS has included the following eight fields of study in the STEM list:
Eligible students may file a Training Plan for STEM OPT Students (Form I-983) and an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765) to request work authorization. These forms provide students with an employment authorization document (EAD). They may use these EADs as a List A document when completing employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) for employers.
Employers will find these updates beneficial for their businesses. The DHS adding more fields in the eligible STEM OPT program expands employers’ labor pools in these high-demand fields. However, employers looking to hire F-1 workers must remember to complete a Form I-9 with the students. Unfortunately, this process has proven complicated when involving temporary employment authorizations.
One of the best ways to help remain compliant with every new hire is to integrate an electronic I-9 management tool into the onboarding process. This tool can provide step-by-step guidance, reminders when action is needed, and a suite of other features to help employers remain compliant.
Make hiring less complicated for your business by automating your employment eligibility verification and ensuring compliance with I-9Compliance.