The proposed OPT STEM rule has been published in the Federal Register, which means that the 30 day comment period has officially begun. The public has until November 18th to submit written comments for or against the proposal. If you are needing a STEM extension, now is the time to take action and make your voice heard! It is important that submitted comments be well-crafted, and not just random statements that you are for the proposal. For ideas of what not to do, you can see comments already submitted at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=ICEB-2015-0002. There are over 2,000 comments submitted already, the majority of them are from students, and unfortunately, they don’t do much to add to the discussion. The purpose of comments is to enhance the quality of law and ensure that proposed regulations meet the needs of the people being regulated. Simple statements supporting the rule are not helpful.
To help you in submitting a stronger comment, I have drafted a sample for you below. It is imperative that you modify the sample! Please be sure to personalize your letter to your unique circumstances. Talk about the contributions you have made to this country during your OPT, important projects you have worked on, research you are doing, new products and technologies that you have helped to develop. This template covers the major portions of the rule that I think are applicable to the most number of students. Feel free to add additional comments about the other provisions, such as determining which programs qualify as STEM fields, how students can use a prior STEM degree, etc. Once you modify your letter to tell your story, you can print, sign, and mail it to the address mentioned. Or, if you prefer, you can submit it online at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/10/19/2015-26395/improving-and-expanding-training-opportunities-for-f-1-nonimmigrant-students-with-stem-degrees-and#open-comment
Ms. Katherine Westerlund
Policy Chief (Acting)
Student and Exchange Visitor Program
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20536
Re: Comments on Proposed Rule: Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students with STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students
80 Fed. Reg. 63375 (October 19, 2015)
Docket ID: ICEB-2015-0002
Dear Chief Westerlund:
I would like to submit the following comments in response to the USICE Proposed Rule, “Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students with STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students,” published in the Federal Register on October 19, 2015.
As an international student in the United States, I pursued (or am pursuing) a STEM degree and graduated (or will graduate) in ___(year)___ with a __(master’s)__ degree in the field of _______. The recent decision in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security has eliminated the STEM OPT extension. Without the availability of a STEM extension, unless my employer is able to obtain an H-1B visa when the filing period commences on April 1, 2016, I will need to leave the United States when my OPT period concludes.
I was glad to see the proposed rule for reinstituting the 2008 STEM OPT extension, cap gap relief, and especially an expansion and improvement of the previous rule.
The OPT STEM Extension Should be Retained for the Benefit of STEM Graduates
The proposal to reinstitute the STEM extension will provide valuable hands-on, educational experience in which STEM graduates gain real-world immersion into a chosen industry. This experiential learning will allow me to integrate knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. STEM graduates like me should be given more opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths. The additional OPT time will provide me with more broad exposure to industries and organizations to aid in personally developing and exploring career possibilities as well as creating a professional network. These benefits also will encourage future international students to join STEM programs in the U.S. and allow U.S. companies to remain competitive globally.
The OPT STEM Extension Should be Retained for the Benefit of STEM Employers
Providing more OPT opportunities to STEM graduates will assist U.S. companies in the application of the latest strategies and techniques in the field. Expanding opportunities for STEM graduates benefits employers in high-tech industries by helping them to maintain connections with colleges and increase visibility on campus. This aids to promote community involvement and creates awareness of the field for future students and future employees. In addition, expanding practical training opportunities for international students will enhance U.S. companies by providing novel perspectives, fresh ideas, new processes, and specialized skill sets to augment the abilities of staff employees. Finally, STEM students will allow employers the opportunity to accomplish bigger projects, achieve more innovation, and develop new products and technology, all of which will further fuel the U.S. economy.
The Duration of the STEM Extension Should be 24 Months
In order to be a meaningful learning experience, a 24-month extension combined with the initial 12 month OPT period is the appropriate duration to allow me to meet my planned learning goals and allow for active reflection on I am accomplishing throughout the experience. Students with up to 36 months of practical training can be assigned more challenging projects that better complement academic programs and career interests.
Formal Training Program and Customized Mentoring and Training Plan Will Help Me Integrate Classroom Knowledge with Practical Application
Establishing goals and a professional roadmap at the start of my practical training will assist me in clearly identifying my learning objectives and planning how they will be accomplished. Completing this with my employer’s input will guide both my employer and me to make a more meaningful learning experience.
Cap-Gap Relief is an Important Part of the 2008 Rule and Should be Retained
Given that the H-1B visa program is a common mechanism for F-1 students to transition to the U.S. work environment, cap-gap relief is essential to avoid gaps in work authorization between the April filing window and the October start date of the H-1B visa.
Options to Address Pending Applications and Students Already Granted a 17-Month Extension
DHS should minimize the potential impact on STEM students in the event a final rule does not take effect before the vacatur of the 2008 Interim Final Rule. Many STEM students chose U.S. universities for higher education because of the availability of 29 months of practical training under the current rule. It would be a huge disappointment if students would instead only be able to remain for 12 months due to a delay in rulemaking. Therefore, the following options should be considered to best address STEM students already in OPT: First, any application for OPT STEM extension received by USCIS but not yet adjudicated prior to vacatur should be kept on hold until the new rule is in place. Second, any student already approved for a 17-month extension should be allowed to continue employment based on the approved OPT STEM extension. Third, a student in the 60-day grace period following initial period of OPT should be given the opportunity to apply for a STEM extension if the new rule takes effect during the student’s 60-day grace period.
Many opponents of expanding the period of OPT seek to pit native-born workers against their foreign-born colleagues. But, in fact, workers do not compete against each other for a fixed number of jobs. The United States has created a dynamic and powerful economy, and immigrants of all types and skills, from every corner of the globe, have worked with native-born workers to build it. Skilled immigrants’ contributions to the U.S. economy help create new jobs and new opportunities for economic expansion. Indeed, foreign-born students who graduate with an advanced degree in STEM fields from U.S. universities positively impact the U.S. economy and employment opportunities of native-born workers.
The most dramatic gains in U.S. employment come from immigrants who earned advanced degrees at US universities and are employed in STEM fields. Changing temporary immigration policies, such as by expanding the OPT period to 24 months, to favor holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities in STEM fields is an obvious step given the demand for highly skilled workers and the extensive investment the country already makes in such students. Without a clear path to stay in the United States, these foreign students will fuel innovation and economic growth in countries that compete with the American economy.
With this letter, I urge you to support the U.S. economy by implementing this new rule by February 12, 2016. Thank you for your consideration, time, and support in this matter.