Students training under the program are no longer limited to training at the employer’s principal place for business
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services clarified the ‘reporting responsibilities for students and employers participating in the STEM OPT program,” a step welcomed by ITServe Alliance Inc, a non-profit organization with over 1,000 consulting companies in the US.
The revised memo, “Clarification of STEM OPT Extension Reporting Responsibilities and Training Obligations” says that those in the STEM OPT (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Optional Practical) program do not have to train only at the employer’s principal place of business as long as all training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student.
The Depaartment of Homeland Security, however, plans to review on a case-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer in signing the training plan, and verify that the employer that signs the training plan is the same one that employs the student and provides the training.
“It’s a big relief for the consulting companies,” Kishore Khandavalli, the advisory director at the ITServe Alliance, told indica after learning about the clarification past week. “The agency removed any prohibition on placements at third-party worksites.” He added that the clients were relieved, too.
July 14, IT Serve Alliance had filed a lawsuit against the agency in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas division alleging the agency made unconstitutional changes in the STEM OPT when prohibiting the third-party placements.
Khandavalli alleges that until in 2017 neither the regulation nor the summary on the DHS web page prohibited STEM OPT student professionals from working with consulting companies who work on projects at client work sites, nor did it prohibit STEM students from learning and developing skills at the employer’s site.
He said the attorneys are evaluating the language as the case is still in pending. He said the agency (USCIS) has not yet sought the dismissal of the case.
Students come to the US on an F-1 visa, and after their education is complete students on STEM get an additional two years beyond the first year of OPT training.
The updated policy by the USCIS also states that the students and employers must report material changes to the Designated School Official (DSO) at the earliest opportunity by submitting a modified Form I-983. Employers must report the STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO within five business days. As previously indicated on the webpage, students must report certain changes, such as changes to their employer’s name and address, to their DSO within 10 business days.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions against OPT students are increasing in number.
Nearly 1.5 million students were on OPT between 2004 and 2016, with 53 percent of the foreign graduates being approved for employment specialized in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Research shows that OPT approvals surpassed H1B visa approvals in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016. By the end of the 2004-2016 period, there were 1,474,000 OPT approvals and 1,473,000 initial H-1B visa approvals.