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STEM OPT Extensions: Are they really needed or even justified?

STEM OPT Extensions: Are they really needed or even justified?

On August 12, 2015, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the DHS did not follow required procedures when it promulgated regulations allowing for STEM OPT extension for 17 months. Thereafter, the DHS on October 19, 2015, in an endeavor to overcome that, came up with the proposal of further extending the 17 months extension to 24 months.

I have really appreciated the idea of OPT for students on F-1 Student visa. The idea of Optional Practical Training is to provide an opportunity to the students from various countries, who come to the U.S. for education, to have practical experience in the United States. The period of 1 year seems to be appropriate for “practical training” in any field.

However, I have never been a fan of STEM extensions. The fact that DHS distinguishes between the STEM and non-STEM students in fixing the allowed duration for OPT may be due to one of the following two reasons:

  1. Either the DHS, at an institutional level, believes that STEM fields are so superior and highly specialized than other fields like law, humanities, journalism etc, that they require up to 3 year just to provide training for the work; or
  2. DHS is using STEM OPT just as a disguise to provide work authorization to the “TECHIES”. It is also to give them more chances to try their luck in H-1B lotteries.

If you try and contact the largest companies in the STEM field, none of them will have such enormous and extravagant training programs which last for three long years. Most training programs last for a maximum of 6 months. Given the fact that the students are from an alien country, even 1 year seems to be apt.

On the other hand, there are some non-STEM fields that essentially need more extensive training. One of them may be the field of law, where a student not only has to know the existing laws; he also has to keep himself abreast on the ongoing changes. A budding lawyer needs time to get used to the procedures to be followed while dealing with different courts, government services and organizations. Same way, a budding journalist needs to learn endless tricks of the trade in order to be a responsible journalist. Likewise, there are so many other professions which need as much training if not more. However, DHS seems doesn’t seem to care much about these professions.

Therefore, I can’t seem to understand the need for STEM extension either for 17 or 24 months. I would strongly recommend giving same treatment to all the students and making the OPT 3 years for all or for none.