Special Immigration Alert: USCIS Announces 17-Month Extension of Optional Practical Training For Certain Highly Skilled F-1 Foreign Students

On April 4, 2008, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") issued an Interim Final Rule (the "Rule") extending the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 nonimmigrant students. The extension will be available to F-1 students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.

The Rule represents at least a partial solution to the H-1B "cap gap" dilemma, that resulted whenever F-1 students transitioning to H-1B status experienced a gap between the expiration of their F-1 status and October 1st, the earliest date that H-1B employment could begin. Normally, F-1 students have to leave the country and apply for H-1B visas at consulates abroad before they can return to the United States and begin work on October 1st. The Rule addresses this "cap gap" problem by automatically extending the period of stay and work authorization for all F-1 students with pending H-1B petitions. The Rule also implements certain F-1 program changes, such as allowing students to apply for OPT within 60 days of graduation.