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Study in USA: After H1B debacle, STEM students get another jolt, new policy restricts OPT extension

International students studying in the US to find it all-the-more challenging to be recruited by tech companies and business consultancies. Check details about the new policy restricting Optional Practical Training extension below.

Study in USA: After H1B debacle, STEM students get another jolt, new policy restricts OPT extension, check now

New US policy restricts OPT extension for STEM students |Photo Credit: Thinkstock

New Delhi: After the recent resctrictions imposed on H1B Visa which allows students to work in USA, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS has introduced a new policy which would affect the F1 or the student visa. The new policy introduced directly affects the students who are either planning to or already studying in USA for STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses would be directly affected. The new policy now limits the option of extension of OPT or Optional Practical Training. Earlier students who opted for STEM courses could get an extension of 24 months after the initial OPT. However, the new policy would limit the same.

The new policy now changed the interpretation of employer’s obligations by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, as mentioned on their website.The changes now implicate that the students cannot work at the employer’s client sites. With these restrictions, the students would find it difficult to be hired by tech companies or even business consultancies. STEM courses are the largest group of subjects chosen by students who wish to study in USA.  Explained below is what OPT refers to and the implications of the new policy.

Optional Practical Training, OPT is temporary-basis employment that is directly related to the major study area of a student having an F1 visa. Eligible students can apply to avail 12 months or less of OPT employment authorization prior to completing their studies and post completion of their academic studies. All OPT must be directly related to the international student’s major area of study. Earlier, there was a provision for the international STEM students in the US, of an extension of the 24 months of  OPT.

The new policy’s interpretation has however left many students in confusion. USCIS in its guidelines relating to ‘The employer’s training obligations’ mentions that – the training experience must take place onsite at the employer’s place of business or worksites to which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE has authority to conduct site visits to ensure the OPT requirements are being fulfilled. It states further that “The training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.”

As a direct implication of the new policy, online or distance learning programmes are also now being looked down upon – the employer may not fulfil its training obligation to provide a structured and guided practical learning experience by having the student periodically visit the employer’s worksite to receive training, while the student is actually working at the place of business of a client or the employer’s customer.

In the same manner, the employer may not fulfill their training obligation by making the student call and e-mail them regularly to describe and discuss their experiences at the client or customer’s site. The supervising personnel may either be employees of the employer or retained contractors of the employer. They cannot be employees or contractors of the employer’s clients or customers. Again, the employer that signs the Form I-983 must be the same as who provides the practical training experience to the student, aided by its own personnel.

STEM OPT always asked for a formal training programme which confirmed the employer’s commitments. Both the employer and the student were required to sign Form 1-982. However, until now, the fact that the students cannot work at a client site was not clearly specified. The USA is already seeing a dip in the number of international students. For example, lesser students applied during the year-long period ending September 30, 2017. Only 47,302 student visas were issued during this period as compared to 65,257 visas in the earlier twelve months, meaning a drop of 27%. If OPT opportunities drop, the motivation to study in the US may decline further.

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