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USCIS Clarifies Eligibility Requirements for 17-Month Extension of Post-Completion OPT for F-1 STEM Students

On October 21, 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) clarified eligibility requirements for a 17-month extension of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 students enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs.

USCIS said the issue is whether F-1 students engaging in post-completion OPT under 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A) are eligible for the 17-month STEM extension under 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C) if they have not yet completed their thesis requirement or equivalent for their STEM degree when applying for the STEM extension. USCIS said that F-1 students engaging in post-completion OPT are eligible for a 17-month STEM extension even if they have not yet completed the thesis requirement or equivalent for their STEM degree.

USCIS explained that to be eligible for post-completion OPT under 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A), F-1 students must have completed their course of study, or, for students in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, the students must have completed all course requirements for their degree, excluding any applicable thesis requirement or equivalent.

USCIS said that with a narrow reading of 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(1) and (2), one might conclude that F-1 students who have been granted post-completion OPT under 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A) must have completed all course requirements for their STEM degrees, including any applicable thesis requirement or equivalent, to be eligible for the 17-month STEM extension (i.e., only after "earning a STEM degree"). However, 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(1) and (2) cannot be read in isolation, USCIS said; they must be read in conjunction with 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(3), which states that students need not necessarily have completed their thesis requirement or equivalent to be eligible for post-completion OPT. Because the 17-month STEM extension is merely an extension of a previously granted period of post-completion OPT, USCIS concluded that students who are applying for the STEM extension need not necessarily have completed their STEM degree thesis requirement or equivalent to be eligible for the extension. Such a reading "is made even more compelling from a policy perspective, given the nation's interest in attracting and retaining the world's best and brightest individuals," USCIS said. Moreover, USCIS noted, such a reading is consistent with the position taken by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) in policy guidance on this specific issue.

Additional details are available in USCIS's GUIDANCE.

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