The Department of Homeland Security is proposing rules that would expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for students on F-1 visas graduating in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields from certified schools.

The announcement by the Office of Management and Budget means that the 90-day review process has begun and signals that the proposed OPT rules are in the final review stage by the White House and other agencies. As a result of a lawsuit challenging the OPT regulations, the government has a court-imposed deadline of Feb. 12, 2016 to promulgate a new regulation authorizing the STEM OPT extension.

The administration is taking this opportunity to expand the OPT program, a goal that President Obama announced in 2014 as part of his executive actions on immigration. While the proposed rule has not been published yet, a summary of the rule indicates that F-1 students with degrees in STEM fields from certified Student and Exchange Visitor Program schools will have enhanced opportunities under OPT. In June, DHS briefed a Senate committee on a proposal to expand the STEM extension from the current 17 months to two 24-month periods.

BAL Analysis: The announcement is a good sign that new, expanded OPT regulations are underway and are likely to clear the review stage by the end of the year. After the proposed rule is published, business and other stakeholders will have 30 days to submit comments.

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