DHS is now conducting site visits to employer locations where STEM OPT students are employed.
What is the STEM OPT Program?
International students studying in the U.S. are eligible to participate in Optional Practical Training ("OPT") in their fields of study at the conclusion of their degree programs. While typically OPT is limited to one year, students who have completed a degree in an eligible STEM field can be authorized for an additional two years of OPT, often referred to as STEM OPT or the STEM Extension. To qualify for STEM OPT a student must be employed by an employer participating in the E-Verify program and must submit an I-983 Training Plan signed by the student and the employer to their college or university that outlines the employment-based learning opportunity offered to the student.
Why is DHS conducting site visits?
DHS conducts site visits in an effort to reduce fraud in several non-immigrant visa programs and the STEM OPT is the most recent addition. DHS has stated that the purpose of these visits it to "ensure that STEM OPT students receive structured and guided work-based learning experiences and reduce the potential for abuses of the STEM OPT extension." DHS officers will visit employers of STEM OPT students to confirm that information reported on students' Forms I-983 concerning their training opportunities is accurate and that both the student and the employer are meeting their obligations.
Will employers have any notice of a STEM OPT site visit?
Yes. Unlike other types of site visits, DHS will provide employers with at least 48 hours' notice.
What can employers expect during a STEM OPT site visit?
For starters, not all site visits will be conducted in person. Officers may first or instead contact employers by phone or email to request information concerning compliance. In general, officers will seek to confirm the details provided in the student's Form I-983 Training Plan regarding the nature of the student's experiential learning opportunities and the supervision and evaluation that the employer stated would be provided.
How can employers of STEM OPT students prepare for a site visit?
The best way for employers of STEM OPT students to prepare for a potential site visit is to review the Form I-983 Training Plans for all STEM OPT students. The Form I-983 should accurately describe the opportunity being offered to the student and the employer should confirm with the student's supervisor that the student is being appropriately supervised and evaluated.
Employers should consult immigration counsel regarding any concerns with respect to STEM OPT compliance.