Recently, US federal judge deemed the regulation for extending the STEM OPT to 29 months (from 12 months) invalid due to lack of public notice and comment. The ruling, which will be effective in Feb 2016, will cause major disruption in labor market and education sector. Companies in various industries will lose a large number of contributing foreign employees, who will also have to face severe hardship. The ruling will potentially send false signal of tightening immigration policy to future foreign students in STEM fields and discourage them from coming to the US for scientific research. To avoid the massive impact on the US economy and education sector, we urge the White House to put in place a new, properly processed set of rules for the extension of the STEM OPT before February 2016.
Response to Petition
On September 8, a petition you signed -- asking the Administration to put in place a new set of rules for the extension of the Optional Practical Training program for international students in science, technology, engineering, and math ("OPT STEM") -- reached 100,000 signatures, the threshold for receiving a White House response.
First, thanks for using We the People. In order to get information to respond to your request, we consulted with folks from the Department of Homeland Security -- the agency that administers the OPT STEM program. Here's what we can share:
For more than 200 years, the United States has welcomed immigrants and refugees from around the world into our nation, enhancing our diversity, culture, and economy. Today, many individuals contributing to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are immigrants or refugees, and research indicates that skilled immigrants make outsized contributions to innovation and entrepreneurship, which helps grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. That is why the President has consistently advocated for commonsense comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would help certain foreign students who graduate with STEM degrees to stay here and contribute to our economy by providing these individuals with avenues to obtain lawful permanent residence (or "green cards").
Last November, the President announced a number of reforms designed to fix parts of our broken immigration system -- including actions to strengthen the Optional Practical Training (OPT) STEM program. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed regulation to accomplish this goal. DHS is inviting the public, including students, colleges and universities, and employers, to review its proposed reforms and provide feedback by November 18, 2015. After DHS reviews and considers all public comments, it plans to publish a final rule.
Wondering what exactly this process is all about? Here's a quick run-down:
Federal regulations are created through a rulemaking process. These regulations provide a roadmap for how federal agencies will implement certain laws, policies, and programs. Once an agency decides it should take a regulatory action, that agency will typically develop and publish a notice of proposed rulemaking (or "NPRM") in the Federal Register -- the official daily publication for agency rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential documents. (You can take a look here.) Once the NPRM is published, the agency begins soliciting comments from the public about the proposed rule. After the comment period closes, the rulemaking agency considers every comment, and makes any changes in the rule where appropriate. The final rule typically incorporates feedback and changes from the comment period and is then published in the Federal Register. A final rule will include a specific date on which the rule will become effective. To learn more about the rulemaking process, visit, www.reginfo.gov -- and take a look at some commonly asked questions and answers about the process here.
For more information on the President’s immigration executive actions, including improvements to attract high skilled graduates and entrepreneurs, visit https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2014/11/25/taking-action-attract-high-skilled-immigrants-graduates-and-entrepreneurs and obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/immigration-action.
And to get more updates on immigration issues, please visit obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/immigration.
Thank you for your participation in the We the People platform -- we’ll be back in touch soon.
-- The We the People Team
Update, March 11, 2016:
Following up on your petition on the STEM OPT regulation:
A few months back, we sent an initial response to a petition you signed on the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) regulation. At the time, the rule in question was still in its proposal phase, to be commented on by the public and reviewed. But now, there's more to say.
Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final rule in the Federal Register to enhance the OPT program for international students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The enhancements to the OPT program will be effective on May 10, 2016. Here’s a quick look at what the final rule says:
First off, all international students will remain eligible for an initial 12 months of OPT, regardless of their degree or field. However, under the new rule, STEM graduates will be able to extend their training period for an additional 24 months -- up from the existing 17-month extension!
And, if the individual subsequently goes back to school and earns a second, more advanced STEM degree, he or she will be eligible to engage in a new period of practical training, including a second (and final) STEM OPT extension of 24 months.
Additionally, the rule allows students who have recently completed non-STEM programs to get that 24-month extension if they previously earned a STEM degree from an accredited U.S. university. For example, an international student who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering a few years ago and is just now completing an MBA program could be eligible for the full 36-month period of post-graduation on-the-job training, if such training is related to the STEM degree. Finally, the rule also bolsters protections for students and U.S. workers by creating safeguards to prevent student exploitation, among other reforms.
These improvements and many others are focused on strengthening the educational experiences of international students studying in STEM fields in the United States by requiring stronger ties between their educational degrees and their practical training opportunities. You can read more details on the White House fact sheet, the DHS fact sheet, or the full rule text.
The public spoke and DHS listened. The rule was open for public comment from October 19, 2015 to November 19, 2015, and DHS received 50,500 comments -- the most comments received in the Department’s history. Many of the comments were driven directly from the initial response we issued in October, and DHS considered all comments in preparing its final rule.
In fact, most of the final rule's 300 hundred pages include a detailed discussion of how DHS responded to the public's comments -- agreeing with some, disagreeing with others -- which means your comments helped to improve the final rule in crucial ways.
It also may be helpful for your community to know that starting today, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is launching a STEM OPT Help Hub on DHS’ Study in the States website to share resources for students, school officials, and employers. Among other things, these resources will help students find what they need to apply for STEM OPT extensions and continue their STEM education here in the United States.
By strengthening the educational experiences of international students studying in STEM fields at U.S. universities, this rule constitutes an important step toward improving and modernizing our immigration system. And it keeps America competitive in the global economy. By helping immigrants get the best STEM education they can and fostering ongoing relationships with their universities, we can attract the most talented students, graduates, and entrepreneurs from around the world. And that’s good for all of us.
Our universities train some of the world’s most talented students in STEM fields, but our broken immigration system often compels them to take their skills back to their home countries. We should welcome students from across the globe not only to study here, but to stay and contribute to our economy. That’s why President Obama continues to support Congressional action on commonsense immigration reform.
You should feel proud that raising your voices helped to shape this rule, and we hope you’ll continue to participate on this platform.
-- We the People Team