F-1 Student Visas

Alarming Change of Policy for Treatment of Certain Status Violations for F, J, and M Visa Holders

On May 10, 2018, USCIS announced a draft policy memorandum titled “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants.” F, J, and M nonimmigrant visas are for international students, scholars, and participants in international educational/cultural exchange programs (including interns and trainees).  The draft policy is slated to become final and effective on August 9, 2018.

In the draft policy, USCIS announced a dramatic change to the treatment of “status violations” by individuals in the U.S. on F, J, and M visas. A status violation is any failure to meet a term or condition of the visa, including unknowing and unintentional technical violations (e.g., lowering one’s course load below a certain number of credit hours, engaging in casual work, accruing too many days of non-work after school completion, etc.).

U.S. district court dismisses legal challenge to rule allowing 24-month STEM OPT extensions

News Release from Jewell Stewart & Pratt – April 21, 2017 On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Final Rule that provided for, among other items, 24-month extensions to Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization for foreign nationals in F-1 student visa status who would otherwise be limited to twelve months of OPT. See our blog post discussing the rule here.

On June 17, 2016 this new Final Rule became the subject of a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On April 19, 2017, however, the court dismissed the lawsuit. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The Final Rule therefore remains in force: 24-month extensions to post-completion OPT are still available in appropriate circumstances, and prior grants of such OPT remain valid. The plaintiffs have not yet announced whether they will appeal the decision.

© Jewell Stewart & Pratt 2017

New regulation on F-1 STEM OPT extensions, effective May 10, 2016

On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a Final Rule, effective May 10, 2016, 81 Fed. Reg. 13039 (March 11, 2016), that provides requirements and procedures for 24-month extensions to post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization of foreign nationals who are in F-1 student visa status with U.S. degrees in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (“STEM” fields). The new regulation also contains transition provisions for approved and pending STEM OPT applications filed under prior regulations. Finally, the new regulation carries over the “cap gap” work authorization and status extension provisions that existed under prior rules.

STEM OPT cut-off of 02/12/2016 is postponed to 05/10/2016

On January 23, 2016, the federal district court in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, No. 1:14-CV-00529 (ESH), Document 51 (D. D.C. January 23, 2016), granted a motion by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to postpone the effective date of the court’s vacatur of DHS’s 2008 STEM OPT regulation from February 12, 2016 until May 10, 2016. In effect, this leaves existing grants of STEM OPT in place until May 10, 2016, and allows DHS temporarily (until May 10, 2016) to continue accepting STEM OPT applications under its 2008 rules. In the meantime, DHS is expected to review the ~50,500 comments it received in response to the proposed replacement regulation it published in October 2015 and to adopt a final rule governing STEM OPT.

Invalidation of STEM extensions for F-1 OPT work authorization: Further information

We recently posted about the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's invalidation of STEM extensions for F-1 OPT work authorization. The Department of Homeland Security has not yet indicated that it will reintroduce the STEM extension  rule in compliance with proper regulatory procedure. In the meantime, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)'s Leadership Blog has a new post from AILA President-Elect William Stock, which provides useful information and insight into likely developments. The blog post can be accessed here.

We will report further details as they become available.

STEM” extensions of F-1 OPT work authorization invalidated by D.C. federal court

News Release from Jewell & Associates, PC On August 12, 2015 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated the 2008 interim final rule of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that created eligibility for a 17-month extension of F-1 OPT work authorization for graduates whose F-1 OPT work authorization was based on a degree in a “STEM” field. The court found that DHS failed to provide the legally required notice and comment period that must accompany any significant new rule, and failed to show sufficient justification to bypass the normal notice and comment requirement and issue the rule via emergency rulemaking.

Although the court invalidated the 2008 rule and its amendments, it placed an immediate six-month stay on the vacatur, until February 12, 2016. Practically, this means that existing F-1 OPT STEM extensions remain valid through February 12, 2016. It is not yet clear what the court ruling means for USCIS’s action on pending or new applications for STEM extensions. If DHS reintroduces the 2008 rule with a proper notice and comment period, and it takes effect before February 12, 2016, there should be no disruption to STEM OPT processes or employment.

© Jewell & Associates, PC 2015

STEM degree list for OPT extensions expanded

News Release from Jewell & Associates, PC – May 17, 2012 International students who graduate from U.S. universities are able to remain here and receive training through work experience for up to twelve months. This is known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students who graduate from a designated science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree, who have jobs related to their field of study with employers who are enrolled in the government’s E-Verify program, can remain in the U.S. for an additional seventeen months on an OPT STEM extension. We covered the regulation establishing this extension in a detailed post in 2008.

On May 11, 2012 the Department of Homeland Security announced an expanded list of STEM designated-degree programs that qualify eligible graduates for this extension. The list now includes fields such as pharmaceutical sciences, econometrics, quantitative economics, and more. A full list of STEM degrees is available here, with new additions in bold, and will be of interest to students, employers, and employees with eligible degrees who are currently in their first 12 months of OPT.

© Jewell & Associates, PC 2012

New regulation on F-1 OPT extensions

On April 8, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published an Interim Final Rule, effective immediately, that provides for additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization for foreign nationals in F-1 student visa status who would otherwise be limited to twelve months of OPT.  The new regulation provides two types of prolonged OPT: (1) an automatic extension of OPT to bridge the “cap gap” between an employee’s OPT expiration date and the October 1st date when an approved cap-subject H-1B petition takes effect; and (2) a seventeen-month extension, upon application, of OPT for graduates of U.S. degree programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (“STEM” degrees) who have jobs related to their field of study with employers who are enrolled in the government’s E-Verify program.