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USCIS updates policy guidance for international students

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has updated its policy guidance for international students, including specification of the rule that sees OPT extended to startups for STEM students.

The guidance does not announce any new rules but seeks to make clarification on existing policy. Photo: Unsplash

The updates provided some welcome clarity to international students and US institutions on eligibility requirements, school transfers, practical training and on- and off-campus employment.

Its content is particularly relevant to F-1 students in STEM, as it specifies the extension of OPT for F-1 students in such fields with startup companies.

In its guidance, USCIS seeks to remind students, graduates, institutions and employers that OPT after a STEM degree can now be used for employment at startups, as long as the startup meets certain criteria.

“The employer must adhere to the training plan requirements, remain in good standing with E-Verify, and provide compensation commensurate to that provided to similarly situated US workers, among other requirements,” USCIS said in a statement.

“It’s a positive stride toward providing international students with more avenues for growth and contribution in the US,” said Vandana Mahajan, founder of FuturesAbroad in a LinkedIn post.

“Startup businesses gain tremendously from the talent, drive, and perspective that international students bring”

For Kate Moore, principal and co-founder of the Global Career Center, OPT extension is often the most important factor in the student-decision making process about where and what they will study.

Moore told The PIE that the expansion of options to include start up environments – that are able to meet compliance requirements – provides students with several key benefits including exposure to a “uniquely American innovation ecosystem”, as well as direct experience with entrepreneurship and an ability to navigate a fast moving startup.

“Startup businesses gain tremendously from the talent, drive, and perspective that international students bring. Leaving international students out of the talent pool does a disservice to employers as well,” said Moore.

The guidance, which does not announce any new policy, but seeks to make clarification on existing policy, also covered the coexistence of foreign residence and permanent residency intentions.

The guidance clarifies that “F and M students must have a foreign residence that they do not intend to abandon, but that such students may be the beneficiary of a permanent labor certification application or immigrant visa petition and may still be able to demonstrate their intention to depart after a temporary period of stay”.

“This development underscores the commitment to facilitating opportunities for international students while ensuring compliance with specific requirements,” said Mahajan.

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