There are recent reports that ICE has started to conduct on-site inspections for STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment pursuant to 8 CFR section 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(11). According to DHS’s Study in the States website, the 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. The website states the following:
Site visits will 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.
As these compliance site visits are a new practice, it is important to refer back to the STEM OPT regulation preamble which describes the expected scope of a DHS site visit:
The employer site visit is intended to ensure that each employer meets program requirements, including that they are complying with their attestations and that they possess the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences outlined in students’ Training Plans. Site visits will be performed at the discretion of DHS either randomly or when DHS determines that such an action is needed. […] based on previous on-site-reviews to schools, DHS estimates that an employer site visit may include review of records and questions for the supervisor, and will take five hours per employer.
At this point, based on the few inspections conducted, the length of the site visits appears to be in the range of 1-2 hours rather than 5 hours. ICE has typically given two days’ notice by emailing the STEM OPT worker’s manager. We do not expect ICE to give notice if the site visit is based on a complaint. ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) officers have conducted the site visits thus far.
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).
In light of the inspections, both the employer and the student must 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 I-765 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, but best practice is to have the officer accompanied by the designated person on site.