The current regulations governing the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension were issued in 2016, and since that time the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has always had the right to conduct worksite visits to make sure that employers and their STEM OPT students were in compliance with STEM OPT program requirements. Our firm has received reports of DHS increasing its inspections of STEM OPT employers. With the increase of site visits, it is crucial that employers of STEM OPT students are in compliance with the I-983 Training Plan and are prepared for these type of visits. Below are frequently asked questions that our firm receives about STEM OPT site visits:
What is the purpose of these STEM OPT site visits?
The site visits are conducted to make sure that employers are following the practical training plan as laid out in the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. The site visits are conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Further, as part of the visit DHS may confirm that the employer has sufficient resources and supervisory personnel to effectively maintain the STEM OPT program and may ask employers to provide evidence they used to assess wages of similarly situated U.S. workers.
Will the employer receive notice of an ICE site visit?
Generally, DHS provides 48 hours’ advance notice. However, if there has been evidence of noncompliance that triggered the site visit then DHS does not have to provide advance notice. ICE usually provides notice via e-mail regarding the date of the visit and requests certain documentation relating to STEM OPT students. A Notice of Site Visit will generally look similar to what is shown below:
Further, additional questions may be provided in the Notice, such as:
How should an employer prepare for a STEM OPT site visit?
First, employers should review the Form I-983 Training Plan for all STEM OPT students, and should especially pay attention to those Form I-983 Training Plans to the STEM OPT students that were listed in the Notice of Site Visit. The Form I-983 Training Plan should contain and accurate description of the training opportunity provided to the student and the training and supervision of the student should accurately reflect what is designated in the Training Plan.
Second, employers should designate appropriate individuals within the company to act as a contact point for ICE officers once they arrive at the company’s location. The designated individuals will be present with ICE throughout the entirety of the site visit and take notes on what occurs during the site visit.
Third, employers should notify their front desk and security personnel of the site visit who should then be able to direct the ICE officers to designated points of contact within the company. The front desk personnel should also ask the ICE officers for their business card and identification.
Since the ICE officers will most likely want to speak to the managers or supervisors of the STEM OPT students, and may ask to speak to the students, the managers and supervisors of the students should be review and be aware of the information provided in each student’s Form I-983. The managers and supervisors, as well as the student, should be prepared to answer questions about the training and supervision as stated in the Training Plan.
Strict compliance with the I-983 Training Plans is extremely important as these STEM OPT site visits increase. If you have any questions regarding STEM OPT compliance or if you have received a Notice of Site Visit and have questions, you can set up a consultation with one of our attorneys by visiting the following link: https://appointments.rnlawgroup.com/
By: Kristina M. Hernandez
Kristina is an associate attorney at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. She was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 2011. Her practice includes representing companies and individuals with employment-based visa petitions and applications and advising clients regarding litigation options in federal court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Kristina also guides employers to ensure compliance with all Form I-9 requirements by conducting internal audits of clients’ records, processes, and procedures.