There have been recent reports that ICE has started to conduct on-site inspections for STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment. According to DHS’s Study in the States website, an on-site visit will address how the salary of STEM OPT employees is determined, whether there is sufficient structure to provide supervision and training of the employee, and the nature of the employer/employee relationship at any third party worksites. Under ICE guidelines, site visits should be limited to checking information related to student STEM OPT employment and ensuring that students and employers are engaged in work-based learning experiences that are consistent with the information supplied on the student’s Form I-983.
To qualify for a STEM OPT extension, the student and the employer must complete Form I-983, providing specific information about the training program and agreeing to notify the designated school official (DSO) if there are any material changes to the training program. In addition, the Form I-983 must be repeatedly updated with the student’s progress in the training program. However, the I-983 is not included with the application for STEM OPT, and as a result, it is generally not reviewed by USCIS or ICE at all (unless requested by USCIS via a Request for Evidence (RFE)).
Employers and students are advised to carefully review the I-983 and instructions, and update it as needed. Moreover, both the employer and the student should be familiar with the content of the I-983, and be prepared to describe the training opportunity to the ICE officer.
Even without a site visit, compliance is extremely important. The I-983 creates obligations certified by both the student and the employer. Violations could result in termination of student status, or impact future adjudications if USCIS or consular officers note discrepancies between the I-983 and online bios or resumes submitted. There are also reports that the Vermont Service Center has started asking STEM OPT employers to email the I-983 plan as part of work authorization adjudication.
As with any site visit, front line employees, such as security officers or administrative staff, should ask the ICE officer for a business card, and ask the officer to wait until a designated person at the worksite is called. The ICE officer may want to tour the worksite; best practice is to have the officer accompanied by the designated person on site.