A change to the USCIS website may present a big problem for employers providing training to F-1 students on a visa extension through the STEM OPT work program. Updated early this year, the website provides stricter worksite guidelines for employers of STEM OPT workers. Although there is no explicit legal change to worksite regulations for the STEM OPT program, the change is a likely indication of further oversight from both USCIS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
STEM OPT Background
STEM OPT (optional practical training in the field of science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics), allows certain F-1 students the opportunity to receive temporary employment and an extension of visa privileges by a maximum of 24 months. To qualify, applicants must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field in addition to several other requirements.The program allows students to receive more hands on experience with employers in a field relevant to the student’s educational background.
Before the change to the USCIS website, employers of STEM OPT had relative autonomy to place STEM OPT workers in offsite or third-party worksites. There is no legal regulation prohibiting STEM OPT employers from placing students in an offsite location, just as long as the employer adheres to the Training Plan for STEM OPT students (Form I-983) and other regulations. Now, the STEM OPT website indicates that “entities may not… assign or contract out students to work for one of their customers or clients, and assign, or otherwise delegate, their training responsibilities to the customer or client.” Therefore, the new website guideline prohibits anythird-party or other off-site placement. The recent changes go on to state that “student’s practical training experience must be provided by the employer’s own trained or supervisory personnel at the employer’s own place of business or worksite(s),to which ICE has authority to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the employer is meeting program requirements.” Therefore, the address listed on the original STEM OPT application must be the location of employment for the STEM OPT worker. Any offsite, third-party, or online placements and trainings are prohibited under these guidelines.
The changes to the website do not reflect a legal change to any regulations related to the STEM OPT program. However, the change reflects a trend in increased oversight from both USCIS, ICE, and other agencies following demands from the Trump Administration.