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U.S. New Rule Allows Longer Work Period for International Students

America is losing the battle for the hearts, minds and pockets of international students and the Department of Homeland Security has to move fast to save the sinking ship of the U.S. international education market.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on March 23, 2016; updated March 23, 2016

U.S. New Rule Allows Longer Work Period for International Students

.Until March 11, 2016, the United States had seen other countries take international students away from American educational institutions.  Two major reasons for this 10-year exodus are the ability to work while studying from day one and a clear pathway to permanent residency.

10 years ago, the U.S. was the top destination for foreign students, Japan came in second.  Canada was in 7th place below New Zealand.  Australia was getting barely half of foreign students enrolled in the U.S.

In 2014, while the U.S. remains on top, Canada has climbed to 2nd place with Australia on 3rd.

To aggressively compete in the international student market, the United States’ Department of Homeland Security issued a final rule on March 11, 2016 allowing foreign students in STEM degree programs to work for 24 months, during or before program completion.

STEM students are those pursuing a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics.

Prior to this, F-1 students – regardless of degree program or course - may not work off-campus during the first academic year, although they may accept on-campus employment subject upon meeting certain requirements.

Students seeking off-campus employment, after the first academic year may engage in three types of off-campus employment

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  3. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)


A student enrolled at the graduate level may start working (full or part-time) under CPT during the first semester with the authorization of the Designated School Officer (DSO) and a signed cooperative agreement or letter from the participating employer.  The CPT must be integral to the student’s major and the experience must be part of the program of study.


Optional Practical Training on the other hand (for degree courses other than STEM) allows the student to work 20 hours a week while school is in session and full time during school breaks.  The OPT employment period could be up to 12 months (total of pre-completion and post-completion periods).


Starting May 20, 2016,  F-1 STEM students may apply for a 24 month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization as opposed to the current 17 months provided they:

  1.  Earned a bachelor’s, Master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The STEM degree must be included on the STEM Designated Degree Program list - https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf
  2. Are employed by an employer enrolled in E-Verify - https://www.uscis.gov/e-verify/what-e-verify
  3. Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree.

F-1 students currently on a 17-month STEM OPT extension may apply to add 7 months to their STEM OPT period on or after May 10, 2016 as long the employment authorization is still valid for at least 150 days.

An eligible international student must submit a completed official request – I-765 Employment Authorization Form- up to 90 days before the current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date the designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Why the Change of Heart?

The Department of Homeland Security final rule admits that the U.S. has been losing international students to other countries particularly Canada.  While the overall number of international students increased between 1999 and 2013, the U.S. experienced a slowdown.

In 2001, the U.S. received 28 percent of international students; by 2011, that share had decreased by 19 percent, with the U.S. losing to Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and China.

Canada’s decision enhancing its post-graduate work permit (PGWP) – allowing students who have graduated from a recognized Canadian post-secondary institution to stay and gain valuable post-graduate experience had been singled out in the final rule’s explanation for this change in rule.

A foreign student in Canada may work for the same length of the study program during the PGWP and even up to a maximum of 3 years with no restrictions on type of employment.

DHS acknowledged this change as the main reason for the steady increase of international students to Canada between 2003 to 2007.  In fact, by 2014, the number of international students in the program was more than double the 2008 total.

The final nails to the coffin?

Canada aims to double the number of international students from 211,949 in 2014 to 450,000 by 2022.

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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