The Department of Homeland Security is pursuing new regulations that would expand the Optional Practical Training program for F-1 students, according to a briefing to the Senate Judiciary Committee May 28.

The regulations would allow foreign students who graduate with a U.S. degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering or math) to extend their initial 12-month OPT status for up to two 24-month periods during their academic career. For example, an F-1 student could work for three years after obtaining an undergraduate STEM degree, return to school for a master’s degree and then work for another two years after graduation. Foreign students who graduate with a non-STEM degree would be allowed to use the 24-month extension as long as they previously obtained a STEM degree. Currently, STEM graduates are allowed one 17-month extension of OPT.

The briefing to Congressional staff prompted a sharp response from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. In a June 8 letter to DHS, Grassley urged the agency to consider stronger controls on the OPT program, including the imposition of wage requirements on employers and a numerical cap on the number of students who receive OPT.

BAL Analysis: In 2014, President Obama announced that he would expand and extend OPT for foreign graduates of U.S. universities. Meanwhile, a trade association representing U.S. engineers is challenging the current OPT regulations in federal court. Any changes to the OPT program are expected to be published for notice and comment, which would allow businesses to submit comments and weigh in on the policy changes.

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